Views from the Antipodes

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Views from the Antipodes

Post by Bob Rothwell » Wed 29 Jun, 2005 14:38:31

The following is an edited and compiled version of recent correspondence between Alan Smith from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia and myself and I have received permission from Alan to reproduce it here.
My main reason for posting this is that I think it is an ideal subject for discussion between us all and we both look forward to a lively debate on the subjects raised.
Alan Smith wrote:"The Dennis Wheatley site is, in my opinion, a model of how a literary appreciation site should be set up. However, you did ask for criticism/suggestions, and essentially I find there are only three things which left me unsatisfied, viz:

The fact that the site seems to focus on book-collecting rather than appreciation. I can see the reason for this, and that bibliography is your main interest, but would have enjoyed more discussion on DW's style, influences, plot summaries of books, criticism, etc. Such topics as 'Is "Black August" a part of the Gregory Sallust canon or does it take place in a separate universe' (me voting for the latter), the models for Mocata in "Devil Rides Out", what happened to Tanith after this work (Rex seems rather unlucky in holding onto girls!)...
Bob Rothwell reply wrote:"Many thanks for the kind words re the site, although I would never attempt to class it as a literary appreciation site. That's way beyond my abilities. Fortunately for you writers I am one of the masses that just like to read a good story without getting bogged down by what's behind it and know from within if I feel good after reading a book without having to analyse why. But you did put your finger on where I get the most satisfaction from the site and that is in preserving everything about the phenomenon that was DW.

Having admitted to all that, I am aware that your critiques have some validity for a number of visitors and recognise that I am probably not satisfying those needs. In addition, a section of how people perceive DW's work is needed to accompany all the dry facts. As you hint, the site is properly based on the premise of 'look at my collection' site, padded out with other collectable facts. You may notice that those areas of the site that contain more than pictures have a copyright assigned to someone else who was kind enough to contribute a number of articles and share his knowledge of DW's work. If you do fancy contributing anything, either through the new discussion area or by sending me an article or articles for inclusion I would be delighted, on the understanding that, particularly with the latter, I reserve editorial rights without you getting too much of a humph(!)

My own view is that 'The Library' is probably the place to put subjects like these as others could then make their contribution, and I do believe it is really a discussion subject rather than an article. Of course, if enough material appeared I could then do a collation of the remarks for a new web-page. (See, I'm ducking out of actually writing anything myself!)"
Alan Smith reply wrote:"Glad you weren't offended by my comments. You seemed to have understood that my comments weren't in the manner of "this is a poorly designed site" so much as "This is a great site of its TYPE, but I wish there was such-and-such type as well". Your suggestion that I contribute a learned (!) essay is an interesting one, and one on which I plan to act as soon as I get the latest professional commission out of the way. My problem is that the questions that I have so far raised can really be answered in just a few paragraphs. I can't, for example, imagine doing a 5,000 word work on whether or not "Black August" takes place in the same universe as "Scarlet Impostor"... the point can be made in a few sentences. Of course, when I do contribute I regard the owner of the site as having a perfect write to cut/edit/mutilate as he sees fit. I am not as sensitive about this as the editor who worked on my professional stuff will assert (remind me to tell you the story sometime!)... If you have any ideas as to what would make a good starting point for an essay or discussion-point, feel free to suggest."
Alan Smith wrote:"I also found myself disagreeing with your view that DW's conservative philosophy impacts upon his readability for modern audiences. As an Australian republican with decidedly left-of-centre leanings, an existentialist, an egalitarian, non-homophobic, hopefully non-racist modernist, I don't find myself grinding my teeth when reading DW, as long as I realise that his opinions were normal for a man of his upbringing in the place and time that the stories were written. In much the same way I don't find the "Odyssey" or the King Arthur tales offensive even though they deal with wars between aristocrats with the working class marginalised or exploited... one simply has to accept the concept of different attitudes being prevalent in different times.
Bob Rothwell reply wrote:"Then why does no one want to publish him any more? Many of us agree with you and cannot understand why he remains out of print."
Alan Smith reply wrote:"To be fair, it seems a reasonable point that there is a vast difference in "investment" between the financial cost of publishing and promoting an author and simply reading him. There are many writers from decades ago that I enjoy reading immensely, but if I were the publishing editor of a fiction house forced to compete in today's stimulus-hungry public I wouldn't necessarily be rushing to risk pouring huge amounts of dosh into an author that might not sell. I'd think long and hard about commissioning a run of books about upper-class Englishmen whose adventures take place against a background of the second world war (or the decades immediately preceding and following it), particularly when I knew such books would be publicly burned by fanatical hairy-legged feminists, most of whom haven't even read them! Conversely, I have no hesitation in recommending them to my friends, whatever said friend's political stance.

