Herbert Russell Wakefield Criticism - Essay

Times Literary Supplement (review date 22 March 1928)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of They Return at Evening. Times Literary Supplement 1364 (22 March 1928): 223.

[In the following review, Wakefield's first collection of ghost stories, They Return at Evening, is favorably reviewed.]

Mr. Wakefield in this collection of ghost stories [They Return at Evening] provides a pleasing variety in the activities of his spectral characters. In “The Third Coach,” for instance, he permits an anticipatory revelation of a railway accident to prove invaluable in a rogue who is able to make use of his knowledge to secure the removal of an ungrateful hussy who seeks to blackmail her former partner in crime for the benefit of a consumptive but respectable lover. Two baronets play parts consonant] with the worst traditions, in fiction, of their order. The one is driven to despair by the post-mortem vindictiveness of the wife he has had every excuse for murdering; the other falls a victim to the ghost-dog of a malignant gypsy poacher in a fashion reminiscent of a horrible German story of the Middle Ages. “The Red Lodge” is a gruesome little story, but the best of Mr. Wakefield's collection are four dealing with the vegeance of a murdered Japanese poet upon his would-be supplapter; the means adopted by an adaptable barrister for punishing the vain and otherwise ‘destestable’ wizard who has struck down his friend by a horrible enchantment; the curious events which led to the abandonment of an East Coast golf club which had been rash in its selection of a site of a new seventeenth hole; and, strangest and weirdest of all, the story about the haunted chess-players. Mr. Wakefield does not strain after effect he produces his results by means of a studied moderation in style.

Philip Allen (review date 18 October 1928)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Allen, Philip. A review of Gallimaufry. Times Literary Supplement 1394 (18 October 1928): 761.

[In the following review, Allen reviews Wakefield's Gallimaufry unfavorably by using words from one of the author's own characters.]

The word gallimaufry, so Mr. Wakefield informs us, is described in the New English Dictionary as a “hotch-potch” or “ragout.” Thus the reader is early informed [in Gallimaufry] that it is not Mr. Wakefield's intention to write an orthodox novel, with plot, climax and characterization, but rather a hotch-potch of conversations and incidents meant chiefly to amuse. The ambition may sound humble enough, but to recompense the reader for the complete absence of any story it is necessary for the ingredients of the hotch-potch to be of the very highest quality. Mr. Wakefield, although he never stops trying, has neither the verbal dexterity nor the neatness of conceit to make his book successful. The convention and opinions of a group of wealthy English people on an island in the Adriatic are kept keyed up to what some people will find an intolerable pitch of facetiousness, and Mr. Wakefield gives himself all too few chances of showing those imaginative powers that made They Return at Evening so satisfying a book. “She says she's sick of being proposed to by she-men with slim girlish voices, Narcissus complexes, Sitwellian attitudes and C3 tummy muscles,” says one character quoting another, and the comment of a third, “Laboured, precious and echoed phrases,” cruelly and unconsciously sums up the entire book.

New York Times Book Review (review date 24 May 1931)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of “Mr. Wakefield's Tales.” The New York Times Book Review n.s. (24 May 1931).

[In the following review, the critic compares Wakefield's Imagine a Man in a Box unfavorably to the works of Saki and A. E. Coppard.]

In Mr. Wakefield's previous books of short stories he was astute enough to concern himself exclusively with the realm of the occult and displayed considerable skill in that chosen field. In his new collection [Imagine a Man in a Box] only two stories of the thirteen are based on the supernatural, and it must be stated at the outset that this shift in emphasis is an unhappy one for the author's reputation.


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Times Literary Supplement (review date 9 November 1933)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Hearken to the Evidence. Times Literary Supplement 1658 (9 November 1933): 777.

[In the following review, the author gives a synopsis of Wakefield's Hearken to the Evidence.]

Lady Tarnhorn's husband was a troublesome invalid and her senior by many years; moreover—although presumably a faithful wife—she was known to have inspired other men with infatuation. In spite of these circumstances no suspicion at first attached to her when her husband died of arsenic poisoning, because one of the infatuated young men confessed to murder, swore that she had known nothing of his plan and then committed suicide. With that, no doubt, the tragedy would have ended had it not been for the evidence of an under-gardener named Alcock. This man—apparently a dull-witted but honest country oaf—himself approached the police and volunteered the statement that, on the day of her husband's death, he had seen Lady Tarnhorn in a tool shed pouring weed killer from a tin into some small receptacle, such as a powder box. On the strength of Alcock's evidence, which remained unshaken throughout a fierce cross-examination, Lady Tarnhorn in the course of time was sentenced to death. There was, however, another explanation both of the manner of her husband's death and also of Alcock's story. Thanks to the unswering faith and energy of her legal advisers these truths came to light in time to save the unfortunate woman's life. The construction of [Hearken to the Evidence] which includes the speeches for the prosecution and defence and the Judge's summing up, helps to make the story an interesting study in circumstantial evidence.

