Machen, Arthur 1863-1947
(Born Arthur Llewellyn Jones; also wrote under pseudonym of Leolinus Siluriensis) Welsh short story writer, novelist, essayist, autobiographer, translator, and journalist.
Machen is best known for his tales of bizarre occurrences and supernatual horror. In his short stories he explores the ways in which occult forces reveal the opposing elements of good and evil within human nature. Machen's characters were drawn from the occult and supernatural, such as demons and witches, malignant fairies, evil gods, and creatures speaking unintelligible languages.
Machen was born the only son of a clergyman in Caerleon-on-Usk, Wales. He spent a lonely childhood exploring the somber grandeur of the countryside in Gwent, and his youthful fascination with the beauty of the countryside is reflected in his critically admired descriptions of natural phenomena. Machen studied in London to become a surgeon, but failed the examination; subsequently, he began a career in journalism. In 1894 his first collection of short stories, The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light, was published to modest critical and commercial attention. Machen never achieved financial security from his work and in order to supplement his income, became a member of Frank Benson's Shakespeare Repertory Company as an actor. Several years later, he returned to writing journalism and fiction full-time, publishing stories and short novels in many English periodicals. Machen died in 1947.
Major Works of Short FictionMachen's all-embracing theme was the transformation of the world of everyday reality into a world of magic and wonder. One of his first stories, "The Great God Pan" concerns a woman undergoing experimental brain surgery that enables her to see the god Pan. She later gives birth to a daughter and then dies in a state of hopeless idiocy. Her daughter, Helen Vaughan, grows up to be an evil, mysterious woman. Villiers, whose friend had been married to Helen and had committed suicide, learns her true nature, confronts her, and gives her a rope to kill herself. In the process of dying, Helen converts from sex to sex, beast to man, man to beast, and beast to hideous protoplasm—a process that indicates the reversion of evolution. To his extreme disappointment, Machen achieved his greatest literary success with "The Bowmen," a relatively trivial piece of fiction concerned with divine aid received by English soldiers at the battle of Mons, during World War I. The story was widely believed to be true, and Machen was compelled to publish a disclaimer stressing that he had invented it.
Although Machen achieved little critical and popular success in his own day and eventually abandoned writing, he influenced other writers of the horror and fantasy genres, notably H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Daphne du Maurier. Though Machen remains a minor author, he has become something of a cult figure among followers of the occult and supernatural horror.
The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light 1894
The Three Imposters 1895
The House of Souls 1906
The Angels of Mons: The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War 1915
The Great Return (novella) 1915
The Terror (short novel) 1917
Ornaments in Jade (prose poems) 1924
The Children of the Pool and Other Stories 1936
The Cosy Room 1936
Other Major Works
The Anatomy of Tobacco [as Leolinus Siluriensis] (burlesque) 1884
The Chronicle of Clemendy (novel) 1888
Hieroglyphics (essay) 1902
The Hill of Dreams (autobiographical novel) 1907
Far Off Things (autobiography) 1922
The Secret Glory (novel) 1922
Things Near and Far (autobiography) 1923
Precious Balms (criticism) 1924
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SOURCE: "Marvels to Measure," in The Nation, New York, Vol. CV, No. 2730, October 25, 1917, pp. 456-57.
[In the following excerpt, the reviewer outlines the plot of Machen's short novel The Terror.]
In a recent number of the Yale Review was an entertainingly irresponsible paper by Katharine Fullerton Gerould, with some such title as "British Novelists, Ltd." The performance was, in fact, in the best manner of the current British skit-writer, or literary skitterer. Its target was an alleged uniformity of style and substance in the work of the best-praised younger Britons of this period. Almost any one of them, complains Mrs. Gerould, might have written any novel by any other of them. Undeniably, there is strong family likeness: as witness three recent stories, The Wonder, by J. D. Beresford, The Coming, by J. C. Snaith, and The Terror, by Arthur Machen. The similarity begins with their titles; but every season has its mechanical fashions in titles. More remarkable are their points of resemblance in style and substance. In each instance we are confronted with a portent, some phenomenon beyond the range of ordinary human experience, by the use of a humdrum setting and a brisk and matter-of-fact style—a reporter's style. The method goes back, of course, to Defoe and the beginnings of the English novel: Mr. Wells has brought it to date. . . .