Another point against a DW revival is, ironically, the very success he enjoyed in his heyday. Every second-hand bookshop I go into has a few dog-eared Roger Brooks or Julian Days knocking around, and anyone who wants to build up a DW collection can do so cheaply – there were so many copies published in the seventies that they have no rarity value. If the Prince's works were harder to come by there might be more demand for a run of reprints!

What I would love to see is the books one day republished with introductions that bring up the "negative" points about DW's work and then provide palliative explanations. It can be pointed out, for example, that his novels were written at a time when patriotism and Anglocentrism were not a vice but a positive virtue, and that when the world is threatened by an evil fascist power, anything that raised the spirits of the outgunned and outnumbered people standing against this menace was a necessary evil. Or that when writing for an audience that regarded (picking examples at random) homosexuals as slimy, unpleasant people (see "Three Inquisitive People") or Orientals as shifty, sly usurpers ("Quest of Julian Day"), any professional writer is forced to bow to public opinion!

What I would also like to see someone do one day (and damn it, I'll do it myself if I ever get around to it) is to write unofficial "sequels" to DWs work, in the same manner as "fanfics" devoted to "Dr Who", "Star Trek" "X-files" etc. There are also a number of official "sequels" to much loved works such as "Gone With the Wind", "Wind in the Willows" and such. I'd love to see the Duke and his team take on the dark side yet again, or read a transcript of a missing file where Gregory Sallust put it over Grauber and Mr Wheatley never got to write of it!"
Alan Smith wrote:"In any case I see DW more as an old-style liberal aristocrat rather than an out-and-out quasi-fascist. It's true that he obviously regards an Englishman as the epitome of creation and worth ten orientals or Europeans, but for a guy writing his most significant stuff during WWII this is hardly surprising. In any case, reports of his anti-semitism and Anglocentrism have been much exaggerated. In at least one story (? "Codeword Golden Fleece") he says very nice things about Jews in general, reviling only the "stay-at-homes" without initiative. And it should be remembered that perhaps his three most interesting characters, and obviously those for whom he has the most affection are a Jew (Simon Aron), a Frenchman (The Duc De Richleau) and a Russian (Mary-Lou Eaton). There is also Stefan Kuperovich (a Russian who has fought for communist armies) and in at least one of the Gregory Sallust novels he even has a trade-union leader acting with bravery and fortitude when being tortured by Grauber!

