Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The World of Charles Dickens

The World of Charles Dickens
[photographs: Bronwyn Lloyd (2022)]

For Christmas 2021, Bronwyn gave me a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle called The World of Charles Dickens. It took us almost a week to complete it. Above you can see me putting in the very last piece. Below is an earlier stage of the process.

Opening stages

Mind you, I did have help. Zero was always ready to oblige with advice, and the fact that Bronwyn is holding the camera doesn't mean that she didn't do more than her fair share of wrestling with this fiendish conundrum, either.

Jack & Zero

It was a bit of a relief to get it done, to tell you the truth. I'd forgotten just how tricky it could be to complete a large jigsaw of this kind. My mother used to bring them home for us when we were kids. She volunteered in the local opportunity shop, and it went against her conscience to sell any donated goods which hadn't been thoroughly checked in advance. They almost invariably had a piece or two missing, which has left me with an abiding syndrome about the final stages of assembly.

The field of battle

This particular puzzle - fresh out of the box - did prove to be complete. That hadn't stopped me from anticipating the worst. Bronwyn is of a sunnier disposition, fortunately.

Barry Falls: The World of Charles Dickens. Ed. John Mullan (2021)

A great many of the characters included in the design were obvious enough: Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller (The Pickwick Papers); Lizzie Hexham rowing her father down the Thames (Our Mutual Friend); the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future (A Christmas Carol); Jo the crossing-sweeper being accosted by Lady Dedlock (Bleak House) ...

A great many of the others I'd never have guessed, though. I did spot the rowboat with Pip, Herbert Pocket, and Magwitch the convict from Great Expectations, but Estella and Miss Havisham were less clear to me. A great many of the 70-odd characters included just looked like typical Victorians in breeches and bonnets. But an immense amount of ingenuity had been spent on the layout and colouring of the picture - so many windows and roofs to identify! Not to mention fields, bushes and lawns ... In fact, if it hadn't been for the Thames running through it, the puzzle might well have proved insuperable.

The Oxford Illustrated Dickens (21 volumes: 1987)

It did get me thinking about Dickens in general. In an earlier post about my Grandmother and her book collection, I mentioned the 22-volume set of his works which she and my grandfather painstakingly saved up for in the 1930s, and which has eventually made its circuitous way to my own bookshelves.

I can't claim to have read all of it. I have read his fourteen full-length novels (as well as the unfinished Edwin Drood), and - at one time or another - most of the other miscellaneous fiction he published. But some of the compilations of journalism and other occasional pieces (Sketches by Boz, Reprinted Pieces, and The Uncommercial Traveller, for instance) have hitherto evaded my quest for completeness.

Which is one reason I decided that a good project for Summer might be to remedy that. I recently read a New Yorker article on just such an attempt, by a writer called Brad Leithauser. I'd note, though, that he wrote it while he was "nearly finished [my emphasis]; only The Old Curiosity Shop and The Mystery of Edwin Drood remain."

Given that this admission shows that he hadn't been reading chronologically - which is, in my opinion, the only way of gleaning much profit from a trawl through an author's collected works - and given his almost exclusive focus on David Copperfield at the expense of Dicken's obscurer fiction, I must confess to a certain scepticism about the thoroughness of Leithauser's coverage - not to mention his conclusion that "my favorite Dickens is mostly the world’s favorite Dickens."

His choice of three books - respectively, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and the above-mentioned David Copperfield - as "all but flawless in their chosen genres" is, I suppose, fair enough. But is it just a perverse taste for the recondite which makes me find that a little disappointing? What of the baroque splendours of Our Mutual Friend? What of the exuberant frenzies of Nicholas Nickleby or Pickwick? What of such proto-M. R. James-like, pared-back ghost stories as "The Signalman" or "The Trial for Murder"?

Dickens's work as a whole seems to constitute - for me at least - a curious combination of social realism and gothic extremity. His actual political opinions had a reactionary tinge which make them less than palatable today - but his emotional engagement with the realities of poverty and want are still powerful and moving even at this distance in time.

He was horrible to his wife, duplicitous about his mistress, dictatorial to his children, and intensely demanding of his friends. He was simultaneously tirelessly productive, endlessly energetic, and immensely self-destructive. It's not so much surprising that he burned out at the early age of 58 as that he was able to last that long in the first place!

One of the few good reasons I've ever heard for wanting there to be a next world, though, is the opportunity to read the conclusion to the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood, which I presume that he will have cranked around to completing by now.

Michael Slater: Charles Dickens (2007)

There are many biographies. At times it can seem as if the majority even of bookish people are far less keen on reading him than reading about him. The original Victorian biography by John Forster is still an essential source, and I must confess, too, to a soft spot for Edgar Johnson's exhaustive two-volume account of 1952.

I'm not myself a great admirer of Peter Ackroyd's strange biography-with-fictional-interludes, though it certainly has its moments. A far more significant contribution to scholarship came from Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman: a biography of Dickens's mistress Nelly Ternan, which appeared in the same year, 1990.

Claire Tomalin: Charles Dickens: A Life (2011)

She's followed this up since with a full-dress biography of Dickens, perhaps meant as a riposte to Michael Slater's, also pictured above. Slater is, after all, a bit of a Ternan-sceptic, witness his book The Great Charles Dickens Scandal (2012), which takes issue with many of Tomalin's points.

In any case, whatever your views on this or other contentious points, you won't find too much difficulty in finding material to your taste in the vast untidy field of Dickens scholarship. Even the famously critical F. R. Leavis finally decided to admit him to the fold of the 'great tradition' in English fiction.

Andrew Davies, writ.: Bleak House (2005)

There was a bit of mini Dickens revival in 2005, with Andrew Davies' magisterial TV adaptation of Bleak House. This was a far less mannered and parodic take on the dramatic intensity of Dickens' later novels than had hitherto been seen on British TV.

Andrew Davies, writ.: Little Dorrit (2008)

Davies followed it up with an equally brilliant and star-studded adaptation of Little Dorrit a couple of years later, with a breathtaking performance in the title role by a young Claire Foy. This also had the not unfortunate by-product of supplanting Christine Edzard's ambitious but not entirely successful double-film version of 1987.

Christine Edzard, dir. & writ.: Little Dorrit (1987)

At the time this seemed like the best one could expect when it came to putting one of Dickens' most complex novels on screen. Davies seemingly effortlessly surpassed it, though there were certainly some memorable moments in the earlier version.

I've provided a list, below, of the Dickens films and TV serials I happen to have to hand on DVD. I guess, for me, the highpoints would have to be David Lean's Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). I also enjoyed the Dirk Bogarde version of A Tale of Two Cities (1958), though, as well as some of the classic BBC adaptations of such novels as The Pickwick Papers (1985), Martin Chuzzlewit (1994) and Our Mutual Friend (1998).