H. R. Wakefield (essay date 1946)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wakefield, H. R. “Why I Write Ghost Stories.” In The Clock Strikes Twelve and Other Stories, pp. 3-6. Ashcroft, British Columbia: Ash-Tree Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, which was originally published as Wakefield's introduction to the 1946 Arkham House edition of The Clock Strikes Twelve, the author presents his personal belief in psychic phenomena as the basis for writing his ghost stories.]

Dr Montague Rhodes James, who wrote the best ghost stories in the English language—but not the very best one, which is “The Upper Berth”—said that such tales were meant to please and amuse. If he meant to imply by this dictum that they are just...

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J. I. M. Stewart (essay date 22 September 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stewart, J. I. M. “Of Supernatural Causes.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 3990 (22 September 1978): 1056.

[In the following essay, Stewart gives a negative opinion on the Wakefield tales collected in The Best Ghost Stories.]

The author of these weird tales (orthodox ghosts are rather scarce in them, but supernaturally occasioned fatalities abound) was born in 1888, the son of a future Bishop of Birmingham. Educated at Marlborough, where he distinguished himself in cricket and rugger, and University College, Oxford, where he played golf for the University, he became personal private secretary to Lord North cliffe in 1911, and later fought on the Western...

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Jack Sullivan (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sullivan, Jack. An introduction to Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story From Le Fanu to Blackwood, pp. 1-10. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1978.

[In the following essay, Sullivan provides an overview of the English ghost story from Le Fanu to Blackwood, focusing primarily on the writers who have received little attention.]

In the past ghosts had certain traditional activities; they could speak and gibber, for instance; they could clank chains. They were generally local, confined to one spot. Now their liberties have been greatly extended; they can go anywhere, they can manifest themselves in scores of ways. Like women and...

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Jack Sullivan (essay date 1978)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sullivan, Jack. “Ghost Stories of Other Antiquaries.” In Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood, pp. 91-99. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1978.

[In the following excerpt from Chapter IV of his book, Sullivan looks specifically at ghost story authors who wrote in the tradition of M. R. James, especially Wakefield.]

The publication of M. R. James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary set in motion a spectral procession of tales about confrontations between antiquaries and beguilingly far-fetched horrors: in E. G. Swain's “The Place of Safety,” the Vicar of Stoneground Parish is visited at night by an order of...

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Bill Collins (review date July-August 1983)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Collins, Bill. “The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield.” Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review 16 (July-August 1983): 54-5.

[In the following review, Collins writes about Wakefield stories collected in The Best Stories of H. Russell Wakefield, favorably comparing the majority with works of M. R. James, but describing a few as pointless and anticlimactic.]

H. P. Lovecraft offered the opinion (in Supernatural Horror in Literature) that “we must judge a weird tale … by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane part,” that “atmosphere is the most important thing.” Fair enough, but Lovecraft didn't write ghost...

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Ben P. Indick (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Indick, Ben P. “H. Russell Wakefield: The Man Who Believed in Ghosts.” In Discovering Classic Horror Fiction 1, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, pp. 73-93. San Bernardino, Cal.: The Borgo Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Indick explains supernatural and horror fiction as two unique entities and deals with the ways in which Wakefield's work encompasses both.]

There is a gulf between Supernatural and Horror fiction; it is sometimes bridged, but the entities nevertheless remain unique. In today's world, where power and violence appear to have overcome taste and subtlety, the Supernatural per se is in eclipse. Its sister, Horror, albeit in the form of...

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Stefan Dziemianowicz (essay date 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dziemianowicz, Stefan. “Old Man's Beard.” All Hallows 13 (1996): 69-71.

[In the following essay, Dziemianowicz reviews Wakefield's second collection of ghost stories, Old Man's Beard, noting specifically the author's use of humor as a narrative device.]

Old Man's Beard, H. Russell Wakefield's second collection of ghost stories, was first published in 1929. Its American edition was retitled Others Who Returned, no doubt to echo the title of his first collection, They Return at Evening, which had enjoyed modest success the year before. However, the reader who picked up the second volume on the strength of impressions made by the...

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Barbara Roden (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roden, Barbara. An introduction to The Clock Strikes Twelve and Other Stories, pp. ix-xxii. Ashcroft, British Columbia: Ash-Tree Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, Roden gives an overview of Wakefield's writing career, discussing his possible motivations for attempting not only the ghost stories for which he is best known, but other genres as well.]

When H. R. Wakefield's third collection of original fiction, Imagine a Man in a Box, appeared in 1931, its author had left the relative safety of a steady job in publishing in favour of earning a living solely from his writing. He must have known from his experience as a publisher that such a step was a...

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