The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats

Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outré, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. We invited ten contemporary writers to celebrate Yeats’s contributions to the history of the fantastic and supernatural in literature, drawing on his work for their own new and original tales. Each has chosen a phrase from his poems, plays, stories, or essays to herald their own explorations in the esoteric. Alongside their own powerful qualities, the pieces here testify to the continuing resonance of Yeats’s vision in our own time, that deep understanding of the meshing of two worlds and the talismans of old magic.


tower 3Introduction by Mark Valentine

“All Art that is not mere story-telling, or mere portraiture, is symbolic, and has the purpose of those symbolic talismans which mediaeval magicians made with complex colours and forms . . . ”

– A Book of Images

The artist had a hawk-like face and dark garments. I could imagine him turned into an effigy, some allegorical image, an Edwardian sphinx. There was a pallor which suggested he was already halfway to marble. The long fingers were like white candles. The black eyes seemed to be regarding something that none of the rest of us would ever see. He was staring from the frontispiece of a book. It had a linen spine that was now as grey as cerements, and its lettering was worn away. I try always to look at a book whose title cannot be read. Since others may have passed it over, it might be worth finding. In any case, sometimes it seems such books might be waiting in secrecy for you.

388After I had stared at the figure in the frontispiece a little while longer, I turned the pages. There were black and white drawings in bold sweeps. A cloaked figure moved through a bare plain. A bearded god stared from a ziggurat. Castles and citadels ramped on top of each other in dream cities. A sibyl held her forefinger to her lips. Unlike the worn and stained coat of the book, the pages inside were a pure cream-white and the black ink still sombre and crystalline, as if fresh from the artist’s pen.

This was the way I made the acquaintance of the artist Will Horton, or, to give him his full measure, William Thomas Horton. And this Will Horton was a chosen friend of W. B. Yeats, who penned an introduction to his A Book of Images and spoke of him in the same breath as Aubrey Beardsley and Charles Ricketts. “Even the phantastic landscapes, the entangled chimneys against a white sky, the dark valley with its little points of light, the cloudy and fragile towns and churches, are part of the history of a soul,” wrote Yeats, understanding that whatever Horton did came from strange spiritual sources. “His art is immature,” he admitted, “but it is more interesting than the mature art of our magazines, for it is the reverie of a lonely and profound temperament.”

Yeats.jpgFor some time the poet and the artist saw each other almost every day and when they did not meet, or even when they did, they wrote letters to each other every day too. Yeats persuaded Horton to join for a while the Order of the Golden Dawn but the haggard, hawk-faced man decided it was not for him, for he had a different vision. Yeats always remembered Horton even when, especially when, he had outstripped him by far in fame, for Horton’s work never quite won acclaim and he died in obscurity.

The reason these two souls were drawn together was because they shared an understanding of the power of the image to say the things we cannot otherwise express, to suggest the presence of overlapping worlds and haunted figures and the working-out of fates and destinies. Though they did not always agree on the mechanics of occult science or on the outer details, yet they had the same respect for the magical art of the image. Indeed, looking at their own two portrait images, they might almost pass for brothers of some mystical consanguinity, each imbued with an aspect of Thoth-Hermes. And in the last part of his great work A Vision, “All Souls Night: An Epilogue”, Yeats summoned the image of his friend to him: “Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought . . . ” It seems to me that we may see the real Yeats, and discern what mattered to Yeats, from this ardent friendship.

So the Yeats of old age, the senator, the grand old man of letters, the panjandrum of preposterous causes, the grey eminence of the marching men, is not, because it was the last of him, by any means all of him. It is not at all the whole of who he was. We must look instead at the young man with the raven’s wing forelock and the dark frock-coat and the loose flowing tie and the glinting pince-nez, that fervent youth of the Nineties, the votary of the Rhymers Club, acolyte of the Hermetic Order, firm Irish Republican, friend and keen counsellor to poets, artists, actors, prophets, mystics.

At the age of twenty-six he published a book in stately royal blue with gilded lettering, The Wanderings of Oisin, which told of heroes, heroines, giants, demons, fairies. It was his tribute to the rich folk traditions and epic poetry of his own country, and it revealed an imagination dwelling in a world and a time when magic was understood as naturally interwoven with the more visible order of things.

