Irish Writers of the Fantastic

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I’m sure you’ve seen the ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster around Dublin. It depicts the usual suspects: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, et cetera. A while back the Irish Times published a reply to that poster, again entitled “Irish Writers”, but this time featuring only women (as the original featured only men). You can view both posters here.

Despite the strengths of these two posters, I felt there were still a few conspicuously absent faces.

As Swan River Press is Ireland’s only publishing house dedicated to what might broadly be termed “literature of the fantastic”, I felt it up to us to submit our own entry into the cavalcade of Irish literary posters.

As our treat to you this Halloween, I’d like to present Irish Writers of the Fantastic.

The poster was designed to give an overview of these worthy and often overlooked Irish authors. Some you will recognise, others you will not. Some, such as Bram Stoker and Lord Dunsany, have had a profound impact on international literature. Others, like Fitz-James O’Brien and Dorothy Macardle, will be more obscure. But each one is worth discovering or revisiting this Halloween season.

Ultimately I hope you will find something of interest among them. There are both men and women included in our poster. Writers who are world renowned and those who are less well known. There’s horror, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, satire . . . You’ll find here writers from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and their contributions to literature span the better part of two centuries.

However, as is the nature of lists, I hope you will disagree with this one. With any luck, you’ll be only too eager to point out someone that deserves to be included, but was not. And I hope you do. And when you do in the comments below, tell us why you think they should be included (and might they bump someone off the list?) Don’t grunt, elucidate! That second part is the most important bit. Because, above all, this poster is meant to get people talking about these writers . . . and then running to the nearest bookshop or library to read their works. In the meantime, Swan River Press will continue to lead the way in their rediscovery.

Anyone with a further interest in Ireland’s contributions to the genre might want to check out our twice-yearly journal The Green Book, which features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature. Until then . . .

Happy Halloween from the Swan River Press!


Some Reading Suggestions from Swan River Press

large_reminiscences1large_gb1Insect Literature

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Irish Writers of the Fantastic

Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature

Insect LiteratureI’d like to write about our forthcoming book, Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature. Actually, I don’t want to write about Insect Literature so much as I’d like an excuse to tell you how a Swan River Press book gets put together. I’m inordinately proud of this one too, because it has so many meaningful features worked into its design. I’ll just start at the beginning.

For a long time Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) had been on my mental list of Irish authors I’d like to showcase. But I’d always hesitated as much of his work is already widely available and in inexpensive editions. I wanted something special, a project that was unique and interesting. A book only Swan River Press could publish. Enter Anne-Sylvie Homassel.

Anne-Sylvie brought Insect Literature to my attention a good while back. The earliest reference to it in our correspondence that I can find dates back to November 2013. After our initial conversation, the idea sat at the back of my brain until sometime in 2014 when I learned from my friend John Moran that the Little Museum of Dublin would be mounting a major exhibition on the life and works of Hearn in the autumn of 2015. Work promptly started on the project so that the book would be ready in time for the celebrations.

So what is Insect Literature? Very briefly: Insect Literature is a posthumous collection of Hearn’s essays and stories on insects originally published by Hokuseidō Press in 1921. It was edited by one of Hearn’s former students, Masanobu Ōtani, as part of a multi-volume bilingual (Japanese/English) “Hearn Memorial Translations” series.The original volume contains ten insect-related texts—for Swan River’s new edition Anne-Sylvie has added another ten. You can buy a copy here, if you’d like!

IMG_0057The first order of business was track down a first edition copy. The reason I wanted to at least see a copy was because I like to incorporate elements from the original publications as part of Swan River’s designs. Apparently, as I quickly learned, Insect Literature is a rare enough oul’ book. I could find mentions of it in online catalogues and it is listed in P.D. & Ione Perkins’s bibliography (and in the collections of two university libraries—one in Australia, the other in Kentucky), but nowhere could I find copies for sale, or even evidence of copies that had been for sale.

