Other Early Twentieth-Century Masters - Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

Unutterable Horror - A History of Supernatural Fiction - S. T. Joshi 2014

Other Early Twentieth-Century Masters
Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

Machen, Dunsany, Blackwood, and James were only the pinnacles of a remarkable outpouring of weird writing in the first four decades of the twentieth century—a period that, even more than the later nineteenth century, can qualify not merely as a “deluge” of supernaturalism but, in many ways, a high-water mark such as the field never saw before or since. The number of authors who extensively addressed the weird, and the bewideringly wide array of their work, make it difficult to summarise or classify beyond the broadest parameters.

It is possible that new markets, both among book publishers and among magazine outlets, had something to do with this efflorescence, although in my judgment a more significant factor was merely the accumulated heritage of weird fiction—a heritage in which the centrality of Poe’s conception of the short story, to say nothing of his dynamism in the use of supernatural tropes, was finally realised. Still, markets had some bearing on the matter. In the United States, the Munsey magazines—notably the Argosy (founded in 1882 as the Golden Argosy)—as well as other magazines such as the Black Cat (1895—1922) provided occasional havens for weird matter; in England, the Strand pioneered the publication of both weird and detective fiction.

And yet, it is surprising to note that the prodigality of weird writing in this period was very largely a British phenomenon; so many British writers, from D. H. Lawrence to Walter de la Mare, contributed to the form that Americans were left in the dust; when they finally began producing their own work, they chiefly did so in Weird Tales (1923f.) and other pulp magazines—a phenomenon we shall take up in chapters XII and XIII.

A sign of the definitive arrival of weird fiction as a recognised genre may be found in the prevalence of noteworthy anthologies during this period. Such landmark compilations as Julian Hawthorne’s Lock and Key Library (1909), Joseph Lewis French’s Masterpieces of Mystery (1920), and Dorothy L. Sayers’s three volumes of Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror (1928—34; published in the United States as The Omnibus of Crime) are only the tip of the iceberg of the many anthologies that sought to canonise the most significant examples of weird writing; this work reached a capstone in the still-unexcelled Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944), edited by Herbert A. Wise and Phyllis Fraser.