August (William) Derleth 1909–1971
(Also wrote under pseudonyms of Stephen Grendon and Tally Mason) American novelist, short story writer, poet, nonfiction writer, biographer, critic, editor, and publisher.
Derleth wrote or edited more than 150 books, including poetry, fiction, biographies, histories, juvenile fiction, mysteries, and supernatural tales, during a career that spanned nearly fifty years. While he began his career as a mystery writer, Derleth gained his most serious critical attention for his semiautobiographical "Sac Prairie Saga." These works, which revolve around the people and events in the fictive town of Sac Prairie, Wisconsin, were praised for their attention to detail and their vivid descriptions of nature. Totalling thirty-eight volumes, including poetry, prose, and character sketches, the Sac Prairie Saga evinces Derleth's ability to depict both the peacefulness and the tension in small-town life.
The Sac Prairie series covers the time period from the early 1800s through the mid-1900s. While the works in this series are highly praised for Derleth's descriptions of natural beauty, some critics maintain that his preoccupation with the land indicates a lack of feeling for his characters and makes it difficult to sustain interest in them. Derleth's characters generally are loners who exhibit what he called "the night that is in each of us." Most of Derleth's stories are concerned with the themes of love, courage, and honor and are infused with a wistful, nostalgic tone that often includes gentle humor. Among the more highly praised Sac Prairie works are the novels Still Is the Summer Night (1937), Wind Over Wisconsin (1938), and Evening in Spring (1941), the short story collection Country Growth (1940), and two volumes of poetry, Hawk on the Wind (1938) and Man Track Here (1939).
While he was involved in writing the Sac Prairie works, Derleth began another series, the "Wisconsin Saga." The five novels in this series, Bright Journey (1940), The House on the Mound (1958), The Hills Stand Watch (1960), The Shadow in the Glass (1963), and The Wind Leans West (1969), often have as their subjects actual people and events in the history of Wisconsin. These volumes maintain the same subdued tone as the Sac Prairie Saga, for Derleth concentrated on similar themes and carefully detailed his settings. However, this series, like the later volumes of the Sac Prairie works, was not well received by critics; they considered his later works monotonous, repetitive, and crowded with superfluous characters and incidents.
Two other series for which Derleth is known are the Judge Peck stories and the Solar Pons mysteries. Also set in Sac Prairie, the Judge Peck works, which include Murder Stalks the Wakely Family (1934), The Seven Who Waited (1943), and Death by Design (1953), are cleverly plotted detective stories that have been well received by devotees of the genre. The Solar Pons mysteries, including In Re: Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Solar Pons (1945) and Mr. Fairlie's Final Journey (1968), have been praised as among the best Sherlock Holmes imitations as well as being entertaining and intriguing in their own right.
Although Derleth was recognized as an important regional writer during the 1940s and 1950s, he became better known in subsequent years as the founder of Arkham House, which published a number of well-known writers in the supernatural and fantasy fields, including Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, Robert Bloch, and Algernon Blackwood. Derleth also oversaw the publication of the first novels of science fiction writers Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and A. E. Van Vogt. His most famous literary association, however, was with H. P. Lovecraft, whose works he promoted for critical and public attention. Derleth also wrote numerous stories based on notes and fragments Lovecraft had left and published them under joint authorship. These works are collected in the volume The Watchers Out of Time and Others (1974). Derleth also tried his hand at writing science fiction, but his accomplishments in this field are considered slight in comparison to those in his Sac Prairie series.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed., Vols. 29-32, rev. ed. [obituary]; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 4; Something about the Author, Vol. 5; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 9.)
Dear A. W.:—
Your novelette The Early Years [the initial draft of the novel which was to become Evening in Spring] duly came, and I have read it with the closest attention. Truly, it is a splendid piece of work…. I knew from your isolated fragments that you had the real stuff of literature at your command; but now that I see some of these arranged in a proper organic relationship, my opinion takes an additional upward soaring! There is profound and subtle beauty, splendidly modulated, in this sequence of dream-glamourous pictures. You have a keen and sensitively selective eye for details and sensations and images, as indeed I realised before. Now I see that you are equally felicitous in arranging these things in a significant, revelatory, and aesthetically satisfying form. It seems to me that you are coming to handle words and sentences more and more skilfully and adequately—you will recall my mentioning, in years past, that carelessness in this field … was one result of your over-voluminous writing which ought to be corrected a bit. Time, I imagine, is supplying this correction—for this novelette has passages of beautiful and musical language as well as of poignant imagery and convincing emotion. There is no mistaking the right of this piece to be considered as serious literary expression. (pp. 141-42)
[The] sketches all have the feel of genuine life and sincerity about them. They create a...
