Kernahan Letters, Part Three


Today we present just ONE letter from William Hope Hodgson to his friend, Coulson Kernahan, but I’m sure you’ll agree that it is an important one.

In this letter, WHH confirms that he has finished his FOURTH book.  This proves that all four of his novels were written by the end of September, 1905.  This is a monumental feat.  Consider also that he would not write another novel in his lifetime.  It is difficult not to speculate why he did not do so.

WHH identifies this fourth book as THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG”.  He also names THE GHOST PIRATES and THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES as two more of his completed books which he has been shopping around to publishers.  It is my contention that THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES is merely an early name for THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND.  The one missing novel which he does not mention is THE NIGHT LAND but I feel that it is a logical deduction that it is the ‘fourth’ book which is not identified in the letter.

I have no idea who the writer of WARES OF FATE was or anything about the book WHH mentions.  Perhaps someone can enlighten us?

It is likely that the story which WHH mentions as being accepted by CORNHILL MAGAZINE is “The Valley of Lost Children”.  This story was published for the first time anywhere in the February, 1906, issue of that magazine and was the first of WHH’s appearance in that title.

Stranger, however, is the mention of WINDSOR MAGAZINE.  WHH states that they have accepted one of his stories but are taking a long time to do anything with it.  The only work by WHH to appear in the WINDSOR MAGAZINE is “The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder”.  If this is the story that WHH refers to then they did indeed take their time with it as the story did not appear until their November, 1912, issue.  That would be SEVEN YEARS after the writing of this letter.  A long time indeed.

Letter #4

September 25th—05

Dear Mr Kernahan,

I’ve just finished my fourth book—Hooray!!!!!!!  I’m puzzling now as to a publisher to whom to send it.  Blackwoods, when refusing THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES, spoke very nicely of it, so I am tempted to try them again.  Yet, W.L., and C., have a man whose opinion I’m mightily anxious to have, so I think after all I’ll send them this book, and if they don’t accept it, may they go to hell.  There must be a mighty big fool somewhere clogging their machinery or they’d never have refused the writer of WARES OF FATE: dear lord! but they must feel sick, and the man’s next book gone into thirty editions.  I guess that’s like thirty punches in the wind-bag.

The title of this book is THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG”, and I’ve tried hard to be commonplace in it; but, I’m afraid, with but poor success.  I cannot ride above that failing of mine which urges me to write original stuff.  However, “berrer luck ‘n fushure”.

You may be interested to know that THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIES has been refused twenty-one times, and THE GHOST PIRATES fourteen.  So I’ve put the naughty pirates to be in the house of mysteries, and there I’ll let ‘em rest until there’s a Publisher comes to me and begs to be plundered, then—

Now I’ve heered ye’ve writted a noo buke; but I’ve not getten at yon title O’ et (how’s that for a mixture).  However, I shall be going down town some day (you see, I live on a hill), and then I’ll make inquiries.  The man who told me about it, said it was a mighty fine book, and to that I answered one word; but you’ll have to guess what it was.

And now to a weeny confession.  I’ve sent THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT to the GRAND MAGAZINE, telling him your opinion of it; though I had the slight rag of decency left to do so under the secrecy of that magic “PRIVATE AND PERSONAL”.  And now I have a letter from the Editor, saying that he quite endorses your opinion; but is afraid that the story is too gruesome for the “Big” Public.  I suppose he means they like their horrors watered down, and sweetened with the sugar of Unreality—eh?  Still, he seems sufficiently struck with the yarn to be unable to decide all at once to send it back.  Wonder what the dear boy is thinking.  Perhaps he’s not recovered sufficiently to tell the office boy to send back the “   “ thing.

And now, my Father Confessor, I do feel that I have lightened a load from my breast (why not my back?); and so to another matter.  The yeaditor of the CORNHILL MAGAZINE has taken one of my stories, and said nice things of some of my others.  Bless him.  May he live to be ninety.  May the gods cease not to smile upon his kindly old head.  I wish I were a girl, I’d go up and insist on marrying him.

I say, Man, who’s the Editor of the WINDSOR?  We’ve written a pile to one another about a short story of mine, THE FINDING OF THE ‘GRAIKEN’, and he tells me that it’s unusual for a contributor to make “severe comment” upon the actions of the Almighty, sometimes known to the common herd (of which the said contributor is the basest) as the Editor.  I’m afraid I’ve imperiled chances of a happy hereafter.

And now let me confess in secrecy my opinion of the WINDSOR MAGAZINE and the manner in which it is carried on.  In the first place I’m sure the Editor wears mittens, reads his TIMES through every morning, and has a tabby cat; for a more damnably go-slow, behind-the-times, don’t-speak-to-me-I’m-the-EDITOR, sort of way of doing things I’ve never met.  It takes the WINDSOR THREE months to accept a story, and FIFTEEN to waken up sufficiently to send one the proofs.  They’ve had that story of mine since the First of July 1904.  And they’re still languishing over it.  As for their stories, dear lord!  I never read such muck, and this in spite of the fact that they’ve one of mine, which should make me think highly of ‘em.  They published a thing, I think in a Christmas number, about a journey through the center of the earth, that would have made a Yankee Editor blush for the sanity of his paper.  And now and again they try to climb back to their supposed standard of (popular) literary excellency, by publishing a diluted imitation of a kailyard story.  One final word, their rate of pay, 15’- bob per thou., has proved such an inducement to me, that they’re simply inundated with my stuff.

There!  There! did it then!  I feel much better.  Nothing like breaking your feeding bottle to show your damned indesanguinarypendence.  But, seriously, is it Mr. Lock’s aunt who edits the WINDSOR?

And now, My Dear Sir, if you have come through so far as this without weariness, then am I satisfied.  May the gods insure you an Edition de Luxe.

In peace,

  Faithfulness,

Good-will,

And the love of fine work,

This scribe,

[signed “William Hope Hodgson”]

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6 Comments

Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

6 responses to “Kernahan Letters, Part Three

  1. Mark Valentine

    It turns out that “Waves of Fate” by Edward Noble is dedicated to Hodgson’s correspondent, Coulson Kernahan, with these words: “in grateful acknowledgement of a word which brought hope at a time when one foresaw failure”. This makes it an even stronger candidate for the book Hodgson references in his letter.

    • Mark, I definitely think you have solved the mystery! Can you give some more background on the book and the author?

      • Mark Valentine

        Certainly Sam. Edward Noble (1857-1941) was a doctor’s son who said he spent “twenty odd years wandering on the seven seas – in sailing and tramp and mail ship” as an engineer and in other jobs. He wrote eighteen books of fiction, many of them with a nautical theme. The one that Hodgson says was a great success, the next after Waves of Fate, must have been ‘The Lady Navigators and Incidentally the Man with the Nubbly Brow’ (1905). ‘Fisherman’s Gat: A Story of the Thames Estuary’ (1906) looks to have been popular too (it is ‘Gat’, not ‘Cat’, alas). Waves of Fate (Blackwood, 1905) seems to be about a young man trying to become a writer while working on board ship, with a romance interest and legal drama thrown in. The breezy tone is quite like Hodgson’s.
        Main source: Edwardian Fiction: An Oxford Companion, ed Kemp, Mitchell, Trotter (1997).

  2. Eric

    To your knowledge, did Hodgson ever write any humorous stories? If not, that’s a shame; this letter gives me the impression he would have been very good at it. His tone brings Jerome K. Jerome to mind.

    • Mark Valentine

      I think “Wares of Fate” might be “Waves of Fate” (1905) by Edward Noble, who wrote nautical novels likely to appeal to Hodgson.

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