Kitchin, C(lifford) H(enry) B(enn) 1895–1967
KITCHIN, C(lifford) H(enry) B(enn) 1895–1967
PERSONAL: Born October 17, 1895, in Harrogate, Yorkshire, England; died April 2, 1967. Education: Attended Clifton College, Bristol, Exeter College, Oxford, and Lincoln Inn, London.
CAREER: Lawyer and novelist. Military service: British Army, 1916–18.
Streamers Waving, Hogarth Press (Oxford, England), 1925.
Mr. Balcony, Hogarth Press (Oxford, England), 1927, with a new introduction by Francis King, 1989.
The Sensitive One, Hogarth Press (Oxford, England), 1931.
Olive E., Constable (London, England), 1937.
Birthday Party, Constable (London, England), 1938.
The Auction Sale, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1949, with an introduction by Lord David Cecil, Chatto and Windus (London, England), 1971.
The Secret River, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1956.
Ten Politt Place, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1957.
The Book of Life, Davies (London, England), 1960, Appleton-Century-Crofts (New York, NY), 1961.
A Short Walk in Williams Park, Chatto and Windus (London, England), 1971.
"MALCOLM WARREN" SERIES
Death of My Aunt, Hogarth (Oxford, England), 1929, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1930.
Crime at Christmas, Hogarth (Oxford, England), 1934, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1935.
Death of His Uncle, Constable (London, England), 1939, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
The Cