Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Corvo Cult, The Yellow Peril and Netherwood

The launch party at Maggs for The Corvo Cult by Robert Scoble was very enjoyable.  Some reports with pictures here and here.  Fortunately, I resisted the temptation of buttonholing Barry Humphries and probably making a fool of myself talking about the 1890s.  I've always wondered if he's read Decadent London - I asked my publisher to send him a copy on publication, but I doubt that happened.  The book itself is very entertaining and would probably be of interest to non-Corvines: AJA Symons, author of the classic Quest for Corvo appears in an unflattering light as an untrustworthy individual and avid collector Donald Weeks as a belligerent obsessive - see earlier posts on Corvo.  One strange mistake - twice we are told that the Corvines celebrated the centenary of his death in 1960 - he was born in 1860 and died in 1913 aged 53.

Christopher Frayling's new book on Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril was reviewed in yesterday's Guardian.  It's a pity that Lord of Strange Deaths was not out last year as was intended as it's unlikely to be reviewed, given the fact that this book with a major publisher is already on the market.  I have to say this is not a new experience for me in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.  The book is still being worked on and is unlikely to appear for the talk in December I would imagine.

Frayling's book is an admirable attempt to cut through the more fantastic aspects of Rohmer's biography - rather than revealing any new information about him, he trawls through the types of newspapers and journals that Rohmer wrote for in the period just prior to the First World War, uncovering the roots of the spread of Yellow Peril coverage in England and the appearance of proto-Fu Manchu figures in their pages.  I found this the most interesting part of the book - it clearly showed the influences, not just on Rohmer, but on an entire population, of this type of journalism.  The historical side of things was less sure I felt, but the final chapter on the long lingering death of Rohmer's fiendish villain in popular culture is characteristically encyclopedic.  There was stuff in there that I knew nothing about, but then Frayling had access to archives in the US that I had no chance of seeing and presumably had some funding for his efforts.  The illustrations are imaginative and excellent.

However, from this week I plan to work solely on my next Accumulator Press book, which is about 25% done, with the aim of publishing it myself as soon as possible.  It will revisit a couple of subjects I've covered in the past, but in more detail and will hopefully be attractively designed, by me and the street artist Stewy and his partner, like Netherwood.

Talking of Netherwood, I recently subscribed to the British Newspaper Archive which includes a long run of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer and have gone through every reference therein to Netherwood.  Fortunately it doesn't appear that I missed much in plodding for weeks through the microfilm version, but one area that I couldn't face scanning every week was the ad section in which for example the date of the sale of Netherwood by Vernon and Johnnie Symonds was recorded.  On 21st December 1949 it was sold to Harry J Kaye and his wife.  In February 1951 a case was recorded in the County Court, with Vernon Symonds claiming a £99 balance on the sale; the plaintiffs eventually withdrew their action and the defendants agreed to pay £75.

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