Hamilton, (Anthony Walter) Patrick 1904-1962
HAMILTON, (Anthony Walter) Patrick 1904-1962
PERSONAL: Born March 17, 1904 in Hassocks, Sussex, England; died of kidney failure September 23, 1962 (some sources say September 3), in Sheringham, Norfolk, England; son of Bernard Hamilton and Ellen Adele Hockley; married Lois Martin, August 6, 1930 (divorced 1953); married Ursula Stewart, 1953.
CAREER: Actor and assistant stage manager to Andrew Melville, c. 1920s; author of novels and radio and stage plays.
AWARDS, HONORS: Vincent Prize, 1918.
Monday Morning, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1925.
Craven House, Constable (London, England), 1926, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1927, revised edition, Constable (London, England), 1943.
Twopence Coloured, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1928.
The Midnight Bell: A Love Story, Constable (London, England), 1929, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1930.
The Siege of Pleasure, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1932.
The Plains of Cement, Constable (London, England), 1934, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1935.
Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky: A LondonTrilogy (includes The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure, and The Plains of Cement), Constable (London, England), 1935.
Impromptu in Moribundia, Constable (London, England), 1939.
Hangover Square; or, The Man with Two Minds: AStory of Darkest Earl's Court in the Year 1939, Constable (London, England), 1941, Random House (New York, NY), 1942.
The Slaves of Solitude, Constable (London, England), 1947, published as Riverside, Random House (New York, NY), 1947.
The West Pier, Constable (London, England), 1951, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1952.
Mr. Stimpson and Mr. Gorse, Constable (London, England), 1953.
Unknown Assailant, Constable (London, England), 1955.
Contributor to periodicals, including Printer's Devil.
Rope (produced in London, England, 1929; also see below), published as Rope: A Play, with a Preface on Thrillers, Constable (London, England), 1929, published as Rope's End: A Play, with a Preface on Thrillers, R. R. Smith (New York, NY), 1930.
The Procurator of Judea, produced in London, England, 1930.
John Brown's Body, produced in London, England, 1931.
Gaslight, Richmond, produced in Surrey, England, 1938; produced as Angel Street in New York, NY, 1941), published as Gas Light: A Victorian Thriller in Three Acts, Constable (London, England), 1939, published as Angel Street: A Victorian Thriller in Three Acts, S. French (New York, NY), 1942.
The Duke in Darkness (three-act; produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1942), Constable (London, England), 1943.
The Governess, produced in Glasgow, February, 1945.
The Man Upstairs (produced in Blackpool, England, 1953), Constable (London, England), 1954.
Rope, BBC, January 18, 1932.
Money with Menaces (also see below), BBC, January 4, 1937.
To the Public Danger (also see below), BBC, February 25, 1939.
This Is Impossible (BBC broadcast, 1941), published as This Is Impossible: A Play in One Act, S. French (New York, NY), 1942.
Caller Anonymous, BBC Home Service, March 7, 1952.
Money with Menaces, and To the Public Danger: TwoRadio Plays, Constable (London, England), 1939.
ADAPTATIONS: Gaslight was adapted as a film starring Ingrid Bergman.
SIDELIGHTS: Patrick Hamilton is best known for his plays Rope and Gaslight, both of which were made into films, the first in 1948 in a screenplay collaboration with director Alfred Hitchcock. Hamilton's novels portray society's marginalized people, and much of his work was successfully adapted to radio, cinema, and television.
Hamilton was born in Hassocks, Sussex, England to Bernard Hamilton and Ellen Adele Hockley. Though his father had inherited considerable money, by the time Patrick was born most of the fortune had been squandered and he spent his childhood in boarding houses or leased houses. His education consisted of only two terms at Westminster Public School, during the 1918-19 academic year. During this time his poem, Heaven, appeared in the journal Poetry Review. While at Westminster, Hamilton decided, against his parents' wishes, that he wanted to be a writer.
In 1921 Hamilton began acting, another of his interests. His sister, Lalla, worked for actor and playwright Sutton Vane, performed in Vane's plays, and was romantically involved with him. Through her association with Vane, she got Hamilton an acting role in two separate tours of Vane's play Outward Bound and as well as a job as assistant stage manager, experiences that would help Hamilton with his own play writing. These experiences surfaced in his first three novels: Monday Morning, Craven House, and Twopence Colored.
Hamilton wrote Monday Morning while living in West Kensington. He wrote the novel full time after getting financial backing from Vane and Lalla, a result of the success of Outward Bound, and his mother's promise to pay his rent for one year. Hamilton's first novel captures a period in the life of protagonist Anthony Forster, who promises himself to begin his life afresh each Monday morning. He wants to write a novel, but must cram for an examination; he also works as assistant stage manager and bit-part actor with a touring show. At the end of the novel he has fallen in love with and becomes engaged to Diane. "Monday Morning is a first novel that proves, as well as promises, marked talent in its author," a New York Tribune reviewer wrote.
Of Craven House, a New York Times reviewer wrote, "A careful reading will provide entertainment for all the evenings of the week, and it may even inspire a rereading later on." The novel chronicles life in a middle-class boarding house, and follows a young man moving from school into professional life. The young man publishes a successful play and then becomes engaged to Elsie Nixon, who was also living in his boarding house. Hamilton's publishing firm, impressed by Craven House, offered him a five-novel contract.
