Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 22, 2019


Snapdragon, a Collection of Queer Stories edited by Mervyn Savill (1955)

I can't tell you much about the editor except that he seemed to be a very busy translator of novels and poetry -- both literary and popular -- in the 1940s and 1950s.

From Savill's introduction:

"Eheu fugaces!  The time for enjoying fiction and the old-fashoined English Christmas with its Yule log and snapdragons is past; and yet they will probably both be revived, for story-telling is as old as humanity itself...

"The aim of the publishers with this first series is to inaugurate a yearly selection of tales, both classic and modern, which are not too well-known and yet are suited to a variety of moods."

Savill calls the stories he has chosen (and presumably would chose for future volumes) "odd tales."  Alas, the best laid plans of editors and publishers aft gang a-gley for there was never to be a second volume.

Most of the ten stories in this book, written by "literary" authors from half a dozen countries, were not commonly available to the average reader in 1955 but that situation has changed and many of the stories are readily available.  I'm sure you have already read at least a few.

  • "The Pit" by Gwyn Jones (from Penguin Parade #9, 1942; also included in Don Congdon's Stories for the Dead of Night and in Mary Danby's The 8th Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories)
  • "The Spectre Bridegroom" by Washington Irving (from The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Carayon, Gent., No. IV, 1819; it has been reprinted many times in anthologies and in various collections of Irving's works)
  • "The Island" by Josef and Karel Capek (originally published in Czech as "Ostrov" in 1916; first English translation in 1925; sometimes reprinted as by Karel Capek alone; this translation by Marie Busch and Otto Pick)
  • "An Episode of the Terror" by Honore de Balzac (originally published in French as "Une episode sous la Terreur" in 1830; reprinted many times; this translation by Mervyn Savill)
  • 'Blind Love" by Laurence Housman (from Ironical Tales, 1936)
  • "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" by Nathaniel Hawthorne (first published as "The Fountain of Youth" in the Knickerbocker Magazine, January 1837, and included in Twice-Told Tales later that year; reprinted numerous times)
  • "The Scarlet Flower" by Vsevolod Garshin (written in 1880, the story was published in Russian in 1883; often reprinted under the title "The Red Flower"; this translation by E. L. Voynich from Stories by Garshin, 1893)
  • "The Wax Madonna" by Luigi Pirandello (first published in 1934 under the possible title "la madonnina"; This translation taken from Novelle per un anno (Short Stories for a Year), published in fifteen volumes from 1922 - 1937; this translation is by Arthur and Henrie Mayne)
  • "Clarimonde" by Theophile Gautier (first published as "La morte amoreuse"  in La Chronique de Paris, June 23 and 26, 1836, then collected in Une larme de diable, 1839; reprinted many times under such titles as "The Deathly Lover," "The Amorous Corpse," "The Dead Leman," "The Vampire," "The Beautiful Vampire," "The Dead Lover," "The Dreamland Bride," "The Beautiful Dead," and "The Dead in Love"; this version translated by George Saintsbury)
  • "The Sea Monster" by Gerhard Hauptmann (first published as the self-titled chapbook Der Meerwunder Eine unwahrshceinliche Geschichte; reprinted in Herbert van Tahl's The Bedside Book of Horror, in numerous several collections of Hauptmann's work, and in several anthologies of German literature; this version was translated by Mervyn Savill)

Ten stories of ghosts, madness, obsession, legends, and irony...of jealousy, escapism, temptation, passion, horror,  and gentleness...Some of the stories and/or their translations were a tad bit wordy for me, but all are worth the time spent.  Of the ones I had not previously read "The Scarlet Flower" and "The Sea Monster" stand out for me.  Your mileage may vary.

As far as I can tell, this edition (Arthur Barker Limited:  Lopndon, 1955) is the only appearance of Snapdragon. Worldcat lists only 29 copies in American libraries.  AbeBooks lists 20 copies available from $5.57 to $45, including shipping.   Those interested may be better served by finding the stories from other sources.

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