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SOURCE: "Tales of a Mystic," in The Nation, New York, Vol. CXV, No. 2984, September 13, 1922, pp. 258-59.
[Krutch is widely regarded as one of America's most respected literary and drama critics. Noteworthy among his works are The American Drama since 1918 (1939), in which he analyzes the most important plays of the 1920s and 1930s, and "Modernism" in Modern Drama (1953), in which he stresses the need for twentieth-century playwrights to infuse their works with traditional humanistic values. A conservative and idealistic thinker, he was a consistent proponent of human dignity and the preeminence of literary art. His literary criticism is characterized by such concerns: in The Modern Temper (1929), he argues that because scientific thought has denied human worth, tragedy had become obsolete, and in The Measure of Man (1954), he attacks modern culture for depriving humanity of the sense of individual responsibility necessary for making important decisions in an increasingly complex age. In the following review of The Terror and The House of Souls, he argues Machen's lack of popularity results from the hermetic quality of his fiction.]
Arthur Machen expressed once the opinion that Poe had been influenced by Baudelaire. From this one may judge that he has no great familiarity with the history of modern literature and hence he has perhaps never heard the remark...
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SOURCE: "Arthur Machen," in The Bookman, London, Vol. LXII, No. 372, September, 1922, pp. 240-42.
[In the following essay, Roberts briefly compares Machen's short stories to those of Edgar Allan Poe.]
There are authors who are more to us than any individual book of theirs, just as there are authors who seem less than their masterpieces. Paradise Lost or Areopagitica mean something more magnificent to the mind than John Milton; but Charles Lamb is more than all his essays, and Johnson bigger than his own works or Boswell's biography. It is to the latter class that Mr. Machen belongs. Of living authors he alone, with Mr. Chesterton, furnishes the sensation that much of him, if not most of him, still remains unwritten, and will probably always remain unwritten. His last book, The Secret Glory, which has beautiful things, does not take his admirers any further than did The Hill of Dreams, which was published fifteen years ago; but it is, if not so good as a story, full as was the earlier book of the strange beauty which has haunted Mr. Machen all his life, and whose wonder he has endeavoured to convey to a prosaic generation. He has always written of mysteries, and ultimately all his mysteries are the same mystery, are but different forms of the one search, visions of the one unattainable Grail. You can divide his work into the mystery of beauty, the mystery of horror and the...
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SOURCE: A review of The Shining Pyramid, in The New Republic, Vol. XXXV, No. 453, August 8, 1923, p. 300.
[In the following review, Douglas offers a favorable assessment of The Shining Pyramid.]
Men ask for bread, and Mr. Arthur Machen gives them the Sangraal. We all do seek our meat from Shaw, and Mr. Machen asks that we feed on dreams. His heroines faint to the echo of elfin horns blown by the little people of the mist. His heroes wander in search of la belle dame sans merci on spectral meadows, or in the secret caverns of abominable gnomes.
If Mr. Machen has now come into his literary own it has been at an untold cost of loneliness and neglect and oblivion. As much as any other living author he has completed Goethe's definition that to know the powers of heaven you must eat your bread with tears. Nothing can be more lamentable reading than Far off Things and Things Near and Far, the piteous record of an inarticulate ghost-haunted boy spending his youth like a mediaeval recluse in the busy cruel streets of London knowing no one, caring for no one, on the disastrous verge of madness and starvation, finding sanctuary alone near the gray Welsh hills, in the secret dreams of his dream-tormented heart.
In truth it has been a shocking and unpardonable neglect; but in the nature of things it can hardly be a matter for real surprise. In this tough world...
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SOURCE: "Mr. Machen Alchemizes in Print," in The New York Times Book Review, August 10, 1924, p. 11.