IMG_0170.JPGIn that same year, however, his fellow Rhymer Arthur Symons published his poems of cosmopolitan ennui, Days and Nights, and Amy Levy, in A London Plane-Tree, offered subtle Symbolist lyrics of melancholy and loss. These were more modern, daring and fleet-footed than his own traditional verse, and they, or others like, must have helped him see how he must make his own work new too. In time he would come to seem one of the few figures who were able to construct a bridge between the traditional and the modern.

But one of the singular aspects of the work of the modernists is how they drew on ancient myths for inspiration: Ezra Pound on Chinese philosophy; T. S. Eliot on the legends of the Holy Grail; H.D. on the classical gods. Yeats, too, enriched his modern work with ancient sources, and immersed himself fully in them. He practised astrology and ritual magic, researched folklore and fairy traditions, and was deeply interested in theosophy, spiritualism, alchemy, hermeticism, and the Kabbalah. He was a dedicated student and scholar who took these subjects utterly seriously and used them to guide his life. The excellent exhibition on The Life and Work of William Butler Yeats at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin illustrates this powerfully with its cabinets containing the poet’s magical equipment, robes, horoscopes, astrological notebooks, and other relics.

Yeats postcard 1-1 copyYet for a long time in the twentieth century it was the critical fashion to ignore or diminish these abiding interests, as if they were somehow embarrassing and incompatible with his status as a great poet. This refusal to acknowledge the role of the mystical and mythical in the human imagination was pervasive amongst the arbiters of English Literature then. It was part of a consensus in favour of “realism” in literature, which also saw almost any aspect of the fantastic or visionary banished from considered study, an attitude which still lingers in some quarters today.

The same patrician disdain meant that the supernatural fiction of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood; the epic fantasies of Tolkien, Peake, and Eddison; the tales of magic and witchcraft by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Stella Benson, Mary Butts, and others were largely ignored. Original and challenging work, such as David Lindsay’s visionary novels, Claude Houghton’s metaphysical thrillers, Naomi Mitchison’s historical epics, had little chance of acceptance. The effect on some of these writers was not minor: for some it meant poverty, neglect, marginalisation, disillusion.

It is only in comparatively recent times that it has been acknowledged fully how crucial occult interests were to Yeats’s work. A few studies began to appear towards the end of the old century, such as George Mills Harper’s critical anthology Yeats and the Occult (1975); his explorations of the poet’s central role in the Eighteen Nineties magical order, Yeats’s Golden Dawn (1974); and indeed his account of that friendship with the visionary artist in W. B. Yeats and W. T. Horton: The Record of an Occult Friendship (1980).

Other important studies followed: Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Works of W. B. Yeats by Kathleen Raine (1986); Leon Surette’s 1994 study The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and the Occult; and Yeats’s Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats by Brenda Maddox (1999).

But although this new recognition of the deep sources of Yeats’s inspiration has been an important corrective, it should not now stop us from admitting that many aspects of his beliefs still seem hard to take, even under a sympathetic scrutiny. Arthur Machen, a fellow-member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, tells an anecdote about Yeats and another hierophant debating what his star sign was: they were both wrong. He admired Yeats’s work and enjoyed his company, but he added, “and yet the great poet was one of the silliest men I knew”.

S4820339Machen, who later dismissed the Hermetic Order as a sort of hoax (as indeed, in its claimed origins, it almost certainly was), soon came to diverge from its teachings and worked his way instead to a faith in a lost Celtic Church with its own distinctive ceremonies, the loss of which he thought perhaps haunted legends of the Holy Grail. This was quite a beguiling idea, but really not much more convincing than the Rosicrucian-style foundations of the Golden Dawn.

So we can acknowledge the power of the myths that guided and enriched the lives of both Machen and Yeats without necessarily subscribing to all the elements of these. And that ambiguity is itself a fertile borderland.

We invited some contemporary writers to celebrate Yeats’s contributions to the history of the fantastic and supernatural in literature, by drawing on his work as the starting point for their own new and original stories. Each has chosen a resonant phrase from his poems, plays, stories, or essays to herald their own explorations in the esoteric.

The nine stories we present respond both to the allurements of the mystical and occult in the poet’s writings, and also to the doubts and misgivings that these must sometimes arouse in us. Caitriona Lally’s would-be contemporary hermit thinks he might quite like the “bee-loud glade” and the peace that “comes dropping slow”. But how will he find it and would it really be for him? In Reggie Oliver’s story, a risible mystic of our time shows a surprisingly material cast of mind about some matters, while a worldly sceptic finds his own fairly settled beliefs jolted, and we may detect a suggestion of Yeats’s “impossible hope”. Timothy J. Jarvis’s prose reverie is a sardonic meditation on aspects of Yeats’s posthumous fate which also “casts a cold eye” on the darker undercurrents of his occult interests.