Marc Miller & Wolf Mankowitz, writ.: Dickens of London (1976-77)

Another TV show which had a huge influence on me in my teens was the 13-part Dickens of London. Roy Dotrice made a valiant effort to play both the young and older Dickens, but the sheer ambition of the attempt still seems astonishing now. I was very glad to have the chance to see it again. The episode where Dickens meets Edgar Allan Poe, and reenacts with him a strange version of "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", made a huge impression on me at the time.

Charles Dickens

Charles John Huffam Dickens ['Boz']

    Charles Dickens: Little Dorrit (1857)

    Collected Editions:

  1. The Works of Charles Dickens. 22 vols. Dunedin & Wellington: A. H. Reed, 1931:
    1. Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People (1836-39)
    2. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-37)
    3. Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy’s Progress (1837-39)
    4. The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839)
    5. The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)
    6. Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘80 (1841)
    7. American Notes & Pictures from Italy (1842 & 1846)
    8. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44)
    9. Christmas Books: A Christmas Carol / The Chimes / The Cricket on the Hearth / The Battle of Life / The Haunted Man (1843, 1844, 1845, 1846 & 1848)
    10. Dealings with the Firm of Dombey & Son: Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation (1848)
    11. The Personal History of David Copperfield (1850)
    12. A Child’s History of England (1851-53)
    13. Bleak House (1853)
    14. Hard Times / Hunted Down / Holiday Romance / George Silverman's Explanation (1854 & 1867)
    15. Little Dorrit (1857)
    16. Reprinted Pieces: Also The Lamplighter; To Be Read at Dusk; Sunday Under Three Heads (1858)
    17. A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
    18. Great Expectations (1860-61)
    19. The Uncommercial Traveller (1860-69)
    20. Our Mutual Friend (1864-65)
    21. The Mystery of Edwin Drood & Master Humphrey’s Clock (1870 & 1840)
    22. Christmas Stories: From “Household Words” and “All The Year Round” (1874)

  2. Charles Dickens: The 'Daily News' Memorial Edition (1900-1910)

  3. The 'Daily News' Memorial Edition. 19 vols. London: Chapman & Hall, Ld, n.d. [c.1900-1910]:
    1. Sketches by Boz: Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People. Illustrated by George Cruickshank (1836-39)
    2. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Illustrated by Phiz et al (1836-37)
    3. [Oliver Twist / A Tale of Two Cities (1837-39 & 1859)]
    4. [The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1839)]
    5. [The Old Curiosity Shop (1841)]
    6. Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘80. Illustrated (1841)
    7. American Notes / Pictures from Italy / A Child’s History of England (1842, 1846 & 1851-53)
    8. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. Illustrated (1843-44)
    9. Christmas Books: A Christmas Carol / The Chimes / The Cricket on the Hearth / The Battle of Life / The Haunted Man & Hard Times. Illustrated (1843, 1844, 1845, 1846, 1848 & 1853)
    10. Dealings with the Firm of Dombey & Son: Wholesale, Retail, and for Exportation. Illustrated (1848)
    11. The Personal History of David Copperfield. Illustrated (1850)
    12. [Bleak House (1853)]
    13. Little Dorrit. Illustrated by Phiz (1857)
    14. [Great Expectations / The Uncommercial Traveller (1860-61, 1860-69)]
    15. Our Mutual Friend. Illustrated by Marcus Stone (1864-65)
    16. The Mystery of Edwin Drood & Reprinted Pieces. Illustrated (1870 & 1858 40)
    17. Christmas Stories: From “Household Words” and “All The Year Round” & Other Stories: Master Humphrey’s Clock / Hunted Down / Holiday Romance / George Silverman's Explanation. Illustrated (1874, 1840, 1867)
    18. [The Dickens Dictionary, by Gilbert A. Pierce & William A. Wheeler (1880)]
    19. [Life of Charles Dickens, by John Forster (1872-74)]

  4. The Annotated Dickens (2 vols, 1986)

  5. Dickens, Charles. The Annotated Dickens. Ed. Edward Giuliano & Philip Collins. 2 vols. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.
    1. The Pickwick Papers (1836-37); Oliver Twist (1837-39); A Christmas Carol (1843); Hard Times (1854)
    2. David Copperfield (1849-50); A Tale of Two Cities (1859); Great Expectations (1860-61)

  6. Charles Dickens: Penguin Classics


  7. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. 1836-37. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Penguin English Library. 1972. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
  8. Oliver Twist. 1837-39. Ed. Peter Fairclough. Introduction by Angus Wilson. Penguin English Library. 1966. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.
    • Oliver Twist. 1837-39. Ed. Kathleen Tillotson. 1966. The Clarendon Dickens. Ed. John Butt & Kathleen Tillotson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974.
  9. Nicholas Nickleby. 1839. Ed. Michael Slater. Penguin English Library. 1978. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
  10. The Old Curiosity Shop. 1841. Ed. Angus Easson. Introduction by Malcolm Andrews. Penguin English Library. 1972. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
  11. Barnaby Rudge. 1841. Ed. Gordon Spence. Penguin English Library. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
  12. Martin Chuzzlewit. 1843-44. Ed. P. N. Furbank. Penguin English Library. 1968. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
  13. Dombey and Son. 1848. Ed. Peter Fairclough. Introduction by Raymond Williams. Penguin English Library. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.
  14. The Personal History of David Copperfield. 1850. Ed. Trevor Blount. Penguin Classics. 1966. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
  15. Bleak House. 1853. Ed. Norman Page. Introduction by J. Hillis Miller. Penguin English Library. 1971. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
  16. Hard Times for These Times. 1854. Ed. David Craig. Penguin Classics. 1969. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
  17. Little Dorrit. 1857. Ed. John Holloway. Penguin Classics. 1967. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
  18. A Tale of Two Cities. 1859. Ed. George Woodcock. Penguin English Library. 1970. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
  19. Great Expectations. 1861. Ed. Angus Calder. Penguin English Library. 1965. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
    • Great Expectations. 1860-61. Illustrated by Marcus Stone. The Works of Charles Dickens, National Edition, Volume XXIX. London: Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1907.
  20. Our Mutual Friend. 1864-65. Ed. Stephen Gill. Penguin English Library. 1971. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
  21. The Mystery of Edwin Drood. 1870. Ed. Arthur J. Cox. Introduction by Angus Wilson. Penguin English Library. 1974. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.