There’s an interesting reason for the scarcity of this book though. On 1 September 1923, Tōkyō was devastated by the Great Kantō Earthquake. The destruction was total and the subsequent fires engulfed much of Tōkyō, destroying Hokuseidō’s warehouses and stock in the process. But that didn’t stop me from occasionally trawling the internet, hoping a copy might turn up.

As luck would have it, one evening in early spring 2015, about seven or eight pages deep into a Google search, I found an entry for Insect Literature on a French auction website. The listing, which had no bids, had been posted in 2013. What were the chances it was still available? But it was the first lead I’d seen, so I had to try. I promptly wrote to the auctioneer, fully not expecting a reply. Or if I got a response, that I would be told it had already been sold. Or had been lost. Or . . .

But I did get a reply, the book was still available, and after a nervous two-week wait for something to go wrong, Insect Literature arrived safely here at our offices in Dublin. (If anyone else finds another copy, I’d love to know.)

Hearn SealIt’s a beautifully designed book with English on the versos and Japanese on the facing rectos. The blue buckram cover bears Hearn’s personal seal stamped in gold. It’s a heron. Get it? But let’s move on to what I really want to talk about: the design of our new edition.

So the text first. The original edition features Japanese translations by the editor Masanobu Ōtani. While I couldn’t reprint the translated text as in the original, I felt it important to preserve the sense of the bilingual in our edition. The best way to do this would be to print the Japanese titles for each story above their English counterparts. The resulting layout looked pretty good, but we had one slight problem. While Ōtani provided translated titles for the original ten texts in Insect Literature, we had to go searching for translations for the additional titles. For this I went to Rebecca Bourke and my old friend Edward Crandall. They first checked for any existing title translations (which they found for the likes of “Gaki” and “The Dream of Akinosuké”). But when no existing title could be found, new translations had to be created.

IMG_0062In addition to the translated titles, we also included M. Ōtani’s brief forward; perhaps not particularly illuminating, but it felt an intimate part of the original book, and thus warranted inclusion. Another interesting element in the first edition is the reproduction of a handwritten letter from Hearn’s friend Mitchell McDonald praising the late author. (McDonald also served as Hearn’s literary executor; unfortunately he died in the Great Kantō Earthquake.)  In the end we decided to leave the letter out of the book because it didn’t add much to the immediate context of Insect Literature. However, we did make the text available on the website, which you can read here.

Which brings us to the dust jacket. Here it is in full view. You can click on the image below if you want to get a better look at it.

Final-Insect Literature Jacket copy

The first time I saw Takato Yamamoto’s “Bug”, I knew instantly that I wanted it on the cover of our new edition. I don’t think I ever really had a second choice. Very much in the spirit of Hearn, this project was destined to be international. Anne-Sylvie’s in France, I’m in Ireland, Ken is in England, Xand is in Germany, Jim and Meggan are in America. All I had to do now was track down Mr. Yamamoto in Japan. It took some doing, but I eventually managed to get in touch with his agent, who kindly allowed for its use. And there it is buzzing beautifully on the cover.

IMG_0056Now have a closer look at the jacket. See the title and the author’s name there on the front panel? Our designer, Meggan Kehrli, lifted that font from the original title page of Insect Literature. (This is a trick we also did for the cover of our edition of Thomas Leland’s Longsword, which she lifted from the title page of the 1762 edition). The same font gets used again on the spine as well as on the front flap. It’s subtle and not everyone will notice, but I like knowing it’s there anyway. It somehow adds something to the book for me.

FirefliesWhile doing bibliographic research on the original publications of the various texts that comprise Insect Literature, I consulted a number of other first editions, many of which contained illustrations. While we didn’t use all of what was available, we certainly included a good sampling of the more impressive ones. There are four really lovely ones by Genjiro Yeto that originally appeared in Kottō (1902). Originally I wasn’t going to include any illustrations, but the more I looked at them, the more I wanted them there in our new edition.