In Rosanne Rabinowitz’s portrait of one of Yeats’s oldest friends in old age, we see that the psychic automatic writing he and his wife Georgie pursued is not without its potential abuses and perils. Derek John imagines the dire consequences of vaunting spiritual pride among the shabby séance rooms of suburban Dublin. D. P. Watt’s story envisages just what the “terrible beauty” that Yeats once evoked might mean in all its power, while Lynda Rucker meditates on how the apocalyptic vision of Yeats and more particularly his wife Georgie might indeed drop upon the world. Ron Weighell reminds us of the Irish poet’s abiding interest in the fairy mythology of Ireland, showing how this is often linked to otherworlds and chillingly different ways of being. John Howard, in his study of a tower built on the base of an old one by an avant-garde architect, adroitly suggests Yeats’s development from traditional to modernist forms in his work.

And, to end our volume, Nina Antonia contributes an essay meditating on Yeats and the world of faery, which guides us beguilingly through a realm that was always vital for him.

Alongside their own powerful qualities, we hope that all the pieces here will testify to the continuing resonance of Yeats’s vision in our own time, that deep understanding of the meshing of two worlds which he shared with a forgotten artist whose images he was one of the few to recognise were really talismans of old magic.

Mark Valentine
September 2019

Buy a copy of The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats.


Mark Valentine is the author of about twenty books, mostly of ghost stories or of essays on book collecting and obscure authors. He also edited The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray for Swan River Press. His fiction collections include The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things (Zagava) and, with John Howard, Secret Europe and Inner Europe (Tartarus). He also edits Wormwood, a journal of the literature of the fantastic and supernatural

The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats

“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

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An Extract from the Introduction by Richard Dalby.

Many years ago, while collecting the first editions of Bram Stoker, my heart would often leap when apparently spotting his rarely encountered name in dimly lit alcoves of second-hand bookshops, only to find that I had actually misread the similar gilt lettering of “B. M. Croker”. Having no special taste for this other writer’s Indian or Irish romances, I usually disregarded them.

Author PhotoAt that time B. M. Croker was only remembered (by a shrinking number of admirers) as a once-popular bestselling novelist. Her supernatural tales had sunk into total neglect, and none had ever been revived in anthologies (not even by Hugh Lamb or Peter Haining).

I first became aware of her ghost stories after buying the first two volumes of Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction (May to December 1895) in the original cloth richly decorated by Walter Crane. The Christmas Number contained a fine array of weird tales including “The Story of a Ghost” by Violet Hunt, “The Red Hand” by Arthur Machen, “The Case of Euphemia Raphash” by M. P. Shiel, and “Number Ninety” by Mrs. B. M. Croker.

I eventually reprinted this latter tale (Croker’s debut in any genre anthology) in the first of my six Christmas anthologies, Ghosts for Christmas (Michael O’Mara, 1988).

I then researched her bibliography which amounted to 49 titles (42 novels and 7 short story collections), of which only a small fraction were listed in her Who’s Who entry, and gradually unearthed all the very scarce collections which had remained out-of-print for nearly seventy years and contained a surprisingly good variety of ghost stories.

Like “Number Ninety”, several of the other tales were set specifically in the Christmas period — obviously designed for late Victorian and Edwardian Christmas Numbers — and most had a higher “macabre” and grisly content than was usual at that time in seasonal weird tales, especially when compared to Mrs. Oliphant, Mrs. Molesworth, and Mrs. Henry Wood.

2019-01-25 Final PosterApart from “Number Ninety”, the only other Croker ghost story to reach a wide audience in the past decade has been “To Let”, reprinted in both the Oxford Anthology Victorian Ghost Stories (1991) and Reader’s Digest’s Great Ghost Stories (1997) which stated that “her novels have not stood the test of time, but her shorter fiction is as enjoyable today as when it was first written, providing a vivid insight into the day-to-day lives of the British in India.”

B. M. Croker was one of the most popular and best-known novelists in the English-speaking world over a forty-year period, and is very well documented. Like several of her equally busy contemporaries, notably L. T. Meade, Rosa Mulholland, and Mrs. J. H. Riddell, she came from an old-established Irish family.

