Priceless profiles

Hubert Crackanthorpe – A controversialist from the naughty nineties

My friend Ray recently gave me a copy of ‘First Edition Prices’. He writes and edits this authoritative analysis of 42,500 collectable books, and publishes it through his own Tartarus Press imprint. Many collectors and dealers fall back on this guide when trying to match pounds to publications. The prices make for interesting reading, but it’s Ray’s delicious amuse-bouche profiles of authors I’d never heard of that really make this a book to read and savour as well as something to consult. I’ve been introduced to the likes of Christopher Bush and his sixty-three novels featuring urbane investigator Ludovic Travers, and Scottish metaphysical writer David Lindsay and his epic ‘Voyage to Arcturus’. I’ve now been alerted to the controversial Hubert Crackanthorpe, whose descriptions of adultery, prostitution and social degradation made him a sensation in the ‘naughty nineties’ – that’s the 1890s, by the way. Then there’s Barbara Pym, who was described as ‘the most underrated writer of the 20th century’ by Philip Larkin and David Cecil in the Times Literary Supplement. I also like the sound of B.S. Johnson, who often conducted literary experiments by adding blank or holed pages to his books. ‘The Unfortunates’ was published in loose sections and it was left to the reader to assemble the narrative as they saw fit.

Here’s Ray on another entertaining talent – Frederick Rolfe, or Baron Corvo as he sometimes styled himself: ‘The author of a number of almost indigestible semi-autobiographical novels, Rolfe had a self-destructive paranoia. He is read for his ‘Toto’ tales and the minor classic ‘Hadrian the Seventh’. Sadly, he only really reached the level of genius in his vituperative letters to self-created enemies. He claimed that he had been given the title ‘Baron Corvo’ by an Italian countess, but there is nothing to back up his story.’

There are many more of these treasures in the book, along with 1,000 reproductions of some fabulous first edition book jackets and useful appendices on literary prize winners (Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel). Ray also offers an entertaining list of authors’ pseudonyms and I thought I’d share some of best of these with you:

C.3.3. — Oscar Wilde

Rosetta Stone — Dr Seuss

St E.A. of M.&S. — Aleister Crowley

Timothy Sparks — Charles Dickens

Mary Pollock — Enid Blyton

Diedrich Knickerbocker — Washington Irving

Horace Hornem — Lord Byron

Flying Officer X — H.E. Bates

Derry Down Derry — Edward Lear

Sheila Cousins — Graham Greene

Bassetto — George Bernard Shaw

352087 A/C Ross — T. E. Lawrence

Leolinus Siluriensis — Arthur Machen


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