1PTDC0034My favourite, though, are the two little guys on the title page. I found them among the pages of Exotics and Retrospectives (1898), where they originally appeared as illustrations for the sublime essay “Insect-Musicians”. (Another insect-musician appears on the spine of the PPC pictured below.)

The title page could have been different though. I very nearly put Hearn’s heron there instead. Much as I liked the idea, and it would certainly be in keeping with the first edition, it seemed vaguely silly to put a bird on the title page of a book called Insect Literature. The heron will have to wait until the next Hearn book we do.

On the rear flap of the jacket you’ll see a photo of Hearn standing beside a seated school boy. This rare photo appeared as the frontispiece in Insect Literature, and therefore made perfect sense to use for our edition’s author photo. The school boy also happens to be Insect Literature‘s original editor and translator, Masanobu Ōtani, making this photo even more appropriate and special.

And then there’s the PPC. As with the jacket, you can click on the below image to get a closer look.

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This is the image that’s printed directly onto the boards underneath the dust jacket. The printed PPC has been a feature of Swan River Press books since the beginning. I always thought that space under a dust jacket was a bit wasted, especially on mass market hardbacks, which tend to just reprint the jacket design. That’s boring. I like giving the reader something to discover.

So the above composite image for the PPC was created by Swan River’s long-time designer Meggan Kehrli. (When I say long time, I mean she’s had a hand in every book right from the start.) The pale cream field on which the insects sit is Meggan’s own handiwork with paper, brush, and dab of watercolour. The dragon-flies are illustrations from “Dragon-flies”, which appeared in A Japanese Miscellany (1901). The cicadae were taken from “Sémi” in Shadowings (1900), while that grasshopper fella and the little guy on the spine are both “Insect-Musicians” from Exotics and Retrospectives (1898). I love how they’re arranged as if a Victorian entomological display. Meggan has created something entirely new with these specimens from the past.

And now for the calligraphy on the spine, which was provided by Yaeko Crandall. The top bit says “Insect Literature“, while the bottom is “Koizumi Yakumo” (Hearn’s Japanese name). Normally on PPCs I don’t like to include any text. But because I wanted another nod to Insect Literature‘s original bilingualism, I thought we could bend the rule just this once. I think it looks great.

Finally, see that little red butterfly on the spine?  It just fell into place there, mirroring the ornament we use on all Swan River jacket spines. Anyway, that little butterfly is from the very last page of Hokuseidō Press’s edition of Insect Literature.

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And that’s about it. At least all I wanted to write about the sort of things that can go into a Swan River Press book design. Not all our books are as extensively layered with meaning as Insect Literature, but for Hearn we had such a wealth of resources available, why not make use of them?

Of course other work went into the making of this book too, less visible, but no less important: Ken McKenzie’s meticulous typesetting (for this book he had to deal with three languages!), Xand Lourenco’s transcribing (again, in three languages), Jim Rockhill’s proofreading (Jim’s another one of Swan River’s secret weapons—he keeps the words classy), not to mention Gentleman John Moran, who lent his Hearn expertise at nearly every turn (he’s also involved in the Little Museum exhibition). And of course Anne-Sylvie Homassel, who not only netted this whole project, but provided a fine introduction for our new edition.

Lafcadio Hearn is an author whose work you can immerse yourself in. His talent as a prose stylist is such that nearly any topic he decides to put his pen to is rendered fascinating and otherworldly. Immersing myself in Hearn’s world is exactly what I did as we put this book together. Through the whole process I read biographies about Hearn, scoured bibliographies, consulted books in the National Library, and just sort of snooped around to see what might turn up . . . it was really good fun!

As I said at the beginning of this article, I’m quite fond of this book. Many hours of work went into making our new edition of Insect Literature. I hope people enjoy it. Thank you for reading.

Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature

Lafcadio Hearn and Mitchell McDonald

grande_insect1A reproduction of the following holographic letter was printed at the front of the first edition of Insect Literature (Hokuseido, 1921). It was written by Mitchell McDonald, a paymaster for the United States Navy and also the principal owner of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama. In addition to their close friendship until Hearn’s death in 1904, McDonald also served as the author’s literary executor. Mitchell McDonald perished in the Great Kanto Earthquake in September 1923.