Bithia Mary Sheppard was born circa 1849, the only daughter of Rev. William Sheppard, Rector of Kilgefin, Co. Roscommon, who died suddenly seven years later. (The old family home at Ballanagare still survives today, though roofless.) She was educated at Rockferry, Cheshire, and at Tours in France. Her favourite recreations were riding and reading.

In 1871 she married John Stokes Croker, an officer in the 21st Royal Scots and Munster Fusiliers. His family, the Crokers of Bally Maguarde, Co. Limerick, claimed direct descent from Sir John Croker, standard bearer to King Edward IV.

Number NinetyFollowing common tradition as a Victorian soldier’s wife, Bithia accompanied her husband to India, where he served for several years in Madras and Burma. They had one child, Gertrude Eileen (always called “Eileen”). They later lived in Bengal, and at a hill-station in Wellington (where many of her early stories were written), very similar to the one described in “To Let”.

After the first ten years of marriage and motherhood, she began writing novels and short stories (like “The Ghost in the Dak Bungalow” for London Society in 1882) to occupy the long hot days while her husband was away. Always a keen sportsman, he enjoyed a great deal of big game shooting.

Buy a copy of “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories.



Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.

“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time by Rosa Mulholland

Not to Be Taken at Bed-TimeAn Extract from the Introduction by Richard Dalby

In the late-nineteenth century Rosa Mulholland achieved great popularity and acclaim for her many novels (written for both an adult audience and younger readers), several of which chronicled the lives of the Irish poor. These novels, notably The Wicked Woods of Tobereevil (1872), incorporated weird elements of Irish folklore. Earlier in her career, she became one of the select band of authors employed by Charles Dickens to write stories for his popular magazine All the Year Round, together with Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Hesba Stretton, and Amelia B. Edwards.

She was born in Belfast on 19 March 1841, the second daughter of a doctor (Joseph Stevenson Mulholland) whose family had become prosperous from textile manufacture. She was educated at home and studied art in South Kensington.

While living in London, Rosa published her first novel, Dunmara (1864), under the pseudonym “Ruth Murray”, and was personally encouraged by Dickens to begin contributing regularly to his bestselling weekly All the Year Round.

She wrote “Another Past Lodger Relates His Experience as a Poor Relation”, the third chapter of Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy, the 1864 Christmas Number (which also contained Amelia B. Edwards’ classic “The Phantom Coach”), followed by “Not to be Taken at Bed-Time” for the 1865 Christmas Number, Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions. This memorable Irish witchcraft horror tale became her best-known story following its appearance in The Supernatural Omnibus, edited by Montague Summers in 1931 and much reprinted.

1894-12-05-the-sketch.jpg“Not to be Taken at Bed-Time” was closely followed by two of Rosa Mulholland’s best ghost stories, “The Ghost at the Rath” (14 April 1866) and “The Haunted Organist of Hurly Burly” (19 November 1866).

Dickens serialised her novella “The Late Miss Hollingford” in All the Year Round from 4 April to 2 May 1868, and it was immediately reprinted in a Tauchnitz edition together with No Thoroughfare by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. As “The Late Miss Hollingford” was not credited to any specific author, it was wrongly assumed by many readers to be the work of Dickens and Collins until it was eventually published separately in book form under Rosa Mulholland’s name in 1886.

Her next novel, Hester’s History, was serialised in All the Year Round from 29 August to 28 November 1868, and published in book form (as by R.M.) in 1869.

After Dickens died in 1870, Rosa Mulholland continued to write many stories for All the Year Round, notably “The Signor John” (Christmas 1871), “A Will o’ the Wisp” (Christmas 1872), and “The Country Cousin” (16 and 23 May 1874).

During the 1870s she began a productive career as a children’s writer, and these books are her most collectable and sought after today: The Little Flower Seekers, being adventures of Troy and Daisy in a Wonderful Garden by Moonlight (1871), richly illustrated by W. H. Frith, W. French, and F. E. Hulme; The First Christmas for Our Dear Little Ones (1875), with fifteen colour wood-engravings painted by L. Diefenback “richly executed in xylography”, and verse texts by Rosa Mulholland telling the Nativity story beneath each picture; and Puck and Blossom (1875), one of the earliest books to be illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

Among Rosa Mulholland’s later stories for All the Year Round were three notable examples written for the special “Extra Summer Numbers”; “The Mystery of Ora” (1 July 1879), a memorable supernatural tale, not reprinted until 2013; “A Strange Love Story” (3 July 1882), featuring reincarnation; and “The Hungry Death” (1 July 1880), a graphic macabre tale set on a remote Irish island during the 1840s famine.

