DW's place in literature

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Geoff Turner

DW's place in literature

Post by Geoff Turner » Thu 9 Jun, 2005 13:35:20

I remember devouring the Dennis Wheatley paperbacks when I was at school and subsequently bought 23 of the unbelievably erratic Heron edition. It was whilst tidying up my bookcase that I came across them again and when I searched on the internet under "Dennis Wheatley" I was somewhat upset to see him regularly described as a writer of "pulp fiction". I haven't read any of the books for a long time and his writings are never mentioned but wonder what other afficiandos thought - do his books have any lasting literary value or are they simply another thing for collectors and anoraks to hoard with no regard for what's between the first-edition covers?


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Bob Rothwell
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Post by Bob Rothwell » Thu 9 Jun, 2005 21:49:33

'Pulp Fiction' !!! Never. I'll leave others to make their own remarks but I do like this quote from a reporter from a local newspaper at the time of DW's death:

"As a writer he had immense narrative skill – an art despised by trendy literates today – and it was this, combined with the fruits of a well stocked mind and the authentic settings that came from his travels and historical research, that in large measure contributed to his outstanding success as a writer. His books have been translated into 28 languages."

New Milton Advertiser, 19 Nov 1977


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Tony Cheong, Singapore.

Post by Tony Cheong, Singapore. » Fri 10 Jun, 2005 16:38:24

One would have thought that DW has an assured place in English Literature and literary critiques are just that : opinions. Unless an author writes pure rubbish which DW, in my opinion, never did, I would go so far as to credit his works as examples of fine English usage. Besides, some of his writings offer interesting insights of a section of English society then - surely there is invaluable historic importance in all this.


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Barry Cronin

Post by Barry Cronin » Fri 10 Jun, 2005 22:14:32

I have a feeling the pulpy covers of DW's books in paperback in the 70s and early 80s were the final nail in the coffin for his reputation, superficial as that sounds. He is sniffed at these days, by lit crits for being low-brow (if they consider him at all, that is), and by the general reading public (if such a thing still exists!) for being old-fashioned. As it happens, he is neither. True, he is hardly high-brow, but he tells his exciting tales in an exciting, literate, intelligent way, and has a grasp of good English many people should envy; and he is no more old-fashioned than John Buchan, G.K. Chesterton, or a couple of hundred other authors who wrote of their time, and did it well. I think his time will come again. And in case anyone thinks I have an axe to grind - I was barely into my teens when DW died, I share few of his political opinions, and I am aware that there are poor patches in amongst the good. But when he is on form, I know few authors to match him for keeping you glued to what he is saying.


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Post by Jim » Sun 12 Jun, 2005 23:16:04

Actually, I doubt Wheatley himself had any pretensions that he was Writing Literature. He was a story-teller, and the reviewers called him the Prince of Story-Tellers (and I think he's a better writer than Edgar Wallace). I agree with Barry that Wheatley's time will come again, probably with a new issue of the Roger Brook stories, since they were historical from their initial publication, and have not "dated" the way some of the other series have. Right now, though, I believe there's not a single Wheatley novel available in the bookstores...I wonder if House of Stratus would be interested?


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kdwg glasgow

Post by kdwg glasgow » Tue 14 Jun, 2005 23:06:34

as someone who started reading dw at a young age around the early 80s i have to say that i love his stories. the history in the roger brook and de richleau series in particular are amazing. his ability to bring the past to life should be an example to history teachers. personally i think his work is looked down on now because of his attitude to the Empire and Britian. if more people had his views maybe we wouldn't be a second rate country whose prestige is quickly sliding.


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Barry Cronin

Post by Barry Cronin » Thu 16 Jun, 2005 13:45:29

I don't think it matters that some of DW's stuff IS dated - that is what gives it its charm. I love John Buchan - you'll never read a better thriller, shocker, call it what you will than Mr Standfast - but some of his stuff's dated, and I certainly don't always agree with his politics, or his sexual and racial prejudices. But what kind of world would it be if we all had to feel/think the same.


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Post by succer » Sat 18 Jun, 2005 10:38:56

To think that you cannot find a DW book in the shops today is criminal. I don't always agree with his politics, or beliefs ,but The Devil Rides Out is up there with the great horror books of all time.