[In the following review, the commentator emphasizes the singular nature of Ornaments in Jade, contending that the reader "with a mind receptive and swept bare of all previously conceived notions of what a book should be, and how one ought to write, will find the subtleties and the refinements of Machen 's alchemy have a meaning. "]
It will be recalled that Arthur Machen is one of England's recent literary discoveries, although the bulk of Mr. Machend work was done during the last decade of the preceding century. And we say "discoveries" advisedly. It would have been possible to say re-discoveries, but it would not have been accurate. At the time Mr. Machen was at the height of his literary endeavors he was known to but very few. England as a whole, and likewise America, knew him not at all. And the reason was that Machen's many likenesses to Stevenson—although there were as many and as sharply pronounced points of difference—caused him to be completely obscured by his greater contemporary. Thus it is only of late years that Machen has come to his own and has reaped any part of the honor that was his due.
But Arthur Machen has not been entirely content with late garnered fame, and in a little book to which he gives the cryptic title Ornaments in Jade we have a...
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SOURCE: "Supernatural Horror in Literature," in Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, edited by August Derleth, Arkham House Publishers, Inc., 1965, pp. 365-436.
[Lovecraft is considered one of the foremost modern authors of supernatural horror fiction. Strongly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, and early science fiction writers, he developed a type of horror tale that combined occult motifs, modern science, and the regional folklore of his native New England to produce the personal mythology on which he based much of his work. As is evident from his own fiction, Lovecraft was well versed in the history of Gothic writing, and his Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) is one of the earliest and most comprehensive studies of this genre. From his opening statement—"the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear"—to his concluding question—"who shall declare the dark theme a handicap?"—Lovecraft examines the literature of supernatural horror as an "essential branch of human expression. " Discussing both major and minor works, from the myths of antiquity to pulp adventures of the modern era, his study provides a rationale for the functions of and motivations behind supernatural horror. He argues that the most successful specimens of the form inspire in the reader a sense of liberation, along with horrific revulsion, through fictional violations of the laws of the natural...
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SOURCE: A review of Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, in The New York Times Book Review, August 1, 1948, p. 10.
[Highly regarded for his mystery novels, Carr was an American editor, biographer, and short story writer. In the following essay, he offers a positive assessment of the short stories collected in Tales of Horror and the Supernatural.]
Machen died last December. For most of his long lifetime (he was over 80) his work had been neglected or forgotten. Now honor has been done. His Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, admirably edited by Philip Van Doren Stern, contains the best of his short stories, from "The Novel of the Black Seal" to a brief novel called The Terror. He was, as the editor somewhat diffidently points out, a Victorian romantic. Like so many of this tribe, he could do one thing supremely well: he could tell a story.
As Mr. Stern says, Machen never wrote a ghost story. His terrors well up from ancient cracks in the ground, from a demon borderland never quite defined. They are malignant; they pursue and devour. Dr. Clarke, of "The Great God Pan," keeps in a locked bureau his series of "Memoirs to Prove the Existence of the Devil." Most of these stories are just that. Spiritually lonely, chuckling at life like the talker in the darkened room of Hieroglyphics, Machen had yet another quality seldom stressed. He loved the unexpected ending, the...
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SOURCE: An introduction to Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen, Alfred A. Knopf, 1948, pp. vxvi.
[Stern is an American editor, historian, and author. In the following essay, he provides an overview of Machen's fiction.]
Most of the stories in this book [Tales of Horror and the Supernatural] were written forty or fifty years ago. Arthur Machen had a long career; he was born in 1863 and lived until December 15, 1947, but he did his best work while he was still fairly young. Carl Van Vechten and Vincent Starrett introduced his work to the American public in the twenties, and for a brief while he became an author whom it was fashionable to read. His yellow-bound volumes with their purple labels were then to be seen everywhere; now they are almost impossible to obtain, for they are all out of print, and when one of them does come into the hands of a secondhand book dealer, it seldom remains in stock very long.
Yet Machen's stories have been widely anthologized, and to the connoisseur of the supernatural many of them are as familiar as the tales of Sheridan Le Fanu or of Machen's scholarly contemporary Montague Rhodes James, whose stories of ancient hauntings seem likely to outlast most of the realistic literature of his day. Machen, however, did not write a single ghost story. He was never interested in the unhappy revenant that lingers around ancestral houses to...
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SOURCE: "Machen's Magic," in Arthur Machen: Weaver of Fantasy, Round Table Press, 1949, pp. 128-43.