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Dear A. W.:—
… Five Alone is such a magnificently balanced bit of atmosphere and inevitability that I don't see how any fully awake and sober editor could possibly reject it. The steady growth of your work is surely heartening to see, and I can easily imagine what your place in the literary field will be a decade hence. About the objection to the odd constructions typified by "she walking out" … or "she perfectly natural" …, I must say that I am inclined to agree with the pedagogical commentator. These constructions, whatever their abstract syntactical merits, are so conspicuously unidiomatic that they tend to attract attention to themselves and thus halt the imaginative progress of the reader. An author's object should be the art which conceals art, hence obtrusive singularity is always to be shunned…. This story is certainly a most remarkable piece of work—full of the horror (also to be noted in early New England) of exaggerated instincts in remote and lonely places. I can't think of anything that could be done to better it as a whole….
H P [H. P. Lovecraft], in a letter to August Derleth in February, 1932, in his Selected Letters: 1932–1934, Vol. IV, edited by August Derleth and James Turner, Arkham House: Publishers, Inc., 1976, p. 11.
[In "Murder Stalks the Wakely Family," seven] persons living in the little town of Sac Prairie, Wis., receive invitations—they might almost be called commands—to call at midnight on Satterlee Wakely, a man who is hated by virtually everybody who knows him…. [The four who accept the invitations] arrive at Wakely's house so nearly at the same moment that they all go in together. They find Wakely dead with a knife stuck through his neck…. But this is only the beginning. Three more murders are to follow before Judge Peck … discovers the secret that is at the bottom of all the killings and finds the killer. Judge Peck is not a particularly brilliant detective, but he is patient and persistent, and those are the qualities that the case seems to call for.
For the most part the story is told from the viewpoint of Judge Peck and his fellow investigators, but in two places the author departs from this plan and puts himself in the place of the person about to be killed, thus marring the unity of the story for no other purpose, apparently, than to add a slight touch of horror. However, it is not likely that the average mystery fan is fussy about such things so long as he is provided with plenty of bloodshed, and there is no lack of that in this book. (pp. 12, 21)
Isaac Anderson, in a review of "Murder Stalks the Wakely Family," in The New York Times Book Review, March 18, 1934, pp. 12, 21.
[In "The Man on All Fours"] we have some not unpleasant sleuthing by Judge Ephraim Peck, who appeared in "Murder Stalks the Wakely Family," ferreting out a coil of fatal violence at Senessen House, the seat of the strange clan of mentally deranged and otherwise suspicious folks near Sac Prairie, Wis. Who stabbed Ray Horrell, son-in-law of old Mrs. Gravisa Senessen, matriarch of the house, unless it was maybe the beldame herself? And what caused the rest of the lively doings in the murder mansion? There are sixteen people to watch…. Ye author succeeds in keeping his secret to the final chapter, which is as it should be.
Will Cuppy, in a review of "The Man on All Fours," in...
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The little Wisconsin village of Sac Prairie is the scene of ["Three Who Died"], as of the other stories about Judge Peck, who is Mr. Derleth's pet sleuth. The judge and his friend, Dr. Considine, have just returned from a fishing trip. They learn that during their absence two persons have died and a third is at the point of death.
There is, at first, no suspicion of foul play, but larger developments make both Judge Peck and Dr. Considine suspicious, and investigation shows that all three of these persons have been murdered. A puzzling feature of the case is that there is no apparent motive, nor is one discovered until the pasts of the persons concerned have been thoroughly raked over.
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Whoever conceived the idea for "Place of Hawks" has, with the best intentions, done August Derleth a disservice…. [The] first sample of his [short stories] to appear in book form is a literary hybrid that misses both ways. Composed of four long stories which together attempt to constitute a unified pattern, it cannot by the most elastic definition of the term he called a novel; as a representative collection of short stories it is a singularly poor job of selection. I am afraid that readers encountering Mr. Derleth for the first time in these pages will notice his faults and overlook his talents, as they would not in a less tricky and arbitrary arrangement.
It is easy to understand the temptation...
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In "Place of Hawks," a series of four novelettes so closely interrelated that they practically form a unit, Mr. Derleth deals with the kind of material which William Faulkner has copyrighted, though his point of view is essentially different. Horror and madness are his principal themes, but they are presented sanely, with pity and compassion.