  22. Charles Dickens: Selected Short Fiction (1976)

    Shorter fiction:

  23. The Christmas Books. Vol. 1: A Christmas Carol / The Chimes. 1843 & 1844. Ed. Michael Slater. Penguin English Library. 1971. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.
  24. The Christmas Books. Vol. 2: The Cricket on the Hearth / The Battle of Life / The Haunted Man. 1845, 1846 & 1848. Ed. Michael Slater. Penguin Classics. 1971. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.
  25. The Annotated Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol in Prose. 1843. Ed. Michael Patrick Hearn. Illustrations by John Leech. New York & London: W. W. Norton, 2004.
  26. [with Wilkie Collins] The Wreck of the Golden Mary. 1856. Illustrated by John Dugan. Venture Library. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1961.
  27. Selected Short Fiction. Ed. Deborah A. Thomas. Penguin English Library. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.
  28. Readings from Dickens. Ed. Emlyn Williams. London: The Folio Society, 1953.
  29. Sikes and Nancy and Other Public Readings. Ed. Philip Collins. 1975. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

  30. Charles Dickens: Selected Journalism: 1850-1870 (1997)


  31. Sketches by Boz. 1839. Ed. Dennis Walder. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.
  32. American Notes. 1842. Ed. Patricia Ingham. 2000. Rev. ed. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004.
  33. Pictures from Italy. 1846. Ed. Kate Flint. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998.
  34. The Life of Our Lord: Written Expressly for His Children by Charles Dicken. 1849. Foreword by Lady Dickens. 1934. London: Associated Newspapers Ltd., 1934.
  35. Miscellaneous Papers. 1912. The Works of Charles Dickens: Complete Works. Centennial Edition. 2 vols. Geneva: Heron Books, 1970.
  36. Selected Journalism 1850-1870. Ed. David Pascoe. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997.
  37. My Early Times. Ed. Peter Rowland. London: The Folio Society, 1988.
  38. The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens' Journalism. Ed. Michael Slater. 4 vols. London: J. M. Dent, 1994-2000.
    1. Dickens’ Journalism: Sketches by Boz and Other Early Papers, 1833-39. Illustrations by George Cruikshank et al. 1994. Phoenix Giants. London: The Orion Publishing Group, 1996.
    2. Dickens’ Journalism: ‘The Amusements of the People’ and Other Papers: Reports, Essays and Reviews, 1834-51. 1996. London: J. M. Dent, 1997.
    3. Dickens’ Journalism: ‘Gone Astray’ and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851-59. The Orion Publishing Group Ltd. London: J. M. Dent, 1999.
    4. [with John Drew] Dickens’ Journalism: The Uncommercial Traveller and Other Papers, 1859-1870. The Orion Publishing Group Ltd. London: J. M. Dent, 2000.

  39. Charles Dickens: The Plays and Poems (2 vols, 1882)

    Poetry & Drama:

  40. Dickens, Charles. Complete Plays and Selected Poems. 1970. London: Vision Press Ltd., 1974.

  41. Andrew McConnell Stott: The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi (2009)


  42. Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi. 1838. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: George Routledge and Sons, n.d. [c.1879].
  43. Stott, Andrew McConnell. The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi. 2009. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Ltd., 2010.

  44. Letters:

  45. The Letters: 1833-1870. Ed. His Sister-in-Law & His Eldest Daughter. 1893. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1903.
  46. The Letters of Charles Dickens: 1820-1839. Ed. Madeline House & Graham Storey. The Pilgrim Edition. Vol. 1 of 12. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1965.

  47. David Lean, dir.: Great Expectations (1946)


  48. The Charles Dickens Collection (2012). 3-DVD set:
    1. Great Expectations, dir. David Lean, writ. David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame & Kay Walsh – with John Mills, Bernard Miles, Finlay Currie, Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson – (UK, 1946)
    2. Oliver Twist, dir. David Lean, writ. David Lean & Stanley Haynes – with Kay Walsh, John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness – (UK, 1948)
    3. A Tale of Two Cities, dir. Ralph Thomas, writ. T. E. B. Clarke – with Dirk Bogarde, Dorothy Tutin – (UK, 1958)
  49. Dickens of London: 13-part miniseries, created by Wolf Mankowitz & Marc Miller – with Roy Dotrice, Simon Bell, Gene Foad, Lois Baxter, Christine McKenna – (UK, 1976). 4-DVD set.
  50. The Charles Dickens Collection: 8 Classic BBC Adaptations. 12-DVD set:
    1. The Pickwick Papers – with Nigel Stock, Clive Swift, Patrick Malahide – (UK, 1985)
    2. Oliver Twist – with Lysette Antony, Ben Rodska, Miriam Margolyes, Eric Porter, Michael Attwell – (UK, 1985)
    3. A Christmas Carol – with Michael Hordern, John Le Mesurier, Bernard Lee – (UK, 1977)
    4. Martin Chuzzlewit – with Paul Scofield, John Mills, Tom Wilkinson, Pete Postlethwaite, Julia Sawlaha, Maggie Steed – (UK, 1994)
    5. David Copperfield – with Daniel Radcliffe, Bob Hoskins, Maggie Smith, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Cherie Lunghi, Ian McKellan, Ciaran McMenamin – (UK, 1999)
    6. A Tale of Two Cities – with Paul Shelley, Nigel Stock, Sally Osborne – (UK, 1980)
    7. Great Expectations – with Ioan Gruffudd, Charlotte Rampling, Bernard Hill – (UK, 1999)
    8. Our Mutual Friend – with Paul McGann, Keeley Hawes, Anna Friel, Peter Vaughan, Timothy Spall – (UK, 1998)
  51. Charles Dickens: 200th Anniversary Collection (2012). 9-DVD set:
    1. Bleak House, dir. Justin Chadwick & Susanna White, writ. Andrew Davies – with Denis Lawson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Patrick Kennedy, Carey Mulligan, Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, Alun Armstrong, Timothy West, Burn Gorman, Harry Eden – (UK, 2005)
    2. Oliver Twist, dir. Coky Giedroyc, writ. Sarah Phelps – with William Miller, Adam Arnold, Tom Hardy, Timothy Spall, Julian Rhind Tutt – (UK, 2007)
    3. Little Dorrit, dir. Adam Smith, Dearbhla Walsh, & Diarmuid Lawrence, writ. Andrew Davies – with Claire Foy, Matthew Macfadyen, Tom Courtenay, Judy Parfitt – (UK, 2008)
    4. Great Expectations, dir. Brian Kirk, writ. Sarah Phelps – with Ray Winstone, Gillian Anderson, Douglas Booth, Vanessa Kirby, David Suchet – (UK, 2011)
  52. The Man Who Invented Christmas, dir. Bharat Nalluri, writ. Susan Coyne (based on the book by Les Standiford) – with Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce – (Ireland / Canada, 2017).