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Post by Alan » Thu 23 Jun, 2005 07:53:18

I feel this comes down to a matter of definitions. There is a school of thought feels that feels that a work that tells a coherent, accesible story is automatically disqualified as "good literature", and that a story must be "difficult" and enigmatic in order to be regarded as serious. Somehow, being unreadable gives a work "street cred"... the contemporary tendency to award literary prizes to writers of the James Joyce school of clarity tends to emphasise this.

Looking back at what has been considered good literature in the past we can see that this has not always been so. and is not always so today. Just about every great work, from the Bible through to the Harry Potter books (these works listed as representing chronological extremes, and NOT meaning to imply they are on the same level of seriousness!) have been able to simultaneously tell entertaining stories AND present serious, important comment on the human condition. If a book is not entertaining enough to be read, then whatever it says, no matter how incisive or important, is essentially useless.

The irony is that the sort of books most often quoted by literary snobs as "great" often tend to be among the most entertaining. I can't help thinking that Shakespeare or Defoe or Homer will be read and appreciated long after William Burroughs or James Joyce are long forgotten.

I'm forced to admit that DW's style probably contains enough bad phraseology to disqualify him a a master-craftsman, that his characterisation is often stereotypical, that his plots can be unrealistic and his overt political stance can distract from his approachability. However, using the base definition - that of saying something important in a clear, entertaining style - he qualifies in spades! Think of a car with the hubcaps missing, the radio not working and the rear doors jammed. It may not be perfect, but it's still a car, and it will get you to your destination. DW may not be a great stylist, but he's certainly a great writer with something important to say. Bearing in mind that he was writing for a populist audience (and making allowances for this) one has to allow him a small niche in the vast edifice that we call "great literature".

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Post by Garry Holmes » Sat 23 Jul, 2005 12:58:21

I can't remember who said it, but 'It is only a crime just to be readable in a world where everything is readable' and as someone who recently read far too late into the night to finish 'The Golden Spaniard', I find Wheatley very readable. By the way, isn't this a great site?! It's nice to finally find a forum about this author. I was beginning to think that there were no other fans left!

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Post by Bob Rothwell » Sat 23 Jul, 2005 21:27:28

Gary Holmes wrote:....By the way, isn't this a great site?! It's nice to finally find a forum about this author. I was beginning to think that there were no other fans left!
Many thanks!

Welcome to our world Gary and thanks for your contributions. As you can probably gather, this bit of the site is very new, so have patience. In the meantime, there is plenty to occupy you with the contributions so far and I hope you spend many a happy hour in the main site discovering new pleasures.

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Post by Garry Holmes » Sat 6 Aug, 2005 14:30:58

No, thank YOU Bob. I've seen quite a few different sites covering many different subjects, and this is one of the best designed. 10 out of 10.
On a completely different subject, a review section for the books, written by anyone who would like to write in and express an opinion would be an interesting idea. I must admit that I've not read every single Wheatley, and have started to include a couple of unread titles into my reading list every month. Faked Passports turned out to be bit of a slog, whilst The Island Where Time Stands Still was an unexpected gem. I would like to know what everyone else thinks.

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Post by Bob Rothwell » Sat 6 Aug, 2005 15:32:25

Thanks Gary.
My reply to the suggestion for book reviews is moved to a new topic called, suprisingly, 'Book Reviews'

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Post by Jonathan » Sat 20 Aug, 2005 23:07:48

Readability? I recently reread nearly all of the books and found I was still doing what I did in the 1960s/70s when I first read them: covering up the last paragraph of a chapter as soon as I turned the page and saw where I was, so that my eyes wouldn't be drawn to skip the page or so and read the cliffhanger he was almost guaranteed to have put there. It was very hard!

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Post by Jim » Mon 22 Aug, 2005 17:50:50

I had to laugh at Jonathan's comment, because I used to do the same thing..but only on the last page of the book, where I knew DW was saving a twist or surprise to cap the whole story.

Two of the best, IMO, are the ones in his first published book, THE FORBIDDEN TERRITORY, and the last, DESPERATE MEASURES.

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