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When Rosa Mulholland left London to settle permanently in Dublin in the 1870s, she befriended Father Matthew Russell, S. J., who edited the Irish Monthly, and whose brother Francis (later Lord Russell of Killowen) was married to her elder sister Ellen Clare Mulholland, author of a dozen children’s books from The Little Bogtrotten (1878) to Terence O’Neill’s Heiress (1909).

Buy a copy of Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time.


Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.

Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time by Rosa Mulholland

Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women

An Extract from the Introduction by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers

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Irish women have long produced literature of the gothic, uncanny, and supernatural. Bending to Earth draws together twelve such tales. While none of the authors herein were considered primarily writers of fantastical fiction during their lifetimes, they each wandered at some point in their careers into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays.

Names such as Charlotte Riddell and Rosa Mulholland will already be familiar to aficionados of the eerie, while Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves are sure to gain new admirers. From a ghost story in the Swiss Alps to a premonition of death in the West of Ireland to strange rites in a South Pacific jungle, Bending to Earth showcases a diverse range of imaginative writing which spans the better part of a century.


There is a latent urge among literary scholars to define grand traditions in literature that sweep through the centuries. Joining the dots between one author’s influences on the work of another writer a generation thence makes for a tantalising and occasionally illuminating game. For some, these distinguished pedigrees are absolutely vital. Such contexts can give better understanding to the evolution of literary movements, the development of genres, and affinities between various coteries of writers.

Consider how much ink has been expended in an effort to prove whether or not Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), had read or was definitively influenced by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (1871-2). Sometimes connections can be delightfully subtle, such as recognising the spine of Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegana (1905) in a photograph of C. S. Lewis posing before a bookshelf in his study. But establishing a conscious tradition — one author knowingly working in the wake of another in an unbroken chain — can be a difficult and frequently tenuous task. This is especially true when genre is concerned, where delineations are often already nebulous.

If a novel or short story displays only scant elements of a particular school of literature, it is granted the prefix “proto”; the author, usually long dead at the time of the pronouncement, may well find herself surprised by such an inclusion. The best one can do in some cases is make an informed speculation — though the peril here is that these assertions can transform over time, without further erudition, into assumed fact.

2019-01-25 Final PosterThe present volume is subtitled “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, and its authors populate the better part of the nineteenth century. One might rightfully wonder if such a joined-up tradition can be delineated, and if the tales in this anthology constitute part of a literary continuum. In his essay on Irish literature for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), Peter Tremayne makes the helpful observation that “Practically every Irish writer has, at some time, explored the genre for the supernatural is part of Irish culture.” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find an Irish author who did not, at some point, include elements of the fantastic in their work — be it supernatural, folkloric, surrealist, or something else. Naturally, this makes broad declarations a particularly challenging endeavour.

What we are more certain about is that the writers included in Bending to Earth were not considered during their lifetimes to be chiefly writers of fantastical fiction. Yet they each at some point in their careers wandered into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays. Some of them, like Katharine Tynan, Ethna Carbery, and Dora Sigerson Shorter, were known primarily as poets. Others, such as L. T. Meade, and Clotilde Graves deliberately wrote for more general popular markets; while the likes of Lady Wilde and Lady Gregory — perhaps now the most commonly known — linger in the Irish national psyche for their explorations of legends and folklore.

And then there are writers whose posthumous reputations have been sustained through the years solely on the merits of their supernatural tales, their once mainstream writings now almost entirely abandoned by modern readers. In 1882 Charlotte Riddell published her seminal collection, Weird Stories, and her supernatural novellas are still celebrated for their effectiveness. Meanwhile, Riddell’s realist mainstream novels have faded from memory, outside the cloistered world of scholars and academics. Similarly, the ghostly writings of Rosa Mulholland and B. M. Croker were kept alive, with varying levels of success, by the industrious efforts of twentieth-century anthologists, while the remainder of their works passed into the afterlife of the unfashionable from which they seldom return.

Bending to EarthIn compiling this anthology of strange tales, we sought stories by Irish women writing in the broader range of the darkly fantastic. We focused on the merits of each writer and their contribution, arranging stories in a sequence that we hope makes for an agreeable read. As one might expect, these selected tales reflect the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and preoccupations of each author. While there might not be a formal pedigree in the supernatural tradition, there is certainly a more ethereal sense of connection that characterises these writers and their offerings to strange literature.