Hamilton's third novel, Twopence Colored, has a more serious tone and focuses entirely on theater. Perhaps based on Hamilton's sister's relationship with Vane, the novel follows Jackie Mortimer, who gets into the theater business after becoming involved with an established married actor named Richard Gissing. Gissing dies and Jackie marries his brother. Reception of the book was more lukewarm than Hamilton's first two novels.
The year 1929 was momentous for Hamilton. He published The Midnight Bell: A Love Story, the first novel in the trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky, and Hamilton's first break from the theater-theme prevalent in his first three novels. In 1927 Hamilton fell in love with Lily Connolly, a prostitute, which love affair influenced the plot of Midnight Bell. Named after the pub where the hero, Bob, works, the novel explores Bob's obsession with prostitute Jenny Maple that leads to loss of his savings, job, and hopes of writing a novel. With nothing left, Bob returns to his previous life as a sailor. Midnight Bell is Hamilton's first account of London's marginalized. Rosemary Erikson Johnsen explained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Bob is, in many respects, an unlikely hero, and his behavior is hardly heroic; but Hamilton's sympathy for him and anger at his circumstances create a powerful condemnation of society. The restrictions and rootlessness of Bob's life are shown in harrowing detail, and Hamilton shares with his readers his own knowledge of this largely overlooked class of people." Also in 1929 Hamilton enhanced his literary reputation with his play Rope, which opened at New York City's Ambassadors Theatre and ran for six months. He later worked on the screenplay adaptation with Hitchcock.
In 1930 Hamilton married Lois Martin, who soon took over his business affairs. Hamilton was having trouble working and Lois suggested they move to the country and she forbade him alcohol until he completed The Siege of Pleasure, which, though written after Midnight Bell, describes how Jenny Maple went from servitude to becoming an alcoholic prostitute.
After an automobile struck him in 1932, Hamilton wrote nothing for two years. During this time he became interested in and studied Marxism, leading to the publication of Impromptu in Moribundia, a Marxist dystopia. While he was writing Moribundia, he also wrote Money with Menaces, his first radio play, which became a success in 1937. He also published another radio play that year, To the Public Danger, which addresses the problem of drunk drivers. During this period, Hamilton was also the drama critic for Time and Tide.
When Hamilton's mother committed suicide in 1934, he returned to Norfolk and concentrated on finishing the last novel in the trilogy, The Plains of Cement. This book tells of Ella, the bartender at the Midnight Bell, who watches as Bob slides downward in a spiral of unrequited love. Hamilton devotes much of the novel to Ella's hopes of and potential opportunities to escape her dead-end life. In 1935, the one-volume edition of the trilogy was published.
In December, 1938, Gas Light: A Victorian Thriller in Three Acts opened and became an immediate success. Gaslight, considered Hamilton's best play, is the story of an evil husband's attempts to drive his wife insane. The play moved to London's West End in 1939 and then to New York in 1941, where it ran on Broadway for four years as Angel Street. Despite his professional success, Hamilton's alcoholism worsened during this period.
Hangover Square, considered Hamilton's best novel, chronicles the life of an alcoholic, schizophrenic loner named George Harvey Bone during the years leading up to World War II. In the end, Bone commits suicide just as an announcement comes over the radio that war has been declared with Germany. While Hamilton enjoyed huge success with Hangover Square, he turned to writing The Duke of Darkness, which was published in 1943, the same year a revised edition of Craven House was published.
Deemed unfit to serve in the military, Hamilton spent the war years in London. The Slaves of Solitude, which many critics saw as a rival to Hangover Square, chronicles the lives of characters on the home front, inactive during the war. Hamilton, his alcoholism now full-blown, took four years to finish the novel. By the time Slaves was published, Hamilton's doctors had warned him several times to reduce his alcohol intake; he was drinking three bottles of Scotch a day by the end of the war.
In 1949 Hamilton, hoping a relocation would refresh him, bought a house on the Isle of Wight that he sold at a loss just a few months after its purchase. During this time he also began an affair with Lady Ursula Chetwynd-Talbot, also a writer. After he sold the Wight house, he rented a house in Hove where he lived with Ursula, spending weekends with Lois. The love triangle lasted to some extent for the rest of Hamilton's life.
Soon after Hamilton met Chetwynd-Talbot he began writing the "Gorse" novels. Planned as a series, the novels are set in Brighton and follow the criminal career of the Ralph Ernest Gorse, a sociopath whose character Hamilton modeled after English murderer Neville George Clevely Heath. The West Pier describes Gorse's early criminal career. Almost immediately after finishing West Pier, Hamilton began work on Mr. Stimpson and Mr. Gorse. In 1953 he divorced Lois and married Chetwynd-Talbot. He published the third and last "Gorse" book, Unknown Assailant, one year later.
While writing the "Gorse" series Hamilton became severely depressed and his alcoholism got even worse. He was hospitalized several times and his writing career soon came to a halt. Bedridden and still drinking, Hamilton contracted cirrhosis of the liver and died of kidney failure in 1962. Both wives participated in Hamilton's funeral.
Johnsen wrote of Hamilton that his "greatest achievement is his creation of a record of people on the margins . . . [his] work captures a way of life usually ignored by other writers. His characteristic subjects and distinctive writing style have won him many readers." It is this distinction that draws readers to Hamilton's work.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, St. Martin's Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 10: Modern British Dramatists, 1940-1945, 1982, Volume 191: British Novelists between the Wars, 1998.
Hamilton, Bruce, The Light Went Out: A Biography ofPatrick Hamilton, Constable (London, England), 1972.
Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
New York Tribune, November 15, 1925, p. 17.
New York Times, May 22, 1927, p. 22.*