  53. Edgar Johnson: Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (2 vols, 1952)


  54. Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens' London: An Imaginative Vision. London: Headline Book Publishing PLC., 1987.
  55. Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. London: Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd., 1990.
  56. Butt, John, & Kathleen Tillotson. Dickens at Work. 1957. London & New York: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1982.
  57. Chesterton, G. K. Charles Dickens. 1906. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1919.
  58. Chesterton, G. K. Criticisms and Appreciations of Charles Dickens’ Works. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1911.
  59. Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. With Thirty-Two Illustrations. 1872-74. London: Humphrey Milford / Oxford University Press, n.d.
  60. Hardwick, Michael & Mollie. The Charles Dickens Encyclopedia. 1973. An Omega Book. London: Futura Publications Limited, 1976.
  61. Hibbert, Christopher. The Making of Charles Dickens. 1967. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
  62. House, Humphry. The Dickens World. 1941. London: Geoffrey Cumberlege / Oxford University Press, 1950.
  63. Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens. His Tragedy and Triumph. 2 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1952.
  64. Pope-Hennessy, Una. Charles Dickens: 1812-1870. 1945. London: The Reprint Society, 1947.
  65. Slater, Michael. Dickens and Women. 1983. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1986.
  66. Slater, Michael. The Great Charles Dickens Scandal. 2012. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2014.
  67. Tillotson, Kathleen. 'Dombey and Son.' In Novels of the Eighteen-Forties. 1954. Oxford Paperbacks. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.
  68. Tomalin, Claire. The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. 1990. London: Penguin, 1991.
  69. Wilson, Angus. The World of Charles Dickens. 1970. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

  70. Angus Wilson: The World of Charles Dickens (1970)

The World of Charles Dickens
[photograph: Bronwyn Lloyd (2022)]

Thursday, January 06, 2022

SF Luminaries: Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)

Ever since I first picked up a scruffy secondhand paperback copy in a local bookshop, I've been entranced by A Canticle for Leibowitz. As you can see from the montage below, there's been no shortage of editions and reprints of this 'famous and prophetic best seller of the new dark age of man". What of its author, though? Who was this strange man Walter M. Miller, Jr.?

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: Leibowitz covers

Well, as W. H. Auden states so succinctly in his sonnet Who's Who: "A shilling life will give you all the facts" - or, as in this case, a brief consultation of the relevant wikipedia entry:
Miller was born on January 23, 1923, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Educated at the University of Tennessee and the University of Texas, he worked as an engineer. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Forces as a radioman and tail gunner, flying more than fifty bombing missions over Italy. He took part in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, which proved a traumatic experience for him. Joe Haldeman reported that Miller "had post-traumatic stress disorder for 30 years before it had a name"

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)

Joe Haldeman is, of course, the author of the classic Vietnam-cum-SF novel The Forever War, still in print after almost fifty years.
After the war, Miller converted to Catholicism ... Between 1951 and 1957, [he] published over three dozen science fiction short stories, winning a Hugo Award in 1955 for the story "The Darfsteller".

Late in the 1950s, Miller assembled a novel from three closely related novellas he had published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1955, 1956 and 1957. The novel, entitled A Canticle for Leibowitz, was published in 1959. It is a post-apocalyptic novel revolving around the canonisation of Saint Leibowitz, and is considered a masterpiece of the genre. It won the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

After the success of A Canticle for Leibowitz, Miller ceased publishing, although several compilations of Miller's earlier stories were issued in the 1960s and 1970s.

In Miller's later years, he became a recluse, avoiding contact with nearly everyone, including family members; he never allowed his literary agent, Don Congdon, to meet him. According to science fiction writer Terry Bisson, Miller struggled with depression, but had managed to nearly complete a 600-page manuscript for the sequel to Canticle before taking his own life with a firearm on January 9, 1996, shortly after his wife's death.

The sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, was completed by Bisson at Miller's request and published in 1997.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1997)

I wish I could say that this last, posthumous work of fiction was a triumphant vindication of his decades in the wilderness. Alas, it is not. Various of the commentators on his Goodreads page do their best to defend it:
[Dropping Out]: Miller's "problem" was that he hit a grand-slam home-run in Canticle, and he spent the remainder of what must have been a sad and frustrating life trying to get out from under Canticle's shadow. ...

[Jason]: Saint Leibowitz reminded me very much of Herbert's Dune. They are both sprawling novels dealing with the political machinations of both Church and State, and they both center on the manipulations of the mysterious, isolated, less-civilized nomadic peoples whose loyalties will tip the balance of power.

[Doreen]: Oddly enough, I seem to be one of the few people here who enjoyed the sequel much more than its predecessor. I found A Canticle... devoid of much of the human suffering that pervades this book, which questions the conflict between faith and tradition, desire and happiness, and what it means to be a good human being.
Others seem more inclined to tell it like it is:
[Bryn Hammond]: There’s almost no science fiction left. It was much more like reading a (burlesque) historical fiction on the medieval church, muddled up with the American West. Canticle’s concerns with science aren’t pursued, and the post-nuclear-war setting becomes accidental.

[Jon]: The sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz was thirty years in the making, but unfortunately, Miller seems to have forgotten how to write a novel in those decades. Many of the moral and ethical arguments that made Canticle so brilliant are still present, as is the occasional bit of dry humor, but these are overshadowed by long and drawn-out passages, poor plotting, and a conclusion that seems to have been hastily written the night before the book went to press (the "Wild Horse Woman" from the title, for example, virtually never appears in the novel; I'm still confused as to why her name appears so prominently on the book's spine)
Perhaps the best overall summary comes from Zoe's Human:
Life is too short for books you don't enjoy.

Maybe the fault is mine for trying to read this right after A Canticle for Leibowitz which would be a tough act to follow for anyone (including, apparently, the author who wrote it). Perhaps my expectations were just too high. This started off well enough with a nice premise about loss of faith, but it kind of fizzled after the first two or three chapters.

Or perhaps the fact that the author was suicidally depressed and took his own life before he finished it was a factor. Another author finished it from a reportedly almost complete manuscript, but how complete was it really? And how much did the original author's struggle with mental illness factor in?

One of Miller's rarer stories, not included in any of the various collections of his short fiction, is "Izzard and the Membrane." An extra level of confusion is added by the fact that the book above, which I inherited from my father's science fiction collection, is the 1953 UK edition of a book which originally appeared in the USA in 1952. Despite its publication date, then, it actually constitutes The Year's Best Science Fiction Novels 1952, not 1953:

The American edition also included an extra story, Arthur C. Clarke's "Seeker of the Sphinx", presumably omitted from the British reprint for copyright reasons.

The reason this bibliographical minutiae seems worth stressing is because "Izzard and the Membrane" is quite a remarkable story, every bit the equal of most of the novellas included in his officially sanctioned collections. Its cold war stereotypes may be a little dated now, but Miller's astonishing intuitions about the possibilities of computer artificial intelligence and the creation of alternate realities are worthy of the creators of Westworld or the Metaverse itself.

So good is it, in fact, that it makes one feel rather curious about some of the other stories I've tried to list below as comprehensively as possible. By my count he wrote 43 stories in all (at least two of which were not SF). Of these 41, a mere fourteen were collected in his final selection The Best of Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1980) - subsequently reprinted under other titles, but without any expansion of the contents.

That leaves at least 26 other stories to read (not counting the two romance stories and a co-authored crime story) from that incredibly productive period of writing between 1951 and 1957. There may well be some duds among them, but it seems hard to believe that only "Izzard" is worthy of resurrection among such a number of pieces published - for the most part - in the top SF journals of the day.

