Jerry Bauer: Michael Cox (1948-2009)
Admittedly this is rather a strange follow-up to Sheridan Le Fanu, but Michael Cox gets the nod because he's such an inspiration to nerdy bookworms everywhere.
In one of those classic don't-say-it's-over-till-it's-over turn-ups for the books, Cox published his first novel in 2006, in his late fifties, after a lifetime of compiling anthologies and chronologies and other humble aids to readers, only to find it a runaway success, sold to its eventual publisher John Murray at auction for £430,000!
Is The Meaning of Night actually any good? Well, perhaps not in the absolute sense, but it's a very competent and entertaining pastiche of High Victorian Sensation Gothic, not up to the mark of Wilkie Collins or Le Fanu at their best, but clearly the fruit of passionate adoration of their works.
I suppose my main problem with it is its hero, who veers from amoral Poe-like maniac ("William Wilson") to moony lover with scant consistency. Nor can I quite see why his aristocratic ambitions are of such great interest to so many of the people he meets (a criticism which applies even more sharply to its sequel, The Glass of Time).
I do in many ways prefer this second novel, though: Esperanza Gorst is a far more attractive and sprightly protagonist than her whining papa - though her taste in men is a little difficult to fathom (with the best will in the world, Cox is unable to make her ghastly pompous cousin Perseus seem in the slightest degree plausible as a love interest).
The great thing is, after editing all of those books of other people's work (including a very interesting biography of M. R. James), Cox finally nerved himself up to enter the arena himself. Then, tragically, he died of cancer a couple of years later.
Mind you, he credited his diagnosis with giving him the incentive to finish his long-meditated fiction project. Without it he might well have continued to pile up odd pages without ever finishing either book. However you take it, I think it has to be seen as a very encouraging story for all of those half-completed novels languishing in so many desk drawers. Never say die! Even without the worldwide success and the hugely swollen pre-publication price, Cox would still be a winner.
Seeing how others did it failed to intimidate him: he put himself out there, and his two books bid fair to become minor classics in their own right! Nor is his work as an editor and anthologist likely to be forgotten, either.
The list of his works below is not exhaustive - there are many anthologies missing: of golden age detective stories, thrillers, and a variety of other genres - but it does include all of the really significant highlights in his career as a ghost story writer and fancier (I hope):
Eiko Ishioka: Victorian Gothic Lolita (1983)
Michael Andrew Cox (1948-2009)
- M. R. James: An Informal Portrait. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
- The Meaning of Night: A Confession. London: John Murray (Publishers), 2006.
- The Glass of Time: The Secret Life of Miss Esperanza Gorst, Narrated by Herself. 2008. London: John Murray (Publishers), 2009.
- The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories. Ed. Michael Cox & R. A. Gilbert. 1986. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
- The Ghost Stories of M. R. James. Ed. Michael Cox. Illustrated by Rosalind Caldecott. 1986. London: Tiger Books International, 1991.
- James, M. R. ‘Casting the Runes’ and Other Ghost Stories. Ed. Michael Cox. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- The Illustrated J. S. Le Fanu: Ghost Stories and Mysteries by a Master Victorian Storyteller. Equation. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Thorsons Publishing Group, 1988.
- The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories. Ed. Michael Cox & R. A. Gilbert. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
- The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost Stories. Ed. Michael Cox. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
- The Oxford Chronology of English Literature. Ed. Michael Cox. 2 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
The Meaning of Night (2006)
The Glass of Time (2008)