There are several mysteries about William Hope Hodgson but here’s one that is on my mind lately.
Book dedications are a very personal thing with writers. Usually, they are given to people in the author’s life who have made a great impact on them. For that reason, we often see dedications to parents and spouses or children.
Hodgson makes a couple of dedications that we can easily identify who he is singling out for such special appreciation.
In THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (1908), he dedicates the novel to “My Father, (Whose Feet Tread the Lost Aeons)”. This is a particularly interesting dedication when we remember the often explosive nature of their relationship. It is reported that they argued frequently and, given that WHH’s father was an Anglican Priest and WHH was an atheist, many of those fights probably involved religion. It is possible, of course, that the dedication was more to please his mother than to applaud the memory of his father as WHH’s devotion to his mother is well documented.
In CAPTAIN GAULT (1917), WHH dedicates the volume to “Gilbert K. Farnworth (Killed in Action, May 8th, 1917) This simple, cheerful tale, which was always so much to your liking; In Affectionate Memory”. This was his wife’s brother who did, indeed, precede WHH as a war casualty. WHH married Bessie Farnworth in 1913 and the Captain Gault stories began to be published in 1914 so obviously Gilbert had a chance to read them and express his enjoyment to WHH.
In CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER (1913), the dedication is to “B. G. H.” That the “H” represented “Hodgson”, I felt certain. But who was “B. G.”? None of WHH’s siblings had those initials. Thankfully, my long-suffering wife suggested that I check WHH’s wife’s middle name. Sure enough, her maiden name was BESSIE GERTRUDE Farnworth! So, it is very likely that CARNACKI was dedicated to WHH’s wife during the year of their wedding.
THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG” (1907) does not contain a dedication but instead begins with WHH’s poem “Madre Mia” which translates to “Oh, my mother”. We can then consider that this book is dedicated to WHH’s mother which, being his first published novel, is only understandable.
THE NIGHT LAND (1912) has no dedication at all which is odd by itself.
But the strangest dedication of all comes in THE GHOST PIRATES (1909). It says simply, “To Mary Whalley”. Now, who the bloody hell is “Mary Whalley”???
In his introduction to OUT OF THE STORM: UNCOLLECTED FANTASIES (1975), Sam Moskowitz makes the following statement:
THE GHOST PIRATES was dedicated to Mary Whalley, one of Hodgson’s sisters. She, along with other sisters, Bertha and Eunice, had emigrated to Canada, where they would eventually marry and raise families. They selected Canada because one of Hodgson’s brothers, Frank, had gone there first and made out. (OoS, pg 75)
I’m afraid that I must disagree with Moskowitz on this point.
WHH had four sisters: Mary Ellen Elizabeth (known as “Mary” or “Pearl”), Mary Bertha Ann ((known as “Bertha”), Lissie Sarah, and Sophia Beatrice Eunice (known as “Eunice”). I’ve been doing some genealogical work on WHH and his family (which is not easy) and have determined that Mary Ellen did emigrate to Canada but her married name was “Perry”, not “Whalley”. This would seem to be the “Mary” that Moskowitz identifies but her husband was Charles Henry Perry. Mary “Bertha” and Sophia “Eunice” did emigrate to Canada but I can not find any evidence that Mary “Bertha” ever married at all while Sophia “Eunice” married a “Frank Johnson”. Also, Moskowitz states that his “Mary Whalley” emigrated WITH Bertha and Eunice which would, logically, eliminate them as candidates. In short, it appears that “Mary Whalley” was not one of Hodgson’s sisters.
So, who was Mary Whalley?? Based on the fact that the previous dedications were to family members (or extended in the case of Gilbert Farnworth), could this be another family member? Or, was the information that Moskowitz relied on possibly confused? Were the “Mary’s” somehow mixed up? Or was this mystery woman someone else in WHH’s life?
It is my assumption that Moskowitz conducted interviews with Hodgson’s remaining siblings sometime during the 1970’s. At that time, only Mary Perry and one of WHH’s brothers, Christopher George, were still alive. Mary Perry died in 1973 while Christopher George passed away in 1978. Perhaps there was some confusion during the interview as both siblings were in their 80’s by the 1970s and they may have meant that Mary “Bertha” was Mary Whalley?
Mary Bertha Ann Hodgson was born on July 11, 1885. This makes her seven years younger than WHH who was born on November 15, 1877. Although Randy Everts relates many ‘family anecdotes’ in his articles on WHH (implying that he did interview Christopher Hodgson and Mary Perry), he says nothing about the “Mary Whalley” question.
Hopefully, future genealogical research will give us the answer. For now, as with so much about Hodgson’s life, we can speculate but have no concrete evidence.