The letter is addressed to R. Tanabe, T. Ochiai, and M. Otani, commending their efforts on the bilingual “Hearn Memorial Translations” series, of which Insect Literature was a part. Otani, who was also a former pupil of Hearn, translated the book into Japanese, which appeared beside Hearn’s original English texts.


Grand Hotel, Yokohama

Jan. 21, 1921

IMG_0055Dear Mr. Tanabe, Mr. Ochiai, and Mr. Ōtani,

As a friend of Lafcadio Hearn’s, and for that and other good reasons, a friend of yours, I am taking the liberty of saying that in your “Hearn Memorial Translations” you are “running true to form”—a thing to be confidently expected of course—in the proof you give that his whole-souled affection for his Japanese pupils and associates was not at all misplaced, but on the contrary was strikingly warranted in the hearty return to him in full measure of a like affection.

I want to say further that to have had as your teacher a literary star of first magnitude (now blazing alone in the literary firmament as yet without schools or satellites) is a distinction to be exceedingly proud of, but that which is something still more to be proud of is the service you are, yourselves, now in the way of rendering those of the present and rising generations of Japan, who have room in their hearts for love of country—and who are they that have more room in their hearts than the Japanese have for love of country?

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Hearn and McDonald

In that matter, Hearn must have been Hearn—sent to Japan that with his mighty pen he could acquaint your own intellectuals as well as the outside world with the virtues of the great People of that time a newly recognized member of the Family of Great Nations. Your people have long been made familiar enough with those who looked only for Japanese vices and finding, of course, some that are common to all mankind—now let them become intimately acquainted with the man who looked for, found, could see and could tell what was to be applauded in them—much more, in fact, than they themselves were even faintly aware of—to their glory be said!

The time has come when Japan should learn what it means to “know thyself” as seen in the study of Hearn’ s writings—and at the same time thus to learn English at its best, for, after all, a wide and intimate knowledge of English is a practical consideration of utmost importance. In fact, not the least important feature of what you are doing for your people is making it possible for them to participate with you in the work of the man of whom it was said by the distinguished Associate Professor of English at the Columbia University, New York—John Erskine, Ph.D.—that his (Hearn’s) lectures were “criticisms of the finest kind”, unmatched in English unless we return to the best in Coleridge, and in some ways unequaled by anything in Coleridge!

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Hearn and his pupil M. Otani

Your familiarity with the language—thanks to Hearn—qualifies you to put his incomparable English into Japanese as nearly as it can be done, but the greatest service you are doing your fellow scholars lies in giving them Hearn’s English, at the same time that you make it accessible to the Nation at large.

To speak only of the very beginning of your “Hearn Memorial Translations”—every one of the five books a gem of first water—is to invite attention to what stirs the emotions to the depths of the soul, and, any fair-minded man, having read it, who wouldn’t at once resent an unkindness—much less an injustice—to the kind of people there described, is unimaginable.

The time is bound to come when present day insanity wherever existing will be made to give way to soundness of mind, and in that time the benevolent influence of Hearn’ s work and that of his disciples will be keenly felt and fully appreciated. Haste the day, dear good friends, and believe me

Always faithfully yours,

Mitchell McDonald


IMG_0056Swan River Press’s new and expanded edition of Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature is available to order here.

As Lafcadio Hearn observes in his essay “Insects in Greek Poetry”, “the capacity to enjoy the music of insects and all that it signifies in the great poem of nature tells very plainly of goodness of heart, aesthetic sensibility, a perfectly healthy state of mind.” And to this, one might add a keen sense of wonder.

Insect Literature collects twenty essays and stories written by Hearn, mostly in Japan, a land where insects were as appreciated as in ancient Greece. With a witty gentleness bordering on the eerie, Hearn describes in these pieces the song of the cricket, the spectral fly of dragon-flies, quotes the entomological haiku of classical Japan, and recalls Buddhist tales in which the souls insects and men are never far one from the other.