That's the new Walter M. Miller book I'm holding out for: not the last, incomplete, rather depressing Saint Leibowitz. After all, his short stories and short novels were always his strongest work. From the much-anthologised "Crucifixus Etiam," with its unforgettable image of the purgatorial plains of Mars, to ,"Big Joe and the Nth Generation" (aka "It Takes a Thief"), he showed a flair for memorable characterisation and arresting plotlines second to none - not even such celebrated contemporaries as Philip K. Dick and Robert A. Heinlein.

James Blish: A Case of Conscience (1958)

That's not to say that there was anything unprecedented about Miller's trajectory from slam-bang Sci-fi to the subtleties of religious dogma in the apocalypse-haunted 1950s. It wasn't just mainstream fiction which had become obsessed with the ethical dilemmas associated with (mainly Catholic) Christianity. Authors such as Graham Greene, François Mauriac and Evelyn Waugh dominated the bestseller lists, and it seemed for a while there as if the twin blows of Hiroshima and Auschwitz had discredited scientific reductionism for good.

James Blish's A Case of Conscience is a good example - within the strict genre-boundaries of SF - of this type of writing. It could apparently then be taken for granted that monastic orders would accompany any future space-faring expeditions, and that the local religious concerns of this world were bound to find echoes out in the great beyond.

C. S. Lewis: The Cosmic Trilogy (1938-45)

C. S. Lewis's interplanetary trilogy undoubtedly helped to demonstrate the viability of such themes in a genre still dominated by the rationalist assumptions of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Ray Bradbury got in on the act, too, in his story "The Fire Balloons" [aka "In This Sign ..."] included in some editions of his classic Martian Chronicles.

In a way, though, despite his obvious affinity with other such earnest Catholic strivers in the 1950s, the sheer philosophical scope of Miller's Canticle seems to me to have more in common with Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game (1943) than with the likes of Blish, Bradbury or Lewis.

Ray Bradbury: The Fire Balloons (1951)

Its popularity then and since has undoubtedly depended to some extent on its links with other SF apocalypses of the 1950s: George Stewart's Earth Abides (1949), or Philip K. Dick's zany Dr Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb (1965). A Canticle for Leibowitz continues to evade us, though. It has elements of all of these things - Catholic apologia, SF Apocalypse, Dystopian satire - and yet it can't be said to be subsumed entirely by any of them.

George R. Stewart: Earth Abides (1949)

I do hope one day to be able to purchase at least some of the uncollected stories of Walter M. Miller in convenient book form, but there's certainly a strong case for believing that everything significant he had to say was contained in this one, stand-alone masterpiece. His mistake, then - if mistake it was - lay in thinking he could emulate or even surpass it in his final few years.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)

Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1923-1996)

Walter Michael Miller, Jr.


  1. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)
    1. Fiat Homo [aka 'A Canticle for Leibowitz'] (1955)
    2. Fiat Lux [aka 'And the Light is Risen'] (1956)
    3. Fiat Voluntas Tua [aka 'The Last Canticle'] (1957)
    • A Canticle for Leibowitz: A Novel. 1959. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960.
    • A Canticle for Leibowitz. 1959. Corgi Science-Fiction. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd., 1970.
  2. [with Terry Bisson] Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (1997)
    • Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman. Ed. Terry Bisson. 1997. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 1998.

  3. Collections:

  4. The Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels. Ed. Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty. London: Grayson & Grayson, 1953.
    1. Izzard and the Membrane, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    2. … And Then There Were None, by Eric Frank Russell
    3. Flight to Forever, by Poul Anderson
    4. The Hunting Season, by Frank M. Robinson
  5. Conditionally Human (1962)
    1. Conditionally Human (1952)
    2. The Darfsteller (1955)
    3. Dark Benediction (1951)
  6. The View from the Stars (1965)
    1. Blood Bank (1952)
    2. Dumb Waiter (1952)
    3. Anybody Else Like Me? (1952)
    4. The Big Hunger (1952)
    5. The Will (1954)
    6. Crucifixus Etiam (1953)
    7. I, Dreamer (1953)
    8. Big Joe and the Nth Generation (1952)
    9. You Triflin' Skunk! (1955)
  7. The Science Fiction Stories of Walter M. Miller Jr. (1977)
    1. Conditionally Human (1952)
    2. Blood Bank (1952)
    3. Dark Benediction (1951)
    4. Dumb Waiter (1952)
    5. Anybody Else Like Me? (1952)
    6. The Big Hunger (1952)
    7. The Darfsteller (1955)
    8. The Will (1954)
    9. Crucifixus Etiam (1953)
    10. I, Dreamer (1953)
    11. Big Joe and the Nth Generation (1952)
    12. You Triflin' Skunk! (1955)
  8. Conditionally Human and Other Stories. 1980. Corgi Science-Fiction. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd., 1982.
    1. Conditionally Human (1952)
    2. Blood Bank (1952)
    3. Dark Benediction (1951)
    4. Dumb Waiter (1952)
    5. Anybody Else Like Me? (1952)
    6. The Big Hunger (1952)
  9. The Darfsteller and Other Stories. 1980. Corgi Science-Fiction. London: Transworld Publishers Ltd., 1982.
    1. The Darfsteller (1955)
    2. The Will (1954)
    3. Vengeance for Nikolai (1957)
    4. Crucifixus Etiam (1953)
    5. I, Dreamer (1953)
    6. The Lineman (1957)
    7. Big Joe and the Nth Generation (1952)
    8. You Triflin' Skunk! (1955)
  10. Dark Benediction. [aka 'The Best of Walter M. Miller, Jr.', 1980]. SF Masterworks. Gollancz. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2007.
    1. Conditionally Human (1952)
    2. Blood Bank (1952)
    3. Dark Benediction (1951)
    4. Dumb Waiter (1952)
    5. Anybody Else Like Me? (1952)
    6. The Big Hunger (1952)
    7. The Darfsteller (1955)
    8. The Will (1954)
    9. Vengeance for Nikolai (1957)
    10. Crucifixus Etiam (1953)
    11. I, Dreamer (1953)
    12. The Lineman (1957)
    13. Big Joe and the Nth Generation (1952)
    14. You Triflin' Skunk! (1955)
  11. Two Worlds of Walter M. Miller (2010)
    1. The Hoofer (1955)
    2. Death of a Spaceman (1954)

  12. Chapbooks:

  13. The Hoofer [1955] (2009)
  14. Death of a Spaceman [1954] (2009)
  15. Way of a Rebel [1954] (2010)
  16. Check and Checkmate [1953] (2010)
  17. The Ties That Bind [1954] (2010)
  18. Conditionally Human [1952] (2016)
  19. It Takes a Thief [1952] (2019)

  20. Short Stories & Novellas:

    [Included in The Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels (1952);
    A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959);
    Conditionally Human (1962);
    The View from the Stars (1965);
    The Best of Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1980);
    Two Worlds of Walter M. Miller (2010)]