Mr. Derleth has a highly developed sense of form. The pattern which he has chosen to bind his four tales together is so logical and apt that "Place of Hawks" resembles a novel rather than the usual collection of stories. His mouthpiece is a young boy, Steve Grendon, who is in the habit of driving round the countryside with his grandfather, a doctor…....
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"Still Is the Summer Night," Mr. Derleth's second novel, again has Sac Prairie for a background. This time, however, the emphasis is different [from that in "Place of Hawks"]. Though his story ends in violence, though his three young Halders act out a stormy triangular drama, his characters this time are normal and subject to normal passions. They take an active, vigorous part in the life of Sac Prairie—a town which, in the early Eighties, still retained lingering features of a typical frontier settlement. (pp. 7, 18)
On the outskirts of the village, crouching at the edge of the prairie, lay the prosperous Halder farm. Here, in apparent amity, dwelt old Captain Halder, a Civil War veteran; his...
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"Still is the Summer Night," by August Derleth, is far more than a regional story with a vivid background. In the story of the lives of its prairie people, it traces, page by page, the invisible pattern, even though it never refers to pattern at all. Even though Julie does not see that she could have acted differently, even though Alton "was not concerned with moral aspects," still the old Greek emergence of cause and effect sets the book far beyond tale-telling.
And Mr. Derleth tells a tale, absorbing enough in itself, and knit with the land. He has Hardy's sense of the soil, the "roll and wheel" of stars, of the seasons, of live things and growing things. These are as vivid to him as are human...
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To August Derleth the saga of Wisconsin is not a tale of heady conquest, but one of understanding of the suffering and betrayal experienced by two races which could not live together in peace and equality. And, giving meaning to the tragedy of a people doomed to extermination, is ["Wind Over Wisconsin"], the story of friendship between two men, Black Hawk and Chalfonte Pierneau, holding each other in high esteem and affection but powerless to stem the tide of affairs which separate them. Each suffered pain and disillusion, but at the end it was the conquering white who found it hardest to swallow the defeat and humiliation of the conquered….
Besides telling the story of Wisconsin of this era, Mr....
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[In "Wind Over Wisconsin"] August Derleth invites inspection of a significant moment in the history of his own state…. [He] wishes to throw a bridge across an obscure interval of history, linking the familiar country of the present to the terra incognita of the past. His impulse is honest and admirable; but his execution of the plan is ineffectively engineered.
The chief difficulty lies in Mr. Derleth's inability to bring his characters to life. Each of them wears a label around his neck and shows the strain of carrying it. Chalfonte, American-born son of a French settler of aristocratic birth, is the stout-hearted idealist. Hercules Dousman, fur tracer, is the realist with a clear-eyed view of...
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Although August Derleth, the author of several published novels, has been writing poetry for a decade or more,… ["Hawk on the Wind" marks] his first appearance in book form as a poet. A marked individuality is the striking characteristic of these pieces, individuality of form as well as of thought. August Derleth has an ear acutely tuned both for meter and rhyme. In respect to the latter he is most subtle. Not merely at first glance at the page but after reading for several lines one believes him to be writing vers libre. Then gradually there intrudes a teasingly pleasing doubt which presently gives way before the perception of the negligently carried rhyme scheme. And the reason the rhyme was not noticed earlier is...
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["Hawk on the Wind" is Derleth's] first volume of poetry. Chosen from hundreds of poems which he has written in the past decade, the selections in this book are an integral part of the story of Wisconsin which Derleth aims to tell in the "Saga."
He is a competent poet. His verse is smooth and pleasant to read, not too experimental in form, and never obscure. He expresses his love of nature and his knowledge of the Wisconsin countryside with delicacy and beauty. He is somewhat preoccupied with an awareness of the passing of time and the inevitable changes that time brings. He says, in effect, this sort of thing again and again…. (p. 52)
In his poetry Derleth does not reveal...
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Clinging still to Sac Prairie—the small Wisconsin town which has been the scene of all his stories—August Derleth has written a brief novelette whose mood is that of poetry and legend. Its patterned prose, its air of melancholy, its rueful echoes from a more idyllic past, all remind one of Willa Cather—and especially of the Willa Cather who wrote "Lucy Gayheart." Renna, however, the hauntingly lovely heroine of "Any Day Now" is made of more fiery stuff than Miss Cather's pitiful Lucy….