Lafcadio Hearn and Mitchell McDonald

The Green Book 6

Green Book 6EDITOR’S NOTE

So far The Green Book has been avoiding Mr. Bram Stoker. Not out of dislike or animosity, but for a journal that hopes to illuminate the lesser seen corners of Irish fantastic literature, I felt it was okay to let Stoker—our most prominent spokesman—wait patiently in the wings for the first few issues and allow others the spotlight for just a moment. But now that we’re six numbers in, it’s time to give Mr. Stoker his due and allow him to take centre stage. And so we pull back the red velvet curtains on this issue in grand style.

It’s not every day one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But there it was, on page three of an equally forgotten daily newspaper. It appeared quite unexpectedly in the far right-hand column. There’s nothing quite like that rush of excitement one feels when making such a discovery in the otherwise subdued and dimly-lit microfilm room of the National Library. The thrill of reading that recognisable prose, filled with masculinity, adventurous seafaring, nefarious murder, teetotalling, a clever fiancée, and a ghost. Did I not mention it’s a ghost story too? It is, and also the second (known) story Stoker had ever published. No, it’s not every day that one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But they’re out there, just waiting to be uncovered. And we’re happy to be able to share this one, which has lain dormant for nearly 150 years, with you.

11896252_1169352346413301_3671742602046275018_nWe’re equally fortunate to have in this issue an introduction from David J. Skal giving some background and context to Stoker’s lost tale. As some of you may already know, Skal’s new biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, will be out next year; certainly an event keenly anticipated by many. At the end of this issue, John Edgar Browning, himself no stranger to unearthing forgotten writings by Stoker, interviews Skal about Dracula, Stoker, and his forthcoming book.

So what’s in between this Stoker sandwich? Glad you asked. We’ve got an excellent essay on Lafcadio Hearn’s Irish influences from John Moran (to coincide with the Hearn exhibition running this autumn at the Little Museum of Dublin), a short reminiscence of the Great War by Lord Dunsany, a piece by Martin Hayes on the fraught relationship between Yeats and Crowley (hey, we’ve got to mark the Great Poet’s sesquicentenary somehow, right?), and finally an essay on the oddly overlooked mystic, visionary, poet, artist, pacifist, and statesman George William Russell (AE)—rightly described by Archbishop Gregg as “that myriad-minded man”—who I hope you will find as interesting as I do. In addition to all this, we have our usual crop of reviews, from which I hope you’ll find something to discover.

11952719_1169354093079793_8682393322221805289_oFinally, before I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Stoker, I would like to direct your attention to the cover. Here you will find Harry Clarke’s “Mephisto” (1914) from Goethe’s Faust. Stoker’s employer, the celebrated actor-manager Sir Henry Irving, played Mephistopheles with great success throughout his career. It is a role Stoker saw him perform over seven hundred times. The infernal character, as portrayed by Irving, is thought to have influenced Dracula—but the astute reader will catch Stoker’s much earlier reference to Mephistopheles in the pages ahead.

And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you, Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Saved by a Ghost” . . .

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
16 August 2015

Order The Green Book 6 here.

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Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“Saved by a Ghost”
Bram Stoker

“Some Comments on ‘Saved by a Ghost'”
by David J. Skal

“Early Influences on Lafcadio Hearn”
John Moran

“Stray Memories”
Lord Dunsany

“Fry-Ups with the Poets and Prophets”
Martin Hayes

“AE: Mystic and Economist”
Ernest A. Boyd

“Something in His Blood: An Interview with David J. Skal”
John Edgar Browning

“Reviews”

Mervyn Wall’s The Unfortunate/Return of Fursey (Darrell Schweitzer)

Craftsman Audio’s Complete Ghost Stories of Le Fanu (Rob Brown)

Caitriona Lally’s Eggshells (John Howard)

Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (Bernice M. Murphy)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 6