Phyllis Paul: Twice Lost, Pulled Down, Invisible Darkness, A Little Treachery, more


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Aug 21, 2010
Phyllis Paul (1903-1973) is, at this time, necessarily a "cult novelist" in that nearly all of her books are so hard to get hold of that those who have read more than one of them and want to talk about their reading will find few others who have read more than one.

One or two of her novels shouldn't be too hard to get hold of because in the U. S. Lancer Books issued them in paperback -- yes, at the same time the company was beginning to issue its Conan books.

I have read Twice Lost twice and agree with Glen Cavaliero that it appears to end ambiguously. I'm not sure what happened to little, pathetic, sinister Vivian Lambert. I am not sure what Thomas Antequin did and whether the three pages that might have been torn from his diary record Vivian's death in a well house (or earth closet) by a wretched accident. Did a male character die from a scratch inflicted by rusty metal, or from some psychosomatic stress condition, or from a spectral bite? Who or what were the couple Christine glimpsed in London, who looked like Ecuadorian Indians? Were they visible only to her (inner) eye? Had Christine seen little Vivian's lifeless body stretched on the grass on an overgrown English yard? I am chilled by the novel's final sentence, "But as she had never wanted the truth, but only comfort, so she had not now found it," while recognizing that by itself it is ambiguous: does "it" refer to "truth," as it appears to do, or to "comfort"?

Perhaps the author has indulged in some mystification for its own sake, or perhaps, as in Faulkner's "That Evening Sun," the deliberate inconclusiveness as regards plot is intended to lead the alert reader to see that the novel never was primarily about plot but about character and theme. I must emphasize that though I write this morning of an elusive narrative, Paul's style isn't vague and cloudy. Cavaliero uses the word "steely." She is interested in evil, guilt, evasion.

I have been saving the other Lancer edition, Echo of Guilt (originally Pulled Down) for some time when I am dying for a new-to-me Phyllis Paul novel. Before resorting to it I think I will try and see if maybe interlibrary loan can fetch up something more by Paul.

Cavaliero mentioned Paul in his book on Charles Williams, and then wrote a few pages about her in The Supernatural and English Fiction (OUP, 1995). I suppose that much of the attention Paul has received in recent years derives from Cavaliero's advocacy.

I suppose Paul's novel reminds me a bit of Walter de la Mare's fiction, of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and of The Turn of the Screw. Eh, Lancer Books, her novel certainly does not remind me of Robert E. Howard.

So here is a place where -- should anyone read her -- Chrons people can discuss the writings of Phyllis Paul. Very little is known of her life. I quote from a note on page 259 of Cavaliero's 1995 study:

"Phyllis Paul died on 30 Aug. 1973, in Hastings [England], as a result of being struck by a motor cycle while crossing the road. The account at the inquests suggests that she was not known locally as a writer, being only identified by the Cash name tag on her handkerchief. A neighbour commented that 'Miss Paul kept herself to herself. When she walked she had a habit of looking quickly to one side and then the other, and then she would look down again.' A witness to the accident was more graphic still, remarking that what he saw was 'an old lady going across the road like a sheet of newspaper.' The phrase might have been coined by Paul herself (see Hastings Observer, 8 and 15 Sept. 1973)." And that is perhaps the most full biography of Paul we will get, although publishers' files might have some information.

Supernatural Fiction Database, Phyllis Paul

Phyllis Paul


What Do You Think Are the most Literate Horror Books and Stories Ever written ?

Her earliest writing may be coming out of copyright at least in Australia, so perhaps the Project Gutenberg of that country will eventually offer some of her work.
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Now have Paul's novel The Lion of Cooling Bay for some days -- an interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress! But I also have other things that I must read and that I want to read. I might not get this one read before it's due back. On the other hand it's not every day one gets a chance at this...
Really impressed by The Lion of Cooling Bay. A chapter-by-chapter summary, about 4,000 words, is attached, since the book is almost impossible to come by.

By the way -- there are Paul readers out there!

An Invisible Darkness by Phyllis Paul


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Now starting A Little Treachery.

It seems the American publisher Norton issued three of Paul's novels: this one, Twice Lost, and Pulled Down (aka Echo of Guilt). These appear to have been the only American publications of Paul's fiction. A Little Treachery was reviewed favorably in the Chicago Tribune. The review is titled "Excursion into the Ghostly."