    1. MacDoughal's Wife [not SF] (1950)
    2. Month of Mary [not SF] (1950)
    3. Secret of the Death Dome [novella] (1951)
    4. Izzard and the Membrane [novella] (1951)
    5. The Soul-Empty Ones [novella] (1951)
    6. Dark Benediction [novella] (1951)
    7. The Space Witch [novella] (1951)
    8. The Song of Vorhu ... for Trumpet and Kettledrum [novella] (1951)
    9. The Little Creeps [novella] (1951)
    10. The Reluctant Traitor [novella] (1952)
    11. Conditionally Human [novella] (1952)
    12. Bitter Victory (1952)
    13. Dumb Waiter [novella] (1952)
    14. Big Joe and the Nth Generation {aka "It Takes a Thief"} (1952)
    15. Blood Bank [novella] (1952)
    16. Six and Ten Are Johnny [novella] (1952)
    17. Let My People Go [novella] (1952)
    18. Cold Awakening [novella] (1952)
    19. Please Me Plus Three [novella] (1952)
    20. No Moon for Me (1952)
    21. The Big Hunger (1952)
    22. Gravesong (1952)
    23. Anybody Else Like Me? {aka "Command Performance"} [novella] (1952)
    24. A Family Matter (1952)
    25. Check and Checkmate [novella] (1953)
    26. Crucifixus Etiam {aka "The Sower Does Not Reap"} (1953)
    27. I, Dreamer (1953)
    28. The Yokel [novella] (1953)
    29. Wolf Pack (1953)
    30. The Will (1954)
    31. Death of a Spaceman {aka "Memento Homo"} (1954)
    32. I Made You (1954)
    33. Way of a Rebel (1954)
    34. The Ties that Bind [novella] (1954)
    35. The Darfsteller [novella] (1955)
    36. You Triflin' Skunk! {aka "The Triflin' Man"} (1955)
    37. A Canticle for Leibowitz {aka "The First Canticle"} [novella] (1955)
    38. The Hoofer (1955)
    39. And the Light is Risen [novella] (1956)
    40. The Last Canticle [novella] (1957)
    41. Vengeance for Nikolai {aka "The Song of Marya"} (1957)
    42. [with Lincoln Boone] The Corpse in Your Bed is Me (1957)
    43. The Lineman [novella] (1957)


  21. David N. Samuelson, "The Lost Canticles of Walter M. Miller, Jr." Science Fiction Studies #8 (Vol 3, part 1) (March 1976) - "Appendix: The Books and Stories of Walter M. Miller, Jr.":
    1. "Secret of the Death Dome," novelette, Amazing (January, 1951; reprinted in Amazing (June, 1966).
    2. "Izzard and the Membrane," novelette, Astounding (May, 1951); anthologized in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels: 1952 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1952).
    3. "The Soul-Empty Ones," novelette, Astounding (August, 1951).
    4. "Dark Benediction," short novel, Fantastic Adventures (September, 1951); collected in Conditionally Human (1962).
    5. "The Space Witch," novelette, Amazing (November, 1951); reprinted in Amazing (October, 1966).
    6. "The Song of Vorhu ... for Trumpet and Kettledrum," novelette, Thrilling Wonder Stories (December, 1951).
    7. "The Little Creeps," novelette, Amazing (December, 1951); reprinted in Fantastic (May, 1968); anthologized in Milton Lesser, ed., Looking Forward (New York: Beechhurst, 1953).
    8. "The Reluctant Traitor," short novel, Amazing (January, 1952).
    9. "Conditionally Human," novelette, Galaxy (February, 1952); revised and collected in Conditionally Human (1962); anthologized in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., Year’s Best Science Fiction Novels: 1953 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1953).
    10. "Bitter Victory," short story, IF (March, 1952).
    11. "Dumb Waiter," novelette, Astounding (April, 1952); collected in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in Groff Conklin, ed., Science Fiction Thinking Machines (New York: Vanguard, 1954) and Damon Knight, Cities of Wonder (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966).
    12. "It Takes a Thief," short story, IF (May, 1952); collected, as "Big Joe and the Nth Generation," in The View from the Stars (1965).
    13. "Blood Bank," novelette, Astounding (June, 1952); collected in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in Martin Greenberg, ed., All About the Future (New York: Gnome Press, 1953).
    14. "Six and Ten are Johnny," novelette, Fantastic (Summer, 1952); reprinted in Fantastic (January, 1966).
    15. "Let My People Go," short novel, IF (July, 1952).
    16. "Cold Awakening," novelette, Astounding (August, 1952).
    17. "Please Me Plus Three," novelette, Other Worlds (August, 1952).
    18. "No Moon for Me," short story, Astounding (September, 1952); anthologized in William Sloane, ed., Space, Space, Space (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1953).
    19. "The Big Hunger," short story, Astounding (October, 1952); collected in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in Donald A Wollheim, ed., Prize Science Fiction (New York: McBride, 1953).
    20. "Gravesong," short story, Startling (October, 1952).
    21. "Command Performance," novelette, Galaxy (November, 1952); collected, as "Anybody Else Like Me?" in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1953 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1953); Horace Gold, ed., The Second Galaxy Reader (New York: Crown, 1954); and Brian W. Aldiss, ed., Penguin Science Fiction (London: Penguin, 1961).
    22. "A Family Matter," short story, Fantastic Story Magazine (November, 1952).
    23. "Check and Checkmate," novelette, IF (January, 1953).
    24. "Crucifixus Etiam," short story, Astounding (February, 1953); collected in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in Everett Bleiler and T.E. Dikty, eds., The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1954 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1954); Judith Merril, ed., Human? (New York: Lion, 1954); Michael Sissons, ed., Asleep in Armageddon (London: Panther, 1962); Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, eds., Spectrum V (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1966); and Robert Silverberg, ed., Tomorrow’s Worlds (New York: Meredith, 1969).
    25. "I, Dreamer," short story, Amazing (July, 1953); collected in The View from the Stars (1965).
    26. "The Yokel," novelette, Amazing (September, 1953).
    27. "The Wolf Pack," short story, Fantastic (Oct., 1953); reprinted in Fantastic (May, 1966); anthologized in Judith Merril, ed., Beyond the Barriers of Space and Time (New York: Random House, 1954).
    28. "The Will," short story, Fantastic (February, 1954); reprinted in Fantastic (April, 1969); collected in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in T.E. Dikty, ed., The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 1955 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1955).
    29. "Death of a Spaceman," short story, Amazing (March, 1954); reprinted in Amazing (March, 1969); anthologized in William F. Nolan, ed., A Wilderness of Stars (Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1971); anthologized as "Memento Homo" in T.E. Dikty, ed., The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 1955 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1955); Robert P. Mills, ed., The Worlds of Science Fiction (New York: Dial Press, 1963); and Laurence M. Janifer, ed., Masters’ Choice (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966).
    30. "I Made You," short story, Astounding (March, 1954).
    31. "Way of a Rebel," short story, IF (April, 1954).
    32. "The Ties that Bind," novelette, IF (May, 1954); anthologized in William F. Nolan, ed., A Sea of Space (New York: Bantam, 1970).
    33. "The Darfsteller," short novel, Astounding (January, 1955); collected in Conditionally Human (1962); anthologized in Isaac Asimov, ed., The Hugo Winners (Garden City: Doubleday, 1962).
    34. "The Triflin’ Man," short story, Fantastic Universe (January, 1955); collected as "You Triflin’ Skunk" in The View from the Stars (1965); anthologized in Judith Merril, ed., Galaxy of Ghouls (New York: Lion, 1955).
    35. "A Canticle for Leibowitz," short novel, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F & SF) (April, 1955); revised as part of A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959); anthologized in T.E. Dikty, ed., Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels: 1956 (New York: Frederick Fell, 1956); Anthony Boucher, ed., The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, fifth series (Garden City: Doubleday, 1956); and Christopher Cerf, ed., The Vintage Anthology of Science Fantasy (New York: Vintage, 1966).
    36. "The Hoofer," short story, Fantastic Universe (September, 1955); anthologized in Judith Merril, ed., S_F: The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy (New York: Dell, 1956), and S-F: The Best of the Best (New York: Dell, 1968).
    37. "And the Light is Risen," short novel, F & SF (August, 1956); revised as part of A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959).
    38. "The Last Canticle," short novel, F & SF (February, 1957); revised as part of A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959).
    39. "Vengeance for Nikolai," short story, Venture (March, 1957); anthologized in Joseph Ferman, ed., No Limits (New York: Ballantine, 1958).
    40. "The Corpse in Your Bed is Me," short story co-authored by Lincoln Boone, Venture (May, 1957).
    41. "The Lineman," short novel, F & SF (August, 1957); anthologized in William F. Nolan, ed., A Wilderness of Stars (Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1971).