I also found myself disagreeing with your implication that DW would have no appeal to modern audiences. In fact, in the black magic novels in particular he was way ahead of his time. "Strange Conflict", for example, is essentially in the same caste as modern cyberpunk novels with its concept of an adventurer in a virtual world, leaving his body asleep behind him, the Roger Brook stories are as readable as anything by Bernard Cornwell who seems popular enough, while the Sallust spy tales are as "gritty" as anything dished up by modern authors.
Bob Rothwell reply wrote:"<In any case I see DW more as an old-style liberal aristocrat rather than an out-and-out quasi-fascist.> Hear, hear, but try telling that to a jury of modern PC liberalists. I don't know how it is with you, but the UK has gone crazy with its "minorities are to be protected at all costs" attitudes. We are still reeling from when my wife went with her daughter and 2-year-old grand-daughter to a local swimming pool and my wife was banned because she had a camera which could have been used to take pictures of scantily-dressed toddlers to be sold on for pornographic purposes! With a government that supports these ideas and encourages minority groups to re-write all the nursery rhymes in case they offend, or produce pamphlets for schools that take great pains to inform 13-year old girls how to tell the difference between lust and love before they hop into beds with their boyfriends, or promote suggestions to Christians to remove crosses from churches in case the other faiths find them offensive, etc. etc., DW has no chance of getting past today's censors!"
Alan Smith reply wrote:"Agreed. Please don't get me wrong... I regard racism, sexism, homophobia etc with revulsion, but some of the manifestations of modern "political correctness" make me squirm. In some ways I can see the point of banning cameras where there are groups of scantily-clad toddlers, on the grounds that it is better for fifty people to be inconvenienced than for one paedophile (using the modern, incorrect usage of the word) to be able to exploit children. But to ban bibles in hospitals, or the flying of the St George cross verges on something out of Samuel Butler's "Erewhon"! It is interesting that much neurotic "political correctness" is not due to pressure from the supposed victims of discrimination but as a guilt-reaction from their previous exploiters. For example, a spokesman for the British Islamic community expressed his disgust about the banning of the Bible in Leicestershire hospitals and made it quite clear that for the Holy Word to be available in no way offended Islamic sensibilities (Incidentally, if those who banned the Bible had taken the trouble to study Islam they would see that Moslems hold Christ and Christian writings in great esteem). We have now reached a stage where to compliment a female work colleague on her attire is regarded as akin to rape or to promote a better-qualified Caucasian above a person of darker skin is regarded as racism. (Example – the editor of the novel on which I am currently working objected to having one character – an indigenous Australian- described as having good eyesight, which apparently is an offensive racial stereotype. Ye gods!!!)"

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Sequels?

Post by Jim » Wed 29 Jun, 2005 23:10:53

Alan Smith raises a point that has crossed my mind more than once in my years of reading Wheatley's novels. There are surely many stories about Armand, Duc de Richleau, that he didn't get around to telling. The internal chronology of the stories is complicated by the fact that they were not written in order.

My suggestion for a sequel to the original books: What happened to the Duke during the Russian Revolution?

We know that de Richleau left his home in disgrace in the 1890s (PRISONER IN THE MASK), and that his return there in THE FORBIDDEN TERRITORY is accomplished at great personal risk. ("I fought with the White Army," he says mysteriously, after almost casually murdering a railway official.) There's a gap between THE SECOND SEAL and THREE INQUISITIVE PEOPLE of about fifteen years; somewhere in that period, the Duke--who adventures make him unable to return to France either--becomes a British citizen. Yet, in DANGEROUS INHERITANCE, the Duke has a house in Ceylon, left him by his cousin "whom he had succeeded in rescuing from execution by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution in 1917."

What happened to the Duke during the Russian Revolution? (Also: Who is the mother of his daughter? Ilona? Surely not Angela!)

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Post by Alan » Fri 1 Jul, 2005 03:11:02

I agree that the exercise of working out a "timescale" for DW's work is difficult in the extreme. It is complicated by the fact that in many cases DW does not give any indication of the year the story takes place. In some cases, of course, the events taking place in the background make it clear... for example, the chronological year of a Gregory Sallust wartime story can be easily placed (ie "They Used Dark Forces" happens in 19445). With a smattering of Napoleonic knowledge you can work out the year of some of the Roger Brook stories.

Others are more difficult. For example, "The Devil Rides Out", IMO the best thing he ever wrote, does not contain any significant clues as to the year the action takes place. By the general tone of the work, and Fleur's age at the time, I date it tentatively at around 1937, but would gladly listen to arguments to the contrary. The same goes for most of the "modern musketeer" series, except once again, those that relate to a significant period during WWII ("Strange Conflict", at the time of the Atlantic convoys for example).