Excursion Into the Ghostly (September 2, 1962)

The copy I'm reading is an interlibrary loan from the University of Minnesota.
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Two spinster sisters from London sink almost all their money, trusting an architect's verdict, into buying a cottage on a busy street in a rural village. The house turns out to be in bad condition from damp, etc. and the garden is waterlogged and overgrown with weeds. One of the sisters seems to be retreating into mental illness. The other decides to build a bonfire to burn some of the yard waste, to do something. Dusk falls.

"Suddenly, with the dizzying and limitless astonishment of a nightmare, she perceived that there was a building stand- / ing towards the summit of the hill [beyond their garden bounds], within the dark woods. She saw it very imperfectly, but what she saw made the blood sing in her head and her knees feel weak. How could there be, in that rustic spot, towering, buttressed walls, topped by arches, colonnade supporting colonnade? And, still above these, vast rotundas, from each of which was lifted up on high a long staff surmounted by a gleaming sign while, against the walls, were great staircases which branched and joined and branched again, and ascended in giant flights, at each turn of which were newels strangely shaped and crowned with finial figures, perhaps winged, though their detail was not to be discerned in that twilit air. Or were they living beings? Of a gigantic size, suggesting acres of walls, of a monstrous, heroic style, vaguely Aztec, Assyrian or Muscovite, shimmering in the dark air as if, having erupted on that bad spot, having been lifted on a convulsion of the earth's crust to stand under the shocked heavens, it was dripping with the white fires of the regions whence it was spewed up, it hung there as a sign before her eyes, to show whose was the kingdom, under what lordship they had come" (pp. 51-52). Then it seems be a building well known to her, "with its big, coarse water-tower" -- perhaps an impression of something she remembers from London? She changes position for a better view and loses sight of any building there. Had her eyes been affected by staring into the bonfire?

A little taste of Paul's writing.
I've finished A Little Treachery, which was really impressive. Call it a psychological suspense novel pervaded by irony. There don't seem to be ghosts, though the atmosphere can be quite eerie.

I've provided a chapter-by-chapter summary as a resource since this novel is hard to come by.


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All right, an allrite writer worth scrounging around for. Hard to come by, we shall see. Uncommon PBs, to be sure, like Jim Thompson used to be, or Fredric Brown, they just aren't around for some reason. I never did get my hands on a copy of The Dancing Sandwiches, for ex.
Here are the two Lancer releases. Note the blurb from Anthony Boucher on Echo of Guilt: "Wonderful, extraordinary, her most powerful and individual novel." That's the one I have now and am maybe saving for some time when I can't get any more of the others on interlibrary loan.

I take the covers to be generic "Gothic" artwork. I doubt that the artist(s) had read (or perhaps even heard) of the novels when the pictures were made.

Here's a murky and not very interesting second Lancer design:
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As this thread continues to build a "database" on Paul, here's a little on two more of her novels, We Are Spoiled and The Children Triumphant.

Wormwoodiana: The Two Early Novels of Phyllis Paul

There's also this note:

Wormwoodiana: WE ARE SPOILED by Phyllis Paul

The author of the article mentioned (I'm not going to buy the journal for one article) is Douglas Anderson, who prepared The Annotated Hobbit and a number of intriguing anthologies. You wouldn't necessarily expect one of the top Tolkien authorities to be a Paul devotee, but then Anderson's well read in weird fiction too.

And below is a little about Paul with a very few words about A Cage for the Nightingale, which apparently was issued in a microscopic edition and promptly allowed to go out of print. I hope that Paul's body of writings doesn't become (or remain?) co-opted by a lot of lip-smacking over rare editions. So far as I can see Paul wrote for big-name publishers and wanted her books to be widely read. From the three novels that I've read, her works do not seem to me inherently esoteric. Yes, they are more demanding than The Girl on the Train, say, but they shouldn't be too much for anyone who can read something like Henry James's The Turn of the Screw.

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Got hold of interlibrary loan copies of We Are Spoiled and A Cage for the Nightingale and photocopied both today.

The Cage copy is that unique thing, a recent reprint of one of her novels; it dates to 2012 and has an introduction by Glen Cavaliero, who's largely responsible for the renewed interest in Paul over the past 25 years.