[In the essay below, Gekle examines the supernatural quality of Machen's fiction and places his work within a literary context.]
Of recent years there has been a tendency to regard the novel as something it has become rather than what it should be. Most novels that do not fall neatly into one of several categories created by the critics and reviewers are judged to be poor novels indeed. As a matter of fact, the whole of fiction, as well as of poetry, has come to be judged according to standards which, while they may be excellent standards when applied to journalism or the so-called "documentary," serve fiction rather poorly. It has become the custom to label all stories, novels and poetry that may fall outside the special categories set up by such standards as "escapist." It is a convenient enough classification, and it is an apt enough description, but the word has come to be used in a rather derogatory sense.
Now it may be demonstrated by an application of these very standards that almost every one of the world's great books, and every one of the world's heroic poems, is "escapist." And that is, after all, what they were intended to be. But we are concerned with the telling of a story and the manner of its telling. To tell a wonderful story in a wonderful manner, this, says Arthur...
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SOURCE: Arthur Machen: A Short Account of His Life and Work, John Baker, 1963, 202 p.
[In the following excerpt, Reynolds and Charlton discuss thematic and stylistic aspects of Machen's short stories, maintaining that his fiction is "something not particularly profound, not even, at times, very skilfully executed, but of an imaginative sophistication which could be pressed no further."]
[A distinctive style and manner] make their appearance in the story that first brought [Machen] into the public eye. This was called "The Great God Pan" and it is certainly true that the scenes set in the author's native land are far the most convincing. It was not on this account, however, that its publication caused a mild sensation. In the story a doctor performs an operation on the brain of a woman which causes her to awake a complete idiot. Shortly afterwards she dies, but before she dies she gives birth to a daughter. The doctor takes the child to a different part of the country and pays a farmer's wife to bring her up with the rest of her children. As she grows up, her presence casts a sinister and malign influence on the children of the neighbourhood. One child is struck dumb with terror, another all but dies of shame. The girl leaves the neighbourhood, drops her adopted name of Helen Vaughan, and reappears in London married to a man called Herbert. Villiers, the hero of the story, is a friend of Herbert...
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SOURCE: An introduction to A Bibliography of Arthur Machen by Adrian Goldstone and Wesley Sweetser, University of Texas Press, 1965, pp. 9-14.
[Sweetser is an American educator and critic. In the essay below, he discusses the defining characteristics of Machen 's fiction.]
Of all the fields in which Man vies for immortality the literary field is perhaps the most competitive. Time, readers, and publishers determine the final answer as to who has survived and who has not. In Machen's case, it seems likely that since his major productions are of the '90's, enough time has elapsed to allow for a sound judgment. Hundreds of publications by him, about him, or mentioning him appeared before his death; and since his death over a hundred publications have appeared by him, about him, or mentioning him. In a limited but continuing way, then, it appears that Machen has survived.
Like Poe, Machen was limited in range and esoteric in his ideas; but Machen lacked the imaginative genius of Poe; and in those works where he allowed his imagination full rein, Machen could not refrain from displaying intellectual guilt at his childish fantasies. With a little less intellectuality, he might have been a major writer. As it is, his present following, like that of mystery story addicts, is avid but small. The largest group embraces the terror and supernatural readers, but enough of the element of the...
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SOURCE: "Arthur Machen among the Arthurians," in Minor British Novelists, edited by Charles Alva Hoyt, Southern Illinois University Press, 1967, pp. 109-20.
[In the essay below, Nash analyzes Arthurian elements in Machen 's The Great Return and contends that the short novel also contains themes characteristic of Machen 's supernatural tales.]
Arthur Machen, in his own words "the descendant of a long line of Welsh priests," has been classed by a modern scholar with the twentieth-century Arthurians, Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis and T. H. White. He was born at Caerleon-upon-Usk and was acquainted from his earliest years with Welsh landscape and folklore. In addition to becoming acquainted with Tennyson, Spenser, and Malory, he was early trained in medieval lore, spending some time in the British Museum searching out and studying French manuscripts in preparation for a series of articles for the Academy on the subject of the Grail.