Buy a copy of Bending to Earth here.

Read more about our Strange Stories by Irish Women poster here.


Maria Giakaniki is an independent scholar and editor-in-chief of Ars Nocturna, a small publishing house in Athens that focuses on Gothic fiction. She has compiled and co-translated Gothic Tales by Victorian Women Writers and Gothic Tales by Modern Women Writers.

Brian J. Showers runs Swan River Press in Dublin, Ireland. He also edits The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature.

Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women

Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”: A Sesquicentennial of Fear

Green TeaOn this day, 23 October 1869, readers of All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, may well have been unprepared for a chilling tale of paranoia and despair that commenced in Mr. Dickens’s weekly journal. That story was “Green Tea”, and though it was originally published anonymously, it was penned by the Dublin writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

While Le Fanu is probably now better known for his pre-Dracula vampire novella “Carmilla” (1871/2), for me “Green Tea” will always be his masterpiece. The story tells of the good natured Reverend Mr. Jennings, whose late night penchant for green tea brings on a curious malady—that of opening the interior eye. The Reverend Mr. Jennings finds out that, in opening the interior eye, genii of the infernal plane can also perceive the world of man, and soon he is plagued relentlessly by a demonic chattering simian. For the delight of hell is to do evil to man, and to hasten his eternal ruin.

20190502_180832.jpg“Green Tea” was collected (along with Carmilla”) in Le Fanu’s most famous volume, In a Glass Darkly (1872), one of the author’s final books before he died in February of 1873. “Green Tea” has since become a staple of horror anthologies, gaining admirers from Dorothy L. Sayers to V. S. Pritchett.

For the story’s 150th anniversary, I wanted to create an edition worthy of such a powerful tale. My first port of call was Matthew Holness, known to many for his horror send-up Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but also as the writer/director of Possum, one of the most emotionally chilling horror films I’ve ever seen. Holness is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu, which is why it seemed natural to ask him to write an introduction for our new edition. We’d also previously worked together on a volume in 2014 for the bicentenary of Le Fanu’s birth: Reminiscences of a Bachelor.

71559572_1182617248613887_3454389733147279360_oThat same year I asked Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre if he would adapt “Green Tea” as a radio drama. He did this, and the piece debuted at Toner’s Pub that August. I’d been searching for an excuse to record this wonderful adaptation, and when work on the new edition began, an opportunity had finally manifested. Each copy of our new edition of Green Tea will be issued with a CD of this magnificent recording.

Then there are the illustrations of Alisdair Wood, with whom I worked on November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. As with Holness, working with Wood again seemed an obvious choice. His pen and ink style is reminiscent of magazine illustrations from the nineteenth century. For the book, Wood created twelve original illustrations, plus the book’s striking cover.

CHAPTER IX FINALRounding out the volume, Jim Rockhill and myself once again teamed up to write a pair of afterwords to explore the publication history and contemporary reception of “Green Tea”. We had previously done the same for Reminiscences of a Bachelor. Rockhill has long worked as a Le Fanu scholar, with perhaps his greatest achievement being a three-volume complete stories of Le Fanu, published by Ash Tree Press (2002-2005). It was great fun looking at “Green Tea” in depth. As always, we hope you find our scholarship illuminating, possibly even useful to your own explorations.

Other features found their way into the design. For example, the monogram on the full title page is from Le Fanu’s letterhead; and on the signing page, signed by all contributors, we’ve reprinted a facsimile of the author’s signature—I’m afraid the best we could do under the circumstances. The rest of us have signed the page ourselves. I did, however, take the opportunity to visit Le Fanu’s vault with the signing pages before they were bound into the books. There they rested while we enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of green tea (a pot of which I am drinking now. In moderation, of course).

ED8OBXEX4AAK8GeFurther instalments of “Green Tea” were published in All the Year Round over the subsequent three weeks in 1869: 30 October, 6 November, and 13 November. While you may have read this story before, we hope you’ll make time this season to return to its pages. For “Green Tea” Le Fanu holds no punches: exploring as he does the absolute limits of a man dogged by a fiend from hell, caught in the enormous machinery of a malignant universe. This is no cosy ghost story, no pleasing terror. The climax in “Green Tea” remains one of the bleakest in all of supernatural literature.