Of all the men who clustered around Renna, met her at the station when she came home on holiday, made her name a byword for glamour, it was Doctor Joe who was clearly her favorite. Every one, Joe included,...
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The promise that was revealed and widely recognized in August Derleth's first book of poems, "Hawk on the Wind," is … richly realized [in "Man Track Here"] Mr. Derleth has matured amazingly in a year's time, and now stands well out from the ruck of young poets. He is no imitator, no follower of schools and trends, but displays an originality and independence which made Edgar Lee Masters and Sinclair Lewis single him out as an important figure. His debt, if he has one, is to Walt Whitman and the early Masters; he is the poet of Sac Prairie, a lyrical Lewis.
Mr. Derleth has evolved his own verse schemes, although they take their departure from those of Whitman and Masters. But there is none of the...
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Pioneer life in Wisconsin, as August Derleth writes of it, takes on the serenity of rural New England. The perils and heroism and general surcharge of drama that readers … have long associated with the winning of the West are oddly veiled by the bland scenes and situations of ["Restless Is the River"]. The whole surge and sound of immigrant life appear muffled, and in many pages there is no sound whatever. It may very well be argued that Mr. Derleth's naturalism is nearer to the truth than either the heady romance or the bleak realistic novel on the same subject, but his careful skirting of emotional conflicts and crises leaves a work of good intention with only a sheep-grazing excitement.
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What is important and good in ["Restless Is the River"] lies in the interwoven background details, incidents not so much personal as communal. These facets of land development, with attendant intrigues and none too savory politics … are necessary to a full picture of the era. Pervasively beautiful, slower to change, are the turning seasons on the prairie itself. But because of the non-selective, diffuse, sometimes lush writing (half as long, the book might be more effective) the significant is often lost among the insignificant, the good color of reality robbed by the synthetically romantic. For the authenticity of its background material, however, and its truly epic score, "Restless Is the River" may well be...
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August Derleth has staked out an unchallengeable literary claim upon a part of the state of Wisconsin. He calls his town Sac Prairie. The story of its settling and its development has supplied him with material for a series of historical novels of which there are more to come. And the contemporary life of the same community is reflected in the group of tales that make up ["Country Growth,"] his latest volume.
Around the theory of regionalism, Mr. Derleth has put a neat, tight fence, giving to its vague formality an effect of intimacy and coziness. The effect of a comfortable familiarity with the scene is heightened by the fact that many of his stories are told in the first person from the point of...
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There are twenty stories in ["Country Growth"], and in each of them the most consistent character in all Derleth's serious writing appears—the Wisconsin landscape, which is conveniently varied … by prairie, hill country and cliff-edged river. The people in the stories are the people Derleth knows so thoroughly, the small towners and farmers of the region.
A few of the stories in this book are predominantly lyric in tone, but most of them are traditionally conceived sketches and fables of Sac Prairie inhabitants. "Goodbye Margery" and "Girl in Time Lost," which begin and end the book, are examples of the first method; they are subjective idylls about the same love affair, and they skillfully...
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[Because] of a curious quality of realism, of common experience, "Country Growth" touches the edge of that universality that is the province of the great books. Though Mr. Derleth's stories are not really memorable or major in their effects, they can be honestly recommended not only to good readers but even to … book-throwers….
Mr. Derleth takes Sac Prairie, Wis., as his setting, writes of a Main Street as viciously gossipy, false-fronted and backward as Gopher Prairie ever was, but he sees it from the inside, not judging, understanding the necessities behind the seemingly senseless taboos, and not impatient with these necessities….
He writes good stories, and one good thing...
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Though [Derleth's] novels have won for him wider recognition, it is probably true that his short-story techniques is the better. The novels, for all their sincerity and the high quality of their style lack something of drama and sharp emotion. The short stories possess either keener emotional urgency or as a substitute have humor or sympathetic insight. As narratives or as character studies they are interesting, and always they are written with beauty, precision, and a canny selection of details.
Some readers may accuse Mr. Derleth of being sentimental. In his stories of romance and emotion he shows a pronounced taste for the nostalgic and wistful and in the novelette called "The Intercessors" a...
