Monday, September 10, 2018

Classic Ghost Story Writers: Michael Cox

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)

1 comment:

Richard said...

Hi Jack. I made comments on these two posts but they seemed to have disappeared. Talking of horror, terror, and ghost stories with sometimes a dash of sci fi (it is interesting the range or writers who used the medium of the ghost or horror story. Talking of writing on a forum online someone recommended the story or novella by Arthur Machen 'The Great God Pan'. I can only find 'The White Powder' in an anthology.

I read a story (in a ghost story collection of 20th Century writers) by Muriel Spark 'The Portobello Road'. There is a twist in that, you might guess what narrative device.

I found a story by Le Fanu but no Michael Cox. (In 'Come Not Lucifer! (Romantic Stories' Illustrated by R A Brandt. Brandt's illustrations are worth me keeping this rather battered volume.

I also like the horror/ghost stories of Roald Dahl.

Interesting as usual, your wide knowledge and insights into these strange and creative writers.