From Cavaliero we learn now that Paul was the "younger daughter of a diamond broker's clerk." She was "born in 1903 in the London suburb of Bexley in Kent. Her first novel We Are Spoiled was published by Martin Secker in 1933, and was issued a year later in America by the firm of William Morrow." Cavaliero says that Paul "disowned" We Are Spoiled and her second novel, The Children Triumphant, because they were "not the kind of thing I would write now." Cavaliero doesn't say what he is quoting -- a letter? His reticence about this reticent author makes me wonder if he succeeded in tracking down a family connection. Perhaps eventually more information will emerge about Phyllis Paul.

I have a request for British readers who see this: if it's not a nuisance, would you be willing toc heck your local or regional public library/ies and see if they hold any of her novels? I am able to search for her work using Worldcat, but that doesn't catch probably a great many libraries that are not on, or members of (or whatever the correct way of putting it may be) OCLC. Titles of her novels include We Are Spoiled, The Children Triumphant, Camilla, Constancy, Twice Lost, Rox Hall Illuminated, An Invisible Darkness, The Lion of Cooling Bay, Pulled Down, Rox Hall Illuminated, A Cage for the Nightingale, and A Little Treachery. I think most of them were published by Heinemann.

If you do find any of these are available and you think you might enjoy a sort of modern Gothic mystery, you might give it, or them, a try.
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Emerging impressions -- not final:

1.Phyllis Paul's two best novels might be Twice Lost and A Little Treachery
2.Her least successful novel might be The Children Triumphant, published second, but perhaps written before her first novel
3.Of the four I have read so far, We Are Spoiled, her first novel, seems to least impressive, but it was still quite interesting and I am likely to read it again.
4.I now think of Paul as being a "novelist of the preternatural."
Constancy arrived on interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress. This appears to have been her fourth novel, following Camilla (which I haven't read and, so far as I remember, have never seen) and preceding The Lion of Cooling Bay (see above). It's a not-very-attractively printed publication of Heinemann, her second from the house. Heinemann remained her UK publisher.

Dustjacket image above taken from the Internet -- the copy I borrowed was jacketless.

Here's a brief Australian review of the novel:

Gladys Hain reviews the novels - New story of a social climber - The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) - 10 Nov 1951
A little here

Any of Phyllis Paul's Preternatural Novels in Your Local Library?

about the hunt for used copies of Paul's novels.

My guess is that a major publisher could find it worthwhile to reprint some of these. Faber Finds, anyone? Interesting thing is that they may be in the public domain. It seems Paul retained the copyrights, and that they copyrights didn't pass into the hands of anyone, or at least of anyone interested in doing anything about them. A Cage for the Nightingale was reprinted recently with a note stating that the new publisher couldn't track down who owns the rights. I would regret it if they were reprinted, but by some publisher specializing in tiny editions that rapidly (and designedly?) become collectors' items.

I don't want to create a bogus fascination here. I have read four of Paul's novels and at least three of them impressed me quite a bit, as discussed above. But I don't think you should feel bad about it if you never get the chance to read any of them.

I would probably pay $25 happily for a worn copy of one of the Paul novels I don't have, but I'll be content with the two Lancer paperbacks I have plus photocopies of ones I have got hold of on interlibrary loan. I'm not interested in being a Paul collector. There are at least two or three I'll probably never get to read (The Children Triumphant, apparently not very good, Camilla, and An Invisible Darkness).
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Thoughts on Phyllis Paul’s third novel, Camilla (1949), read 2-7 Nov. 2017. I got hold of a copy from the University of Pennsylvania, by interlibrary loan (with charges!).

Frances and Hartley, brother and sister, are orphans. He was raised by a wealthy family, unlike Frances. She has done petty crimes, but his are much more serious, and he has done hard labor as punishment. In the end, he will take credit for being the author of a poetic masterpiece that is really by his sister. I have to say that I didn’t “believe” in Frances’s literary gift – Paul needed to make this part of Frances’s character more convincing.

Frances appears also to be psychically gifted, without believing in it herself. Perhaps we are to take it that she is a superior soul, trapped in an unprepossessing body and limiting circumstances, since there is a bit of sympathy extended to Gnostics in early pages. She was married unhappily to Maurice, by whom she had a son. She left the marriage.

