We promised that Edwardian Arcane would explore some of the curious side alleys of the period. Later this month we have articles on female ghost story writers, aerial warfare, and more William Hope Hodgson. This time we hand over to Holmesian author/lecturer S F Bennett, on Louis Wain.
We recently featured James Bojiacuk on the little-known Hope Hodgson artist Florence Briscoe. Our guest today brings us the story of another better-known, but troubled, illustrator active in the period. There’s even a piece of unusual Holmesian art to go with it. Continue reading The Man Who Made Cats Laugh: Louis Wain→
We’ve always loved obscure facts, trivia and convoluted connections. So it’s a pleasure to publish something today which outdoes even our own usual delvings. That also means we have to apologise for the distinct lack of lurchers recently. The story so far is that we took on lots of editing, and we need to write to earn money, and… we’ll do better soon. Honest. Django has fleas at the moment, anyway. Where he got them’s a mystery, as he has no pocket-money left, but that should occupy us for a day or two – washing all our manuscripts at a high temperature and so forth.
We do however welcome back James Bojaciuk of 18thWall Productions. Writer editor and publisher, last year he considered the roots and imagery of William Hope Hodgson’s Hog for us. This time he focuses on the little known artist Florence Briscoe, who illustrated Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories. And we have the pictures. It’s Edwardian Arcane again!
Incidentally we’re in the last two days of the already successful Kickstarter campaign for Occult Detective Quarterly, so do join in if you haven’t already. The more the campaign raises, the higher quality, the more illustrated and the more totally super the final magazine will be.
For every person who leaves behind enough papers, speeches, and letters that their lives can be parlayed into a nine volume history, there are thousands who disappear. They only leave newspaper notices, parish records, certificates, the unavoidable documentation that stalks us all. To piece together one such life is to piece together suppositions.
Florence Briscoe is one such life. Until this article she was only known as the original illustrator for Carnacki: The Ghost-Finder. But, even then, she was little more than a footnote. None of the dozens of editions have carried her illustrations, so far as I’m aware; her work only appears on scattered websites, and has only dimly inspired the general image of the character.
Florence’s birth is a mystery; what little we can surmise about her family life can flash us by in a few terse facts. She was born Florence Schulke, sometime in October, 1890. She certainly spent her teenage years in Liverpool, and was likely born there as well. Her family seems to have been Catholic. She married Joseph Briscoe on May twenty-seventh, 1912. She was twenty-two years old. Her handwriting was precise, but adorned with squiggles (I am tempted to write “happy squiggles”). Her occupation, oddly, was listed as “spinster.” But then, Joseph’s profession was nothing more impressive than a “bachelor” who had attained the rank, in this position, of “bachelor.”
At the time of their marriage, Florence and Joseph lived together at 162 Ma—. The handwriting is too imprecise to discern more without an essay’s worth of educated guesses. This is the last address we ever find put to her name, and we can somewhat safely assume (as safely as one can assume without facts) that she remained there the rest of her life.
It’s tempting to assume that she met Joseph on the way to class, if not in class itself. Beginning several years previously, somewhere between 1908 and 1910, Florence attended a co-ed art school in Clapham. This helps resolve an oddity in the records. At the time of their wedding, the couple had been living at the same address for some time. Even in the Edwardian era, some couples would cohabit prior to the wedding—but that is not the sort of thing even the most daring would write in the church records. But if Florence took up rooms in Clapham, funded by her professional art (more on that to follow), it’s likely that Joseph was either the son of her landlord or a fellow student rooming in the same building. I would wager more on the latter, given they had enough in common to marry, but it’s also difficult to credit an expanding family staying in a student’s apartment for decades. Either “student” or “son of the land lord” would explain why Joseph’s employment is merely “bachelor.” Of course, paperwork regarding later addresses may have been lost.