Swan River Press’s deluxe hardback edition of Green Tea, in celebration of the story’s 150th anniversary, is now available on our website www.swanriverpress.ie.

If you’d like to read more about Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, please see our previous post here.

And don’t forget to check out our journal The Green Book (Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature), past issues of which have featured J. S. Le Fanu and his work.

 

Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”: A Sesquicentennial of Fear

The Green Book 13

Green Book 13EDITOR’S NOTE

One perennial question about genre fiction centres around the notion of “tradition”: the influence authors and their works have on the next generation, and so on down the line. In posing this question, we ask whether or not an unbroken literary pedigree can be established. For example, an excessive amount of energy has been expended exploring links, both legitimate and spurious, between Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (1871/2) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897) — and believe me, this seems to be an all-consuming pastime for some. But to me, Irish genre fiction has always seemed more a web of thematic shadows, authorial echoes, even social links, rather than a series of linear connections.

Those who read the editor’s note in Issue 12 will recall our endeavour to serialise biographical/critical sketches of Irish writers, which commenced in Issue 11. These entries are the results of an on-going project tentatively called the Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction, edited by myself and Jim Rockhill. What form this project will ultimately take is still uncertain, but until then we will continue to share the results here. This issue continues with fourteen further such entries, a new crop of names featuring authors with whom readers of The Green Book might already be acquainted, such as Cheiro and A.E., while the likes of Beatrice Grimshaw and Mary Fortune may be less familiar — but whom I hope you will find no less fascinating.

Earlier this year Swan River Press published Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women, which I co-edited with Maria Giakaniki. In the introduction to that volume are more musings on the Irish genre tradition, or rather how Irish authors, with their disparate blossomings, are still connected through conversations in the margins. Indeed, with Ireland being such a small country, there are countless such communications between its authors, both direct and indirect. As you read this issue’s entries, along with those in previous instalments, you’ll certainly notice myriad connections and crossovers in the frequently overlapping lives of these authors and their writings.

Back in Issue 12, I outlined the criteria Jim and I used to select authors for consideration. The difficulty in this lies with the definitions of both “Irish” and “fantastical literature” — in the end always a fool’s errand. We continue to err on the side of inclusivity, fully aware that we cannot please everybody.

While editing this issue, the question of inclusivity reared its head when I noticed that, although we’ve a contributor line-up of the usual, impressive quality, there wasn’t a single woman among them. This is a glaring shortfall, one for which I, as editor, take full responsibility. The entries in Issue 13 are the sum total of what was available at the time of publication. Nevertheless, this is not a reasonable excuse for such a discrepancy. So with that in mind, I take this opportunity to remind people that The Green Book is open for submissions. And I would like to urge women in particular to submit. There are still a number of authors for whom we need entries, so please contact me for a current list of availability. General submission guidelines can be found on the last page of this issue, and also on our website. I hope this gender imbalance is something I can begin to redress in future issues.

As with each issue, I hope you will find something of interest, discover new authors, and that your list of books to read will grow ever longer.

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
16 May 2019

You can buy The Green Bookhere.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“Thomas Parnell (1679-1718)”
Albert Power

“Thomas Leland (1722-1785)”
Albert Power

“Mary Fortune (1833-1911)”
James Doig

“Keith Fleming (1858/9-?)”
James Doig

“Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918)”
Richard Bleiler

“Cheiro (1866-1936)”
Edward O’Hare

“George William Russell (AE) (1867-1935)”
Daniel Mulhall

“Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953)”
James Doig

“Shane Leslie (1885-1971)”
Derek John

“James Corbett (1887-1958)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Oliver Sherry (1894-1971)”
Richard Dalby

“Francis Stuart (1902-2000)”
Mark Valentine

“Stephen Gilbert (1912-2010)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Peter Beresford Ellis (1943- )”
Mike Ashley

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 13

On Designing A.E.’s Selected Poems

Selected PoemsOccasionally I like to write about how a Swan River book can come together. Back in 2015, I wrote a short piece on how we assembled our edition of Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature, a beautiful book that is now unfortunately out of print. (Though you can still read about how we put it together!)

This time I’d like to write a little about Selected Poems by A.E. (George William Russell, 1867-1935), which we published in April 2017 to coincide with the bicentenary of the great poet’s birth.