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio

Herbert A. Giles, trans. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (1880)

I remember, back in the 1980s, trotting off one day to my regular haunt the Edinburgh Filmhouse to see a film called A Chinese Ghost Story.

Siu-Tung Ching, dir.: A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

It wasn't the only Chinese film I saw at that time. They seemed to be distinguished by an irrepressible energy and humour. I saw Peking Opera Blues (1986), with its cross-dressing heroine and its gender-fluid cast of 1920s 'decadents' (I remember one scene where they expressed their disdain for convention by pouring champagne all over the record player blasting out jazz to shield their revels!). I found out later that it's one of Quentin Tarantino's favourite films.

Clarence Fok & Yuen Biao, dir.: The Iceman Cometh (1989)

I also remember seeing a Hong Kong movie called The Iceman Cometh (1989), which had some very amusing scenes where an ultra-modern young lady puts an ancient frozen warrior in his proper place of obedience to her every whim.

I wouldn't say A Chinese Ghost Story displayed much more authenticity than the other two mentioned above, but it was certainly their equal in entertainment value. I did vaguely notice that the screenplay was based on a genuine ghost story, but at the time I knew little of Pu Songling or his celebrated 18th-century compilation of such stories, translated as Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by sinologist Herbert Giles in the late nineteenth century.

John Minford, trans. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (2006)

In fact, it wasn't until I bought a copy of John Minford's new version of selected stories from Pu Songling's collection that I began to realised just what a treasure I'd missed! Minford is perhaps best known for his completion of the Penguin Classics translation of Cao Xueqin's great novel The Story of the Stone, begun by his former teacher (and father-in-law) David Hawkes.

John Minford, trans. The Story of the Stone (1982)
Cao Xueqin. The Story of the Stone (Also Known as The Dream of the Red Chamber): A Chinese Novel by Cao Xueqin in Five Volumes, edited by Gao E. Vol. 4: The Debt of Tears. Trans. John Minford. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

Cao Xueqin. The Story of the Stone (Also Known as The Dream of the Red Chamber): A Chinese Novel by Cao Xueqin in Five Volumes, edited by Gao E. Vol. 5: The Dreamer Wakes. Trans. John Minford. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
The intention behind Minford's Penguin Classics version of Pu Songling's Strange Tales is to restore its original frankness and variety, a feature obscured by the "limitations of the taste of [Giles's] time, which dictated what he thought he could permissibly do":
I had originally determined to publish a full and complete translation of the whole ... but on a closer acquaintance many of the stories turned out to be quite unsuitable for the age in which we live, forcibly recalling the coarseness of our own writers of fiction in the eighteenth century.
[Giles, quoted by Minford, p.xxxii]
Minford, by contrast, is fascinated by the "intensity and richness" of the collection:
Strange Tales is (among other things) a casebook of Chinese sexual pathology ... A young man with a roving eye is deluded by his neighbour's pretty wife into having sex with a rotten log and as a result has his penis fatally bitten by a scorpion ... A kungfu master bashes his penis with a mallet and feels no pain. We encounter aphrodisiacs, love potions and dildos ... Above all, again and again, we read of the seduction of an enervated young scholar by some fatally attractive woman-as-fox or woman-as-ghost, their sexual liaison leading to his eventual debilitation and premature death. [xxi]
In fact, so great an emphasis does Minford place on this aspect of Pu's compilation, that it can come as a bit of a relief to turn to the staider pages of Giles's own selection.

Yuan Mei: Censored by Confucius (1788)

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, famed Chinese poet Yuan Mei published his own collection of ghost stories and strange happenings. His original title for the book was "Censored by Confucius" (though he subsequently changed it to "New Wonder Tales" when he discovered that name had already been used by a 14th-century Yuan dynasty writer). The reference is to a passage in the Analects, where it is said of Confucius:
The Master never talked of wonders, feats of strength, disorders of nature, or spirits.
[Arthur Waley's translation, p. 120]

Arthur Waley: Yuan Mei (1956)

The implication is, of course, that anecdotes about such subjects are irrelevant and even harmful to the well-ordered Confucian individual. Yuan Mei, by contrast, an addict of such "perverse, depraved, obscene and licentious ideas," as his contemporary Zhang Xuechen described them, felt thoroughly at home in such regions. As he remarks in one of his "Seven Poems on Aging":
Talk of books - why they please or fail to please -
Or of ghosts and marvels, no matter how far-fetched,
These are excesses in which, should he feel inclined,
A man of seventy-odd may well indulge.
[quoted in Louie & Edwards, p. xxiv]
And certainly the above selection from Yuan Mei's collection, published in English in 1996, contains the same basic medley of fox-spirits, ghosts, and other Fortean phenomena as Pu Songling's. It does appear (to me, at least) to lack some of the latter's complexity and charm, however, though that could easily be a result of the choice of stories. Yuan Mei was, after all, one of the greatest poets and writers of his age, and there were 747 stories in the original collection, of which only 100 have been presented here.

