We continue today with the reprinting of R. Alain Evert’s biographical article on Hodgson. This part reflects on the beginning of Hodgson’s writing career. I venture to say that many readers probably do not know the details which Everts presents here. They are, of course, uncredited and are likely the memories of Hodgson’s few surviving siblings through interviews. As such, we can not really establish them as definitive. However, they are the best we have right now.
There are several items of note here: the concept of most of WHH’s best fiction being written early in his career, the details of his family during their time in Blackburn and Borth and the tantalizing mention of an early romance for WHH. As always, I reprint this part solely to encourage conversation and scholarly study of WHH and intend no copyright infringement.
by R. Alain Everts
LITERARY CAREER, Part One
It was in the year 1902 that Hope commenced his writing career—at least seriously. One of his earliest pieces appeared in Cassell’s Magazine, November 1903, entitled “Health from Scientific Exercise”, in which Hodgson expounded some of his physical health theories—this article was also profusely illustrated with photographs of the twenty-four year old author demonstrating various body-building exercises. At this time, he composed several short stories in the horror genre, which apart from “The Riven Night” remain unpublished. In fact, most of Hodgson’s horror tales were written during the early period, as well as his horror and phantasy novels. His fascination with these themes, and for the sea, is evident in Hodgson’s work right from the start—while other essays not in the same vein, such as “The Poet Versus the Stonemason or Regarding Similar Names” appeared in The Author in early 1906.
Hope’s short stories he always referred to as his “pot-boilers”—and he was delighted that they brought in some money from the London magazine markets. Later the American magazine market picked him up by paying the fabulous sum of $40 for each story. These “pot-boilers” provided Hope with some steady income and permitted him to devote his time to his more serious writings—his phantasy novels. Both The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (London, Chapman & Hall, 1907) and The House on the Borderland (Chapman & Hall, 1908) were completed prior to 1904 in Blackburn—the ‘house’ in The House on the Borderland is a mixture of the house in Blackburn and the Old Rectory in Ardraham—both works written directly means of a typewriter, with minor corrections made later. Hope had to teach himself to type, and read every book he could lay his hands on on how to write, also on the supernatural, the occult, spiritualism, and contemporary phantasy and horror authors—such that there were.
He would sometimes stay up all night long typing his ideas out—and anyone who dared to interrupt him would be soundly taken care of. Hope had the whole study at the Revidge Road house made over into his own private room where he slept on a cot-bed, and wrote at his leisure. Not only his novels, but many of his short stories and his poetry date from this early period—Chris never recalls a time when his brother was not writing poetry, and most likely the majority of it is lost today. His first actual horror story to be published is not (as once thought) “The Voice in the Night” (Blue Book, November 1907)—many of Hodgson’s short stories are lost in the divers British and American periodicals, and it seems likely that several appeared prior to this date—I have not yet located “A Tropical Horror” (The Grand Magazine, June 1905), or “The Goddess of Death” (The Royal Magazine, April 1904). [editor (Everts) note: both now seen.]
The children all recall Hope telling them many of these stories before he wrote them—among them the perhaps autobiographical “The Room of Fear” one of his earliest tales (unpublished). His two stories, “From the Tideless Sea” (Blue Book, April 1906) and its sequel “More News from the ‘Homebird’” (Blue Book, August 1907) see to be among his first published works in a true horror vein. All of the Carnacki short stories were early as well—and Hope himself was in actuality Carnacki, while many of the adventures were actual adventures of Hope—who was something of a sensitive (in the psychic term of the word). One of his psychic incidents occurred late at night when Hope was writing at the dining room table (before he had his own study), and his mother cam to the upstairs banister and rapped on it as she would do when she retired. Hope heard the door to her room close as she retired for the night. But on his way to bed he noticed that the door to her room [was] open, and waking her he discovered the she had not rapped on the banister. Another time a rug was pulled under the door, and there was no one on the other side.
In 1904, the family decided to move to Borth, a small seaside resort near Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire, where the Reverend Samuel Hodgson and his family used to spend their summers from the late 1870s onward. The house in Blackburn was retained until 1908, when most of the Hodgson children had left home, while a house in Borth, on High Street, was rented yearly. From 1904 on, Hope spent most of his time in Borth, living in the house called “Blaneifion” that had its back to the sea, while Hope’s room overlooked the sea. During the summer, the whole family lived there, but during the rest of the year Hope had the entire house to himself and he wrote peacefully. When the whole family gathered together, jammed in the small house, there would be picnics, beach outings, boatings, and carnivals. For most of the year Hope was left alone, and in one six month period, possibly during 1905-1907, Hope wrote The Night Land (London, Eveleigh Nash, 1912) and most likely The Ghost Pirates (London, Stanley Paul, 1909) mostly writing at night. No one in the family really knew how creative Hope was—the most interested in Hope’s writing was his younger brother Chris.
The family began to break up during the early 1900’s—Hillyard and Frank left as immigrants to Canada about 1905—followed by Mary about 1906, Chris and Eunice and Bertha about 1908. Chad who had possibly been married once previously, married a widow, several years older than he and was rarely, if ever, heard of again by the family. In 1908, Mrs. Hodgson now a complete invalid and Lissie, her devoted daughter, moved to Glaneifion permanently to live with Hope. With the children gone, things were much calmer in the family, and Hope was able to travel from time to time to town (as he called London), specifically to visit his publishers, and a friend of Mr. W. R. Horner, the sculptor Earnest George Gillick (1877-1951). In Borth, Hope was well remembered.
Hope was apparently engaged in Borth for some time to a beautiful young girl. He was very popular with the girls—he dressed well, and took an extremely long time grooming himself in the morning—and was extremely handsome. At his prime, he stood about 5’ 7” but was so slim tht his height was hardly noticed as terribly short, he had black hair and dark eyes, and a very smooth complexion—it was almost as if he had Spanis blood in him. He would always turn to watch good-looking girls—especially if they had to lift their skirts to step from the curb, for he would remake on the “swell ankle” thus exposed. If he held a door open for girls, they would continue to turn around and stare at Hope until they were out of sight.
His mother was quite miffed at Hope, for he never brought any of his men friends home with him when they were living in Blackburn—she wanted to introduce them to the girls—but Hope only brought his girl-friends over. He was quite the ladies man it would seem; however, his engagement in Borth broke off, and Hope was not to marry until he was 35 years old.