A few years prior to the sesquicentenary, I realised there was no proper edition of A.E.’s work in print. Sure, a few cheap print-on-demand volumes of his mystical writings are floating about, but let’s face it, the content of those sort of things can be dodgy at the best of times, often going unedited and rarely even proofed or decently typeset. Caveat emptor. And given that A.E.’s work is no longer fashionable in the Irish literary world, I knew that a new edition done right would be up to Swan River.

img_0040I can remember the precise moment I decided to reprint A.E.’s work. My house isn’t too far from Mount Jerome Cemetery, in south Dublin, where A.E. was laid to rest on 17 July 1935. As I was stooped down to remove clumps of moss and other debris from the chipped stone atop his grave, the thought entered my mind: in 2017 I would reprint something by Ireland’s foremost mystical poet. But what? Would I create my own selection? Ask a contemporary poet to complete such a task? Or maybe I would reissue a prose work, such as his thin short story collection The Mask of Apollo (1905). I did not ponder this question for long. A definitive answer arrived a few weeks later.

1st jacketOver the years I have amassed quite the collection of first editions of A.E.’s work. Shortly after that visit to his resting place I found a first edition copy of Selected Poems, originally published in autumn 1935, just a few months after its author died. This particular copy of Selected Poems still had its original dust jacket, on which were inscribed the words: “If I should be remembered, I would like it to be for the verses in this book. They are my choice out of the poetry I have written.” It would appear A.E. himself had given me the answer. I decided then and there to honour the will stated so clearly before me.

The painting of A.E. on the cover of Selected Poems is by the husband of Constance Markiewicz: Count Casimir Dunin Markiewicz (1874-1932). The original is held by the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, and just so happened to be on display at the time I was working on this project. So I wandered up one weekend to have a look. After I had seen the painting, it struck me that perhaps we could re-interpret the 1935 jacket, reproducing Count Markiewicz’s painting, but of course this time in colour. The gallery kindly obliged, and so the project began to take shape.

img_1611Next I asked Meggan Kehrli, Swan River’s long-time designer, to lift the typeface of the title, author’s name, and inscription from the cover of the first edition jacket. We did this trick for both Insect Literature and Longsword, and it works pretty well. Although most readers won’t necessarily notice this subtle design choice, I like knowing it’s there. Of course you can compare the two covers above to see both their similarities and differences.

On the title page we reprinted the “Sword of Knowledge”. This emblem, a downward-pointing winged sword designed by the poet, is emblazoned on the free front end papers of Cuala Press’s multiple A.E. volumes. The keen-eyed will notice that it is also carved into the lower right-hand corner of the poet’s tombstone.  It only seemed appropriate to include it on our title page as well.

Finally there was the question of the printed paper case — that’s the image that’s printed onto the boards underneath the dust jacket. It’s become a feature of all Swan River books that this image is different from that on the jacket cover, allowing readers to discover something beneath the jacket of each of our books.  Given that A.E. also produced a wealth of beautiful paintings depicting his visionary experiences, I started the search to find the perfect picture.

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Again, I didn’t have to search too long before I found what I was looking for at the National Gallery of Ireland. There they had one of A.E.’s paintings given the rather uninspired posthumous title “A Landscape with a Couple, and a Spirit with a Lute”. Of course the painting depicts exactly that — but for the purposes of our project it spoke of so much more. It was perfect. The golden figure, with its radiant headdress and lute, appearing before an awestruck pair, seems to me the very embodiment of Song, an extension of the mysticism A.E. also sought to express in his writing.

IMG_1604Just as A.E.’s poetry and prose were glimpses behind the veil, so too did I want a scintillating image beneath our purposefully staid dust jacket — so that each reader here too could glimpse behind the veil, turning the cover into a sort of interactive metaphor. In the photo at the left you can see the book with the jacket both on and off.

Needless to say, Selected Poems by A.E. is a book that I’m quite proud of, and I hope you like it too.

After that visit to Mount Jerome, the book just sort of came together. The elements I required materialised as I needed them, and the finished volume was published on 10 April 2017 — just in time for the poet’s 150th birthday. This project was, for me, an exceedingly special one. I would like to think that A.E. himself would be proud of this book.

If you’d like to read more about A.E., including who he was and why he is an important contributor to Irish literature, I wrote another piece about him that you can read here.

I also wrote an essay called “Hidden Aeons: Searching for a Literary Relic” detailing how George William Russell found is pseudonym and true self.

And of course, if you’d like to by a copy of Selected Poems, you can do so here.

 

On Designing A.E.’s Selected Poems