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Like the other books in the Sac Prairie Saga, ["Bright Journey"] stands by itself as a separate story. But it does not differ essentially from Derleth's previous novels of man vs. wilderness, and, despite some temperamental variations, [the principal character] Dousman strongly resembles Baron Pierneau, American-born scion of French aristocrats ("Wind Over Wisconsin") and Pierneau's cousin, Count Brogmar, Hungarian patriot exile ("Restless Is the River"). There is, indeed, a disturbing sameness, at more than one level, in Derleth's historical novels, and though he can present the background material of his stories vividly—the wilderness, the fresh lakes, the Indians with their dignified poetry of speech, the brave...
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The hero [of "Bright Journey"] Hercules Dousman, is a historical character. He was a 12-year-old boy in Mackinac when the British took Fort Michilimackinac in one of the early campaigns of the War of 1812. Later, when he grows up, he paddles up the Fox and down the Wisconsin River to assume charge of the Prairie du Chien post of Astor's American Fur Company…. Mr. Derleth's Dousman is almost Sir Galahad on the frontier. He marries the half-breed girl who dies in giving birth to his daughter; always he is the Indian's friend; when the woman he loves leaves [her husband] because of his drinking, he urges her to return to her husband. Realizing that the fur trade is bound to decline, he buys land the value of which went...
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What Mr. Derleth has done [in "Village Year"] is simply to set down the observations that personally interested him day to day or month to month [in and about Sac Prairie]; and his book thus has the distinction and personal appeal of an entirely unforced chronicle from a little American town and a loved American countryside. "Village Year" is not a memory of pioneers nor a picture either of revenants seeking rural simplicity or survivors still enisled in it, but an actual evocation of a fairly typical community in its ordinary life today. And because Mr. Derleth has a poetic love for Nature and awareness of Nature's richly varied minutiae, there is often a haunting beauty in these journal entries as the seasons move...
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In many ways "Village Year" is the most satisfactory part of the [Sac Prairie] series yet to appear, for it has the virtues of the others without their weaknesses, and adds a definite quality of its own. It is not intended to be a record of the bridge parties and local visits which are duly reported in the local press but, rather, it is meant to preserve the little things, the daily between-the-lines life of a village….
[Derleth] deepens the value of his village setting by presenting in full the enduring natural background; with the people projected against this the writing comes to have the quality of an old Flemish picture, humanity lively and amusing and lovable in the foreground and nature...
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"Evening in Spring" is a light lyric story, half comic, half tender, which has to do with the ardors and the sorrows of first love. It is the story of how Steve lost his heart to Margery Estabrook while they were both still in high school and of how their young touching idyl—so innocent and so poignant—was thwarted by the meddling and the opposition of their elders. Because Steve was a Catholic while Margery was not, both their families did everything in their power to keep the two apart, hounding them with commands, reproaches, accusations and tears….
As one can gather, this simple, artless story is almost unimaginably old, and it would be difficult to freshen it into vivid life. Mr. Derleth,...
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[In "Evening in Spring" the] idyl of Steve and Margery is full of wistful beauty, enhanced by the author's unfailing consciousness of the poetic qualities of the background. The poet in August Derleth is always near the surface, whether he is writing poetry, fiction, or biography. Skies, hills, trees, marsh, rivers, and wild life make clear images on his sensitive intelligence and affections. The fragrance of corn and clover, of mint and oak leaf are in his nostrils. Hawks riding the wind, owls softly sobbing in the dark, hills surging upward to the sky, trees pressing close upon small houses are constantly in his memory. Through this book winds are ever stirring, a west wind touching Steve's eyes and lips, small...
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The Oliver Mackenzie, carrying a show boat troupe, plied its way up the Mississippi River each Spring from St. Louis to New Orleans and back again in the Fall. In November, 1916, the season was mild and the old boat traveled up the Wisconsin as far as Sac Prairie, where the captain docked to give a performance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." They had been nursing the leading lady through an attack of appendicitis and when they reached Sac Prairie she was too ill to play. But a young amateur actress in town who knew the part of Little Eva was recruited for the performance, and when the Oliver Mackenzie steamed away that night Jennie Breen was aboard eager to take the first step toward a great theatrical career. She had no...
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The poetry of August Derleth, a versatile and voluminous poet from Sac Prairie, often reminds of improvisation upon the piano…. ["Rind of Earth"] is thoroughly American in grain. The poem about the young men in "Yesterday, Tomorrow, Always," the train in "Transcontinental," "River Going By," the American myths in "Raftsman, Lumberjack," the poem about the radio, such things as these not only have flowing theme-molded rhythm, but close observation and the pulse of life. Sometimes I think Mr. Derleth may be too musical for his own good, but, in a day when so few poets seem to give the actual movement of a poem any attention, he restores an element that was badly needed.