While attending art school, she entered her work in contests. We know her for pencil illustrations, but here she expresses a fascination for painted landscapes. She had a talent for it, as well, and took home second place in the 1910 Gilbert-Garret Art Contest (which continues to this day). The first place winner’s landscape has been preserved forever; Florence’s, however, suffers the way all second place winners do. Her work is lost. No-one thought to reproduce it for the papers. All of the winners, however, Florence included, had their art exhibited in South Kensington. This was her last known professional work.
Three years previously, she began working at The Idler. It is here that all of her surviving work was published.
And thus we come to the only reason Florence Briscoe is remembered by the world—her association with an obscure genre’s still yet more obscure character created by an all the more obscure author. We don’t know how she earned placement on the Carnacki series. By the time it began, she had been with The Idler for a few years, and illustrated a few minor series. There’s a distinct possibility that she knew William Hope Hodgson and he recommended her for the job. Then again, there’s the equally distinct possibility that they were assigned to each other (as authors and illustrations so often are), and struck off in friendship. There’s a yet third distinct possibility that they met once, and Florence found Hodgson’s face so unusual she simply had to use it in her professional work. The fact behind these theories: Florence regularly sketched characters after Hodgson’s likeness.
Florence had a tendency to reuse a person’s appearance from story to story. A man with a pointed beard and mustache appears in almost every set of illustrations; many of her women appear to be modeled off a single woman (perhaps a self-portrait); and a certain off-used young man is identifiable by his broad chest, worked-out physique, short stature, and rather unique haircut. You may be prepared to cry foul; I would as well, were it not for the fact that this model is drawn remarkably true to life in a single instance, and in that instance the young man is the living image of William Hope Hodgson.
Hodgson appears unmistakably in Florence’s second illustration for “The King’s Cigarette Case.” There is no room for argument. The perspective has thrown off his eyes’ placement, somewhat, but the face and hair are inescapably Hodgson’s. Let us call him the “Hodgson model.”
Knowing Florence’s predilection for reusing models—and never bothering to alter their features from story to story—we find Hodgson throughout her illustrations, standing out due to his striking face and unusual body-type. Though in one instance the “Hodgson model” wears a mustache (“Lord Ernest’s Trap”), the rest of his design is unmistakable.
We can take this one step further. It is my contention that Florence based Carnacki’s appearance on Hodgson. He shares in many of the general attributes Florence ascribed the “Hodgson model.”
It is perhaps an unprovable contention, like proving the Rorschach shows what you see. Before we begin, let one thing be said: Carnacki is inescapably linked with a mustache. He and it are inseparable. Find any artist who has drawn the ghost-finder; the character’s face is graced with a mustache. There is one problem. Carnacki was neither described—nor drawn—with any facial hair. So far as I can tell, this portrayal began when a low-resolution version of Florence’s header found its way online in the early days of the internet. What was a shadow, thanks to pixilation, became a mustache. Without any of Florence’s other illustrations at hand, the idea of a mustachioed Carnacki flourished.
Carnacki illustrations share in the same aspects as the Hodgson model. He has the same unique haircut seen in photographs of Hodgson. He has the same short, stocky strength-trainer’s build. In most of the illustrations, he shares his author’s nose, chin, and eyes.
If this identification is accepted, it throws significant light onto Hodgson. First, much can be made of the fact he allowed his character to resemble him. Second, we possess art of Hodgson that was apparently drawn from life. Our picture of him expands. All of this due to Florence’s skill, and her reliance on a handful of models.
To return to Florence: the most striking thing about The Idler, as one combs through its back issues a century later, is how many women illustrated its stories. Male artists are rare, and almost absent. As much as some may like to present Edwardian women imprisoned within their homes—making a single career, as Florence did, was hardly unusual.
Artistically, Florence was far above most—truthfully, all—of the artists working alongside her at The Idler. Her work has an excellent command of shadows, and her characters have that rare spark of light. Unlike many artists from her era, her crosshatching is only present to draw the eye, and her shadows are controlled. Readers who have only seen her Carnacki illustrations have not seen her full range. Those pieces of art are more controlled, and lean more toward darkness—a style well-fitted to ghosts, but not a style which has not aged nearly so well as the remainder of her illustrations, given Edwardian printing and the unkindness of digital conversion. Her Carnacki illustrations are muddy, now, and occasionally illegible.