Lafcadio Hearn: Some Chinese Ghosts (1886)

Finally, last but not least, I'd like to say a few words about the collection above, one of many adaptation / translations put together by Irish-Greek-American writer Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn is, of course, far more famous for the numerous works he published about his adopted country, Japan.

This early book, written while he was still living in New Orleans, was largely cribbed from the publications of French travellers, though it's possible that it may have been influenced by Giles's Strange Tales as well. Certainly it seems more redolent of fin-de-siècle Chinoiserie than what we might regard as more authentic folklore.

Hearn was, after all, a decadent, and if it were not for the continued vogue that his books retain among contemporary Japanese readers, he'd probably be largely forgotten now. In any case, if - like me - you're fascinated by tales of "ghosts and marvels, no matter how far-fetched", I thoroughly recommend these three collections of Chinese ghost stories.

There can be a certain monotony in any ghost story tradition, whether it features Ouija boards and clanking chains or - as in this case - fox-spirits and earth-bound ghosts. The solution seems to be to mix it up. And certainly, when A Chinese Ghost Story opened an unexpected door into strangeness for me all those years ago, I had no idea where it might end up taking me.

Jack Ross: Ghost Stories (2019)

Pu Songling

Pu Songling


  1. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. Trans. Herbert A. Giles. London: T. De La Rue, 1880.
    • Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. Trans. Herbert A. Giles. 1880. Rev. ed. 1916. Honolulu, Hawai’i: University Press of the Pacific, 2003.
  2. Strange Stories from the Lodge of Leisure. Trans. George Soulie. London: Constable, 1913.
  3. Strange Tales of Liaozhai. Trans. Lu Yunzhong, Chen Tifang, Yang Liyi, & Yang Zhihong. Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1982.
    • Strange Tales of Liaozhai. Trans. Lu Yunzhong, Yang Liyi, Yang Zhihong, & Chen Tifang. Illustrated by Tao Xuehua. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press, Ltd., 1982.
  4. Strange Tales from Make-do Studio. Trans. Denis C. & Victor H. Mair. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989.
    • Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio. Trans. Denis C. & Victor H. Mair. 1989. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1996.
  5. Strange Tales from the Liaozhai Studio. Trans. Zhang Qingnian, Zhang Ciyun and Yang Yi. Beijing: People's China Publishing, 1997.
  6. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Trans. John Minford. London: Penguin, 2006.
    • Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Trans. John Minford. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2006.
  7. Strange Tales from Liaozhai. Trans. Sidney L. Sondergard. 6 vols. Jain Pub Co., 2008-2017.

  8. Secondary:

  9. Judith T. Zeitlin. Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Luo Ping: Yuan Mei

Yuan Mei


  1. Censored by Confucius: Ghost Stories. 1788. Ed. & trans. Kam Louie & Louise Edwards. New Studies in Asian Culture. An East Gate Book. New York & London: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.

  2. Secondary:

  3. Arthur Waley. Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956.

Frederick Gutekunst: Lafcadio Hearn (1889)

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904)

    America & the West Indies:

  1. La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes (1885)
  2. "Gombo Zhèbes": A Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs, Selected from Six Creole Dialects (1885)
  3. Chita: A Memory of Last Island (1889)
  4. Youma, the Story of a West-Indian Slave (1889)
  5. Two Years in the French West Indies (1890)

  6. Japan:

  7. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894)
  8. Out of the East: Reveries and Studies in New Japan (1895)
  9. Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life. 1896. Tokyo & Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1977.
  10. Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East (1897)
  11. The Boy who Drew Cats (1897)
  12. Exotics and Retrospectives (1898)
  13. Japanese Fairy Tales (1898)
  14. In Ghostly Japan. 1899. Tokyo & Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1972.
  15. Shadowings (1900)
  16. Japanese Lyrics (1900)
  17. A Japanese Miscellany (1901)
  18. Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902)
  19. Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. 1904. The Travellers’ Library. London: Jonathan Cape, 1927.
  20. Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904)
  21. The Romance of the Milky Way and other studies and stories (1905)

  22. Posthumous:

  23. Letters from the Raven; being the correspondence of Lafcadio Hearn with Henry Watkin et al. (1907)
  24. Leaves from the Diary of an Impressionist (1911)
  25. Interpretations of Literature (1915)
  26. Karma (1918)
  27. On Reading in Relation to Literature (1921)
  28. Creole Sketches (1924)
  29. Lectures on Shakespeare (1928)
  30. Insect-musicians and other stories and sketches (1929)
  31. Japan's Religions: Shinto and Buddhism (1966)
  32. Books and Habits; from the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn (1968)
  33. Writings from Japan: An Anthology. Ed. Francis King. Penguin Travel Library. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.
  34. Lafcadio Hearn's America: Ethnographic Sketches and Editorials (2002)
  35. Lafcadio Hearn's Japan: An Anthology of His Writings on the Country and Its People (2007)
  36. American Writings (Library of America, 2009): Some Chinese Ghosts | Chita | Two Years in the French West Indies | Youma | selected journalism and letters
  37. Insect Literature (2015)
  38. Japanese Ghost Stories. Ed. Paul Murray (2019)
  39. Japanese Tales of Lafcadio Hearn. Ed. Andrei Codrescu (2019)

  40. Translations &c.:

  41. One of Cleopatra's Nights and Other Fantastic Romances, by Théophile Gautier (1882)
  42. Stray Leaves From Strange Literature; Stories Reconstructed from the Anvari-Soheili, Baital Pachisi, Mahabharata, Pantchantra, Gulistan, Talmud, Kalewala, etc. (1884)
  43. Chinese Ghost Stories: Curious Tales of the Supernatural. ['Some Chinese Ghosts', 1886]. Tuttle Publishing. Hong Kong: Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd., 2011.
  44. Tales from Théophile Gautier (1888)
  45. The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, by Anatole France (1890)
  46. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, by Gustave Flaubert (1910)
  47. Stories from Emile Zola (1935)
  48. The Tales of Guy de Maupassant (1964)

  49. Secondary:

  50. Elizabeth Bisland. The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. 2 vols. New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1906.
  51. Jonathan Cott. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Knopf, 1990.
  52. Carl Dawson. Lafcadio Hearn and the Vision of Japan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
  53. Paul Murray. A Fantastic Journey: The Life and Literature of Lafcadio Hearn. Tokyo: Japan Library, 1993.

  1. Bauer, Wolfgang & Herbert Fiske, eds. The Golden Casket: Chinese Novellas of Two Millennia. 1959. Trans. Christopher Levenson. 1964. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967.

  2. Lin Yutang. Famous Chinese Short Stories. 1952. Montreal: Pocket Books of Canada, 1953.

  3. Ma, Y. W. & Joseph M. Lau, eds. Traditional Chinese Stories: Themes and Variations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

  4. Van Over, Raymond, ed. Smearing the Ghost’s Face with Ink: A Chinese Anthology. 1973. London: Picador, 1982.

Raymond Van Over: Smearing the Ghost’s Face with Ink (1973)