When I was young and had time on my hands – and a huge obsession with all things DW – I attempted to produce a "timeline", based on the assumption that all of DW's main series (Gregory Sallust, Duc De Richleau, Julian Day, etc) took place in the same universe. Works I considered taking place in a different continuity ("60 Days To Live", "Black August", "Star Of Ill Omen", etc) I ignored. I soon found that many of the stories could not be specifically allocated to a certain year and the sometimes the only temporal clue was by internal references to other stories (ie, "Devil Rides Out" is obviously later than "Forbidden Territory" since Richard and Marie-Lou are now married).

What this boils down to is that not only are there tantalising gaps in the "biographies of DW's main characters, but also a huge degree of flexibility available to anyone who has the (un)enviable task of doing DW pastiches!

I take Bob's point that further stories using DW's characters are desirable only if they are done by a skilled writer who is sympathetic to DW's style, and that ill-conceived "fanfics" (or, heaven forbid, slash fics) would be a disaster. However, I can't go all the way with his view that ALL non-professional fanfics are an abomination. One needs only to consider some of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by accredited "Baker Street Irregulars" to see that an amateur writer who has a genuine ability to mimic the style of their literary hero and a knowledge of the subject matter can often produce stories of real worth.

Personally, I'd find it highly interesting to see someone have a try at writing "The further adventures of Simon Aron" or whatever – as to doing it myself, if someone can manage to get 50 hours into the average day (or even put me into the fourth dimension – how did that "Susannah Ritual" go again?) I'll give it a try! Come on... surely some aspiring tyro can produce a stonker of a De Richleau tale and prove Bob wrong!

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Post by Bob Rothwell » Fri 1 Jul, 2005 14:30:44

Alan wrote:Come on... surely some aspiring tyro can produce a stonker of a De Richleau tale and prove Bob wrong!
Now there's a challenge!

As to dates of plots for the main series, you might want to check out the following pages:

de Richlieu
Roger Brook
Gregory Sallust
Julian Day
Molly Fountain

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Post by Jim » Sun 3 Jul, 2005 13:39:19

Thnaks for reminding me about those lists. It's interesting to see how most of the other series were written more or less in order, but the de Richleaus are completely scattered. (Also, the publication date of THREE INQUISITIVE PEOPLE doesn't reflect the fact that Wheatley's only "mystery" novel was written before THE FORBIDDEN TERRITORY...)

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Post by Garry Holmes » Sat 23 Jul, 2005 12:47:45

A bit of a side issue this, but I would argue with the idea that the second hand book market is swamped with old paperback Wheatleys. This was certainly true 25 or 30 years ago (or local book stall had hundreds), but nowadays it is far harder to find them. Besides, Penguin seem to have decided that Ian Fleming is now literature and have reprinted them all with nice new covers and special introductions. There's hope yet for old Dennis! On even more of a side issue; has anyone else noticed that a large number of the Heron editions have suddenly appeared on the second hand book markets? Even a year ago you didn't see any, now there are large numbers of pristine copies turning up all over the place.

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Post by Cibator » Sat 11 Apr, 2009 12:48:31

There's two conclusive pieces of evidence for placing The Devil Rides out in 1935; one within the book, and one outside it.

After Rex has returned to Stonehenge with the queer assortment of sports garments for clothing the near-naked Simon, the Duke tells the latter to "go and array yourself like the champion of next year's Olympic Games". This can only mean the following year of 1936, since the Rolls Royce stolen by Tanith in Savernake Forest is reported to the police as a 1934 model.

In Strange Conflict, the Duke remarks to Sir Pellinore, regarding black magic societies: "there was one in St John's Wood in 1935, which I myself had occasion to visit ..." - plainly a reference to Simon's house in DRO.
Fas est et ab hoste doceri

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Post by Stevie P » Sun 12 Apr, 2009 11:02:15

Cibator,

Strangely enough I have just read a short story in Guns, Gallants and Ghosts called 'A life for a Life' DW's preamble starts thus;
"This macabre piece is the direct result of The Devil Rides Out, a long novel with an occult background which I published in 1935."

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