Algernon Blackwood Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Novelist, short-story writer, and mystic, Algernon Henry Blackwood belongs to that tradition of original writers of the supernatural that includes such luminaries as Edgar Allan Poe, M. R. James, Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu, and W. W. Jacobs. He was born on March 14, 1869, the son of the duchess of Manchester and a gentleman usher to Queen Victoria. Since his father was a leading speaker and writer in the Evangelical movement, Algernon was reared in a strict household in which such activities as dancing, card playing, and drinking were suppressed. He was educated at a school of the Moravian Brotherhood in the Black Forest of Germany. By the age of seventeen, he had become an introspective young man who studied yoga, theosophy, and Buddhism.

Having displayed no special talent at the University of Edinburgh, Blackwood moved to Canada at the age of twenty. With some financial help from his parents, he invested in a dairy farm, but the business failed. Blackwood then bought a small hotel business in Toronto, which also failed six months later. After retreating briefly to the backwoods of Ontario, Blackwood went to New York, where he found work as a third-rate reporter for the Evening Star. He hated his reportorial job so much that he escaped from the tedium of his work by detaching himself mentally. Blackwood began reading imaginative literature in French, German, and English in the local libraries. From these books, he derived his interest in the so-called psychic regions. He also found relief in the natural world, which he had begun to prefer over the world of social interaction.

In 1899, Blackwood returned to England and became involved in the dried milk business. He began writing professionally when a friend submitted several of his stories to a publisher without Blackwood’s knowledge. These stories, which Blackwood had not intended to publish, seem to have been written as outlets for those natural desires that his Evangelical upbringing had suppressed. Not only do they reflect the pain and bitterness of his years in New York, but they also express his belief that the average person possesses extraordinary psychic powers. The publication of these stories led to his first book, The Empty House, a collection of ghost stories whose primary purpose is to instill fear in the reader. He considered these stories to be preparations for his more serious studies of the psychic world that were to come later.

Blackwood’s first novel was an exploration into the second of his major interests: the psychology of children. Jimbo, which was actually written before The Empty House, deals with the dream of a child who has been knocked unconscious by a cow. Blackwood’s next novel, The Human Chord, also centers on a child’s fantasy world. After finishing this book, Blackwood moved to Switzerland, where he could live more cheaply.

Blackwood’s third major interest, nature’s relationship to humankind, received artistic expression in his next two novels. In 1911, Blackwood published what is considered his most successful novel, The Centaur. His conviction that all nature is filled with psychic agencies is evident in a collection of nature stories called Pan’s Garden. The most notable of these is “The Man Whom the Trees Loved,” a hundred-page story based on the hypothesis that plants possess a humanlike consciousness. In both of these books, Blackwood drew heavily on contemporary psychology to construct his hypothesis that human beings are themselves the source of the psychic phenomena that frighten them.

During the 1920’s, Blackwood arrived at a more personal position regarding the supernatural. He published several collections of short stories, such as The Wolves of God, and Other Fey Stories and The Dance of Death, and Other Tales. His most ambitious novel of the 1920’s, Dudley and Gilderoy , is free of the supernatural excesses that had marred some of his earlier works. At this time, Blackwood was a member of Hermetic Order of the Golden...

(The entire section is 1,104 words.)