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There are valuable elements in August Derleth's diligent loyalty to the Sac Prairie region with which his voluminous writings have become identified: He is intimate with the cultural and social history which made that area one of the strongholds of a free-thinking, slavery-abhorring liberalism in the middle decades of the last century. He has a kind of nostalgic ancestor-worship for the resourceful, colorful French and German pioneer stock, who, as refugees from their native lands, combined to give Sac Prairie a moral climate as exhilarating and liberating as the air of the lovely Wisconsin country in which it lay. And, lastly, he has a feeling for the Sac Prairie terrain which is both affectionate and knowledgeable....
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So long identified in poetry with the Wisconsin scene, with his sagas of Sac Prairie told in quiet, conventional, repetitious patterns, August Derleth surprisingly ventures beyond the regional viewpoint and into new forms with ["And You, Thoreau!"]. The love scenes in the second grouping, both erotic and symbolic,… might be taken, unsigned, as the work of almost any poet published by New Directions except Derleth. The first grouping, "Homage to Thoreau," with its Mid-Western nature images, is more characteristic. But the poems show much more skill and technical variety than Derleth's earlier work. The tribute to Thoreau, too, seems strongly, sincerely felt….
"In New Forms,"...
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This latest in the long series of Sac Prairie stories ["The Shield of the Valiant"] will add little to the reputation of Wisconsin's most noted regional novelist. The book needs tightening and pruning; the many narrative threads, each interesting in itself, are not skilfully woven into a fabric and pattern of meaning and general interest. The episodic form of the novel lures the author into verbose byways of almost irrelevant anecdote and frequent paragraphs of tedious moralizing. Many tried-and-safe ingredients of popular fiction are here: the banker's son falls in love with a brash but pure girl on the other side of the tracks; the liberal son is at odds with his stuffy, reactionary father; malicious village gossip...
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["The Shield of the Valiant"] proves once again that one must live in a small town most of his life really to know its overall pattern, and that Derleth himself is no outsider as far as Sac Prairie is concerned. There is a tie-up between the different lives he describes and the petty intrigues, the malicious gossip and the often desperate attempts to escape loneliness even in a place where there are no real strangers, which is almost always authentic.
Unfortunately the novel also proves again that authenticity isn't the only component of good writing and reading. There are things of authentic importance and others of authentic unimportance; in his frenetic attempt to record every last dance tune that...
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[The twelve stories in "In Re: Sherlock Holmes"] are all in the pastiche vein and all written by Derleth himself…. The resulting book inevitably lacks variety, although some of the individual selections are not without a certain charm and an engaging fidelity in form and spirit to the originals they imitate. A few, like "The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle" … and "The Adventure of the Late Mr. Faversham" … are good enough detective stories in their own right; most of the other episodes are over-long and, it must be confessed, a little tedious, even to the confirmed Sherlockian, when read in close sequence.
Howard Haycraft, "Holmesian Pastiches," in The New York Times...
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"Village Daybook" consists of selections over a period from Derleth's diary. If mediocrity and brilliance are marks of authenticity in a diary, this is thoroughly authentic. On May 16, Sac Prairie produced the phenomenon of dogs barking at a car: "Quite evidently the dogs, for lack perhaps of anything better to do, enjoy the chase after cars that pass during the night." I believe it…. On the other hand Mr. Derleth records with rare skill the beauty and movement of nature. He never fails to please as he describes the weather, the birds, flowers, fish and animals. One who loves the outdoors will be fully rewarded with his nature passages.
Mr. Derleth has affection for his townsmen and they,...
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Solar Pons is not precisely either an imitation or a parody of Sherlock Holmes. One might almost call him an understudy, and a triumphant one—a necessary replacement filling the abhorrent vacuum created by The Master's retirement….
The first book collection of Pons adventures, oddly entitled "In Re: Sherlock Holmes," appeared in 1945, to the deep gratification of all who have read and reread the sixty tales of the Holmesian canon and hungered for something new and yet the same. Now at last we have the long-awaited sequel…. "The Memoirs of Solar Pons" …; and once again the habitués of Holmes' 221B Baker Street can move to Pons' Praed Street with happy confidence.