If she enters the historical record with Carnacki, she departs with him as well. When the series ended at The Idler, so too did her employment. An imaginative “historian” can devise any number of reasons why she might. A historian can only shrug. All that remains on record of Florence Briscoe can be discussed in a matter of paragraphs.
On the twenty-first of March, 1921, Florence witnessed the marriage of her sister Matilda to Seth Hellen.
At a time unknown, Florence and Joseph had a son, Gerald. On December twentieth, 1959, Gerald married Helen Vassallo in St. Patrick’s Church, Sliema. St. Patrick’s of Sliema is not an ordinary church, however, and almost exclusively catered to British servicemen. It seems likely Gerald served in the British armed forces, and possibly in World War Two.
Try as I might, I have uncovered no death certificate. My attempts to track down her family have begun where they started. Florence’s story, as with so much involving early weird fiction, ends in a question mark.
The weekend will bring new delights, but what they are we do not know as yet…
Welcome, dear listener, to Autumn on greydogtales. Or Fall, if you happen to be a colonial with balance problems. We have a new theme through October/November – Edwardian Arcane. It’s going to be fantastical, phantasmagorical, and even ‘all right if you like that sort of thing’. We’re restarting our interviewing for another year, with schedules flying out over the next two weeks. And we’re going to return to Lurchers for Beginners. What is this nonsense? We’ll explain…
A year ago we were all William Hope Hodgson, and so we’re picking that up again, but in a wider way. The world, the secrets (that’s the Arcane bit) and the weird fiction of the period. Supernatural tales and what used to be called scientific romance, detective tales, and a bit of occultism.
We’ll be discussing classic ghost stories, and covering some of the latest pastiches and tributes in the Hodgsonian Revival, as old WHH begins to get the credit he deserves. There will be games (Legal notice: There may not be any games), scares and frolics aplenty. And we should be having some guest posts, as we did last year.
Because we had to have some sort of boundaries, we’ve picked the twenty five year period from 1893 to 1918. It’s a fair choice, because the Edwardian era proper sat in the middle of it, and it opens up the changes seen in transition from Victorian times to what we might call the modern world. Our own Last Edwardian series also kicks off right in the middle of this twenty five year stretch, although we cunningly only realised that afterwards.
Let’s start with a very British perception of the Edwardian world:
“The world of 1906…was a stable and a civilized world in which the greatness and authority of Britain and her Empire seemed unassailable and invulnerably secure. In spite of our reverses in the Boer War it was assumed unquestioningly that we should always emerge “victorious, happy and glorious” from any conflict. There were no doubts about the permanence of our “dominion over palm and pine”, or of our title to it. Powerful, prosperous, peace-loving, with the seas all round us and the Royal Navy on the seas, the social, economic, international order seemed to our unseeing eyes as firmly fixed on earth as the signs of the Zodiac in the sky.”
Violet Bonham Carter, Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait
A view not actually shared by some Brits of the time, especially those with little money and in crippling jobs, or by a lot of the many peoples shoved into the British Empire without being sent a questionnaire first.
PLEASE TICK ALL OF THE FOLLOWING:
I WOULD LIKE MY TRIBAL OR OTHER BORDERS ALTERED DRAMATICALLY WITHOUT DISCUSSION
YOU ARE WELCOME TO MY NATURAL RESOURCES, ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE REALLY VALUABLE
I WOULD RATHER HAVE A KING/QUEEN THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY THAN A LOCAL CHOSEN LEADER
I AM A DIFFERENT COLOUR TO YOU
Not that we’re making much of a political statement. Many peoples did many bad things in the period we’re covering, and not all of them were British. But we wouldn’t want you to think that we’ve gone Empire-mad. It’s actually the scary fiction in this timespan that we’re interested in, amongst other things.