Until the latter part of the nineteenth century all of the "matter of Britain" was regarded by intellectuals as wholly fictitious, a compound of literary creation and local legend, but the historicity of Arthur is now accepted by most historians. That is, such experts have agreed that there was, about the fifth century A.D., a local Celtic kinglet named Arthur who managed to knit the regional rulers into a loose confederacy which...
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SOURCE: "Arthur Machen: The House of Souls" in Horror: 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, Carroll & Graf, 1988, pp. 64-7.
[Klein is considered one of the leading American authors of supernatural fiction. In the following tribute to House of Souls, he assesses the influence of Machen's "The White People" on his own work.]
One of my longest-held ambitions—not a particularly lofty one, but the sort that all too easily gets put off, decade after decade, until one suddenly discovers it's too late—is to spend a year or so motoring around the British Isles, from Penzance to John o' Groats, stopping wherever I please. The back seat of my car would of course be filled with books: with the dozens of travel guides, highway atlases, and gazetteers of haunted houses, prehistoric sites, battlefields, and castles that I've been collecting all my life.
But in addition to the carload of reference works, I'd want to take three volumes of memoirs and a book of supernatural tales. The memoirs are those of Arthur Machen and, together, they constitute a rambling autobiography: Far Off Things, Things Near and Far, and The London Adventure. The story book is Machen's The House of Souls.
Machen (rhymes with 'blacken') was a Welsh clergyman's son who, as a young man, left the countryside behind and moved to London in the hope of...
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SOURCE: "Arthur Machen's 'N' as Allegory of Reading," in Studies in Weird Fiction, Vol. 7, Spring, 1990, pp. 8-11.
[In the following essay, Burleson provides a deconstructionist interpretation of Machen's short story "N."]
There is something remarkable at the outset when the title of a story consists of a single letter of the alphabet, a seemingly simple grapheme, as is the case with Arthur Machen's "N" (Tales of Horror and the Supernatural), a tale earlier belonging to the collection The Cosy Room (1936). The titular "N", by the most facile explanation, reflects the fact that the events of the story revolve around the Stoke Newington area north of London proper (a region and a direction treated rather mystically in the tale)—but this seemingly simple title contains much more, and in fact adumbrates the reading that we shall here entertain, a reading of the tale as an allegory of reading and of textuality. As such, the text allegorises any reading of the text itself, including the present one pointing out the allegorisation, with all the impenetrable paradox, if one pursues it, that such self-referentiality entails.
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SOURCE: "Arthur Machen's Supernaturalism: The Decadent Variety," in The University of Mississippi Studies in English, n.s. Vol. VIII, 1990, pp. 117-26.
[In the following essay, Owens examines "The Great God Pan, " "The Inmost Light, " and "The Novel of the White Powder, " maintaining that the stories are influenced by the work of "decadent" writers of the 1890s.]
The links are numerous between Arthur Machen and that rather ill-defined group of writers and artists in the 1890s known as "decadents." In 1894 John Lane at the Bodley Head published Machen's The Great God Pan and The Inmost Light in his Keynotes series, complete with an Aubrey Beardsley cover. Machen knew Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas; he dined with Wilde on several occasions and when critics characterized Machen's stories as "disgusting," "revolting," "loathsome," and "demoniac," Wilde congratulated him on the furor he had caused. The general public obviously associated Machen with the decadent coterie of writers connected with either Wilde or The Yellow Book, because the Wilde scandal of 1895 had an adverse effect on the sale of Machen's The Three Imposters, again published by Lane. But Machen's personal links with this group never went beyond these rather superficial, mostly professional connections. He himself asserted that he was "not even a small part, but no part at all" of the nineties, and [in Arthur...
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SOURCE: "Arthur Machen: The Mystery of the Universe," in The Weird Tale: Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft, University of Texas Press, 1990, pp. 12-41.
[An American editor and critic, Joshi is the leading figure in the field of H. P. Lovecraft scholarship and criticism. As an editor, his publications include several volumes of Lovecraft's previously uncollected or unpublished works, critical editions of Lovecraft's major fiction, a collection of essays surveying Lovecraft's critical reputation, the journal Lovecraft Studies, and the definitive bibliography of Lovecraft's life and work as well as a full-length biographical and critical study. In the following excerpt, he evaluates Machen's reputation as a short fiction writer, concluding that his stories are a failed attempt to renounce "the modern world of science and naturalism. "]
Arthur Machen was born Arthur Llewelyn Jones at Caerleon-on-Usk, Wales, on March 3, 1863; he adopted his mother's maiden name Machen in grade school. Fascinated from youth by the Roman ruins of Isca Silurum near his birthplace, Machen would later give them an important place in his novels and tales. He attended Hereford Cathedral School, but failed the examination for the Royal College of Surgeons in 1880; he went to London as a tutor, cataloguer, and editor. Just before leaving Wales he privately printed the...
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SOURCE: "A Theme in the Early Work of Arthur Machen: 'Degeneration,'" in English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, Vol. 35, No. 3, 1992, pp. 277-87.
Arthur Machen achieved notoriety as a writer through a series of short stories he wrote in the 1890s which, perhaps more than any other literary material, are a bridge between the supernatural tale of the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century genre of the horror-film. Stories such as "The Great God Pan" (1894), "The Inmost Light" (1894) and "The Novel of the White Powder" (1895) achieved both fame and opprobrium for their author through the powerful sense of evil which is realised in them.
Though Machen was by no means the only writer of the 90s to concern himself with evil, it is at first sight a strange concern. Why, in an age and society increasingly agnostic and conscious of its own modernity, should a writer be impelled to create a sense of evil through his work? And how can he do so? In an age when the traditional religious iconography of evil has all but withered, on what common ground can he rely to communicate with his readership? The answer is that the sense of moral evil traditionally associated with religion had only changed its character, not dissolved. From the Enlightenment onwards, the imagery of evil was being translated gradually from a spiritual to a scientific register, just as the function of the priest as society's moral guardian was...
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SOURCE: "Scientific Portraits in Magical Frames: The Construction of Preternatural Narrative in the Work of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Arthur Machen," Extrapolation, Vol. 35, No. 3, Fall, 1994, pp. 186-200.
Hoffmann's tale Der Automate and Arthur Machen's The Three Imposters seem firmly footed in the world of nineteenth-century romanticism. On these foundations the elements of the fantastic, or the supernatural, work within the narratives by the invocation of what [Viktor] Shklovsky termed [in Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, edited by David Lodge, 1988] the technique of "estrangement" (ostranenie); defamiliarizing the commonplace by placing the everyday in parallel with this supernatural "otherness." [According to Colin Manlove, in Modern Fantasy, 1975] theories of fantasy literature reinforce this interpretation by suggesting that magical supernature in such fictions is "of another order of reality from that in which we exist and form our notions of possibility." This study will attempt to show that both Hoffmann's and Machen's alternative realities reside not only in the preternatural content of the narratives but in the very fabric of the narratives themselves. Their fictional worlds may appear to be that of nineteenth-century scientific rationalism, however, the rules governing the evocation of these worlds belong solely within the traditions of magic, alchemy, and ancient esotericism. ....
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Danielson, Henry. Arthur Machen: A Bibliography. New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1970, 59 p.
Primary bibliography. Includes biographical and critical notes by Arthur Machen.
Reynolds, Aidan, and Charlton, William. Arthur Machen: A Short Account of His Life and Work. London: John Baker Publishers, Ltd., 1963, 202 p.
Comprehensive biography of Machen.
Sweetser, Wesley D. Arthur Machen. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964, 175 p.
Critical study of Machen's work that includes biographical information.
Drake, Douglas. "The Creators of Horror." In his Horror!, pp. 221-60. New York: Collier Books, 1966.
Favorably assesses Machen's fiction, concluding that "his writing is considered too leisurely, too mystical, too polished and elegant for readers accustomed to jet-propelled literature, even in the staid and classic world of horror."
Ellis, Stewart M. "Arthur Machen." In his Mainly Victorian, pp. 269-75. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1925.
Discusses Machen as a product of the Victorian era.
Gekle, William Francis. Arthur Machen: Weaver of Fantasy. Millbrook, N.Y.: Round Table Press, 1949, 219 p.
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