Dorothea Grant is a religious person, and “conventional religion” appears to be inadequate as seen in this novel. The Grants are a comfortably-off family to which Hartley attaches himself parasitically, while Frances becomes involved with them as a resort due to being nearly indigent, it seems, and she doesn’t want to take advantage of Stephen Grant’s desperate interest in her apparent ability to glimpse the missing (and presumably dead) girl Camilla. Frances glimpses Camilla only once or twice.

It seems that Camilla died one night in Hartley’s presence after throwing herself from a tall tree. Hartley feels guilty fear, and I think we are to take it that he was in some way responsible. There’s an early suggestion that he has teased her with thoughts a girl in the mid-teens generally shouldn’t be engaged with, regarding death, afterlife, etc. – certainly Hartley is sinister. This may become clearer with a later reading. There’s an allusion to Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Perhaps Hartley has been a bit like Ivan, the atheist, and Camilla vulnerable, like Smerdyakov? One should be careful of making too much of this, but Paul ensures that those who’ve read Dostoevsky will think of the Russian, when, towards the end, Hartley talks about the criminal’s impulse to tease the police – as Raskolnikov does in Crime and Punishment. Camilla is a bit of a weird adolescent girl, like Lise in Karamazov.

Hartley acted guilty in taking Camilla’s body and hiding it. He insists that her body later disappeared, and this aspect of the plot seems to be left unresolved. The preternatural darkness with which the book opens is likewise not explained. As the novel approaches the last page, it’s Easter, but too much time has passed for that darkness to suggest that of Good Friday in an obvious way. Did Hartley glimpse her too at balcony?

My guess is that the publisher regarded Paul as an author worth investing in, without expecting the present novel would be a great success. It would be interesting to know if it was reviewed, and, if so, in what tones.
...from Letters of John Cowper Powys to Louis Wilkinson 1935-1956 -- a letter dated 24th April 1954, pp. 306-307:

"There's just lately come out a book by a Phyllis Paul authoress of 'Camilla' and some other good novel I forget the name of; but this one (her 3rd) is called 'The Lion of Cooling Bay', & it's a very weird ...exciting and startling book."
Today I photocopied Paul's second novel, The Children Triumphant (1934), which, from the remarks of a couple of people who have read it, I don't expect will be great. It cost $30 to ship from Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, the National Library of New Zealand, plus $9.60 to photocopy it.

Opposite the title page there's a quotation from the Times Literary Supplement on Paul's first novel, We Are Spoiled: "Glittering with intimations of a strange and personal beauty."

And that's the lot: the eleven Phyllis Paul novels, of which only two that I have are books -- Lancer paperbacks of Twice Lost and Pulled Down (published by Lancer as Echo of Guilt). See earlier entries here for my comments on Twice Lost, The Lion of Cooling Bay, A Little Treachery, and Camilla. I've also read her first novel. I expect to post comments on other Paul novels here from time to time.
Here's someone else, "Blue Tomb" at Reddit, who's read Phyllis Paul. Curiously, someone using her name was written a romance novel. No, I don't think there is any chance that It's Too Late is a newly-published manuscript by the author who is the subject of this thread.

----Phyllis Paul springs to mind. She wrote eleven books, two in the 1930's for Martin Secker, then the rest from the 40's to 70's for Heinemann. Won praise from the likes of Graham Greene, VS Prichett, CP Snow and Elizabeth Jane Howard, but didn't catch on too well in the sales department, and now is chiefly noted in a few odd corners of the literary blogosphere. She wrote in a sort of esoteric Gothic vein (particularly in her last five novels, though there are elements earlier), concerned with shadows and decay, and something of an Albigensian feeling, rather than the standard plot mechanics. And had a wonderfully fine (as in detailed) sensitive prose style. ...It's Too Late is a different Phyllis Paul, this is the one I mean As far as I know the only one of hers to have ever been reissued is A Cage for the Nightingale, a small press run in 2012 that is now scarce itself. Used book stores are your best bet I'd say. I'm fortunate enough to have discovered and read her through my work. ----

I expect before too long to post something about another novel -- Rox Hall Illuminated -- by this thread's Phyllis Paul.
Summary notes, written as I read Rox Hall Illuminated, are attached, since this book, like most of Paul's others, is so hard to come by, especially inthe United States.


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