THE 1893 SHOW
As we’re starting in 1893, here are a few key supernatural and scientific romance writers, and what they were up to back then:
Clark Ashton Smith was born in 1893, so didn’t write a lot that year, only some free-form verse.
H P Lovecraftwas 3 years old.
Marjorie Bowen was 8.
William Hope Hodgson was 16. After gaining his father’s permission to be apprenticed as a cabin boy, he had begun a four-year apprenticeship in 1891. Hodgson’s father died shortly after, leaving the family impoverished; while William was away, the family subsisted largely on charity. His apprenticeship ended in 1895, but he stayed at sea for some years.
Alasteir Crowley was 18 years old, and busy catching gonorrhea and doing chemistry experiments. Odd chap.
H G Wells was 23. His first published work was a Text-book of Biology in two volumes – 1893.
Algernon Blackwood was 24, and had not yet started writing supernatural stories.
Arthur Machen was 30 years old. In 1893 he would be putting the finishing touches to The Great God Pan, which came out the year after.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was 33. She had written The Yellow Wallpaper in 1890 at her home of Pasadena, and it was printed a year and a half later in the January 1892 issue of The New England Magazine.
Arthur Conan Doyle was 34. His character Sherlock Holmes had become widely known with the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia in 1891.
Bram Stoker was 46, and had been to Whitby three years before.
Lettice Galbraith is hard to track down, and was of an unknown age, but in 1893, New Ghost Stories was published by Ward Lock and Bowden as a ‘Popular Sixpenny’ paperback. It was one of the most popular ghost story collections of the last decade of the nineteenth century.
Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society (relevant later on our series) was also 46 years old. Her mentor Madame Blavatsky had died of influenza in 1891.
Elsewhere in 1893, to add more context on the world of the writers we’re covering:
Rudolf Diesel received his patent for the diesel engine.
The Duryea Motor Wagon Company arguably became the first American automobile firm. In 1893, the Duryea brothers tested their first gasoline-powered automobile model.
New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote.
The first students entered St Hilda’s College, Oxford, England, founded for women by Dorothea Beale.
It was the year of the First Matabele War, and the first wartime use of a Maxim gun by Britain. In rough terrain, the gun was of limited value as a killing machine, but the psychological impact of its rapid spray of bullets was enormous.
The Kinetoscope, an early motion picture exhibition device invented by Thomas Edison and developed by William Kennedy Dickson, was launched at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in May. The first film publicly shown on the system was Blacksmith Scene
New religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science, were represented at the first meeting of the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Annie Besant (see above) represented the Theosophical Society.
The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States.
Note: We would have liked to have stolen a proper term for the period in question, but nobody’s terminology matches. The 1890s were sometimes referred to in retrospect as the Mauve Decade, because of the characteristic popularity of the subtle color among progressive “artistic” types, both in Europe and the US. The term Gilded Age is used, but with different connotations in the US and the UK. In the former, Gilded Age refers to the last decades of the Victorian period. The French term ‘Belle Epoque’ might have worked, but they stopped at 1914 when everything went horribly wrong.
We’re also gearing up for the October Frights Bloghop, which starts in a week’s time. More scary stuff, and a chance to win five copies of old greydog’s novella A Study in Grey.
We’ll be back in a day or so with weird fiction, including an odd book Hartmann the Anarchist from…. yes, 1893.
And it’s here, the next Tales of the Last Edwardian short story.
More of a ghostly tale this time, and still free to download as a taster of larger works to come. The fourth will probably be a novella this autumn, unless I do finally find the missing chapters from the middle of A House of Clay, my Abigail and Henry full length occult detective novel! If they’re in the garage, the rats will have had them anyway. I must set Django loose in there.
If you like the story, please review it or make a comment – feedback is always welcome. If you don’t like it, then hide. I’m coming for you…