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[August Derleth] has made a new collection of his poems ["Rendezvous in a Landscape"] in four groups, "Homage to Thoreau," "Homage to Robert Frost," "Homage to Psyche," and "Homage to Edgar Lee Masters." The first is the longest and the best poem in the book. The poet uses brief prose passages from Thoreau's "Walden," and plays poetic variations on each one, expanding that severe economy into the wealth of its implications. This is done with genuine love and admiration, and with genuine creation. Twenty-eight poems are offered to Frost, also with sincerity, as homage.
They are Derleth poems on the sort of themes Frost might have written, and thus to gather them is to run the risk of sounding like a...
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There's nothing unconventional about August Derleth's "Fell Purpose" …, the first Judge Peck novel in many years. It's a pure old-fashioned whodunit of the bludgeoning of the social arbiters of a small Wisconsin town—quite, plodding, mildly agreeable, rather like an American equivalent of John Rhode, with little to suggest the originality of the author in other fields or in his noble Solar Pons detective stories.
Anthony Boucher, in a review of "Fell Purpose," in The New York Times Book Review, February 8, 1953, p. 31.
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"All things of live adventuring are kin" is the theme of ["Country Poems"], 30 poems about the birds and animals, cornfields and country church yards of his Wisconsin demesne. He is so much a part of it that he can "look about and see what beauty lies in simple things" and voice what he has seen and felt in lyrics that have the grace to be as simple and direct as the west wind and the chipmunk that he understands alike.
"Sirius: Midnight," with its clear sense of man's "kinship to eternity," is the most original and powerful poem of the book. "Scent of Camomile" is steeped in country living, and both "Mushrooms," with its bold figure of speech, and "The Moon on the Water" are good examples of...
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[Mr. Derleth has written "The House on the Mound" as a sequel to "Bright Journey"] and if it lacks much of the dramatic impact of "Bright Journey," it still is worth the long wait. Indeed, one understands why Mr. Derleth waited so long to write it, for it posed an exceedingly difficult problem: How to give middle-aged, generally eventless love and living the substance of drama.
He has solved the problem, in a measure at least, by telling it "plain." The simple truth is that not much does happen in this novel, and yet it is given stature by the goodness of the people involved. Dousman and his charming wife are persons you can love and respect….
Mr. Derleth writes with deep...
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["The Return of Solar Pons"] is an assembly of thirteen short stories about Sherlock Holmes, set forth with all his customary equipment (Watson, room, housekeeper) and in very much the mood and mode of Conan Doyle. Edgar W. Smith, "Buttons" of the Holmesian devotees (or addicts) in this country, finds Mr. Derleth the most consistently successful imitator in Holmesian history. One cannot after all quarrel with the judgment. But imitation is the operative word.
James Sandoe, in a review of "The Return of Solar Pons," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, April 12, 1959, p. 11.
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Few writers at work in America today have been able to register the heartbeat of a place with the fidelity, skill and warmth that August Derleth has brought to his beloved "Sac Prairie."…
With the exception of a small handful, mostly juveniles, I have read all of [Derleth's books], and I have never failed to find enjoyment in them. But much as I have admired his novels and his essays, "Wisconsin in Their Bones" … convinces me that his primary talent lies in the short story.
This, believe me, is a striking collection. Whether Derleth is telling a story of unrequited love, as in "The Christmas Virgin," of savage father love, as in "April Kinney," or of the distressing effects of...
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Mr. Fairlie's Final Journey is the first Solar Pons novel, and one is driven to conclude (a view in which the author concurs) that the novel is not the best form for a Solar Pons adventure—any more than, with the exception of The Hound of the Baskervilles, it was the best form for a Sherlock Holmes adventure. (p. 758)
A Praed Street Dossier is an out-of-the-way sort of work, not a collection of adventures (except for the last 24 pages of the book, which contain two collaborative science-fiction detective stories, comprising what is surely one of the few attempts at this genre and even more surely one of the few successful attempts), but the raw material for a collection. Along...
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The Adventures of Solar Pons is utterly different, not only from the works of spoof scholarship, but also from most other works to do with Holmes, for it consists of short stories which candidly confess the intention to copy Doyle as closely as possible. Holmes and Watson in Baker Street become Pons and Parker of Praed Street, and, as Vincent Starrett says in his preface, it is a clear case of impersonation rather than of parody. The stories are mildly amusing, but as the power of the originals rests in their literary style, and as the creator of Pons doesn't have much of it, the appeal of the anthology rather depends on the degree of fanaticism of the collector.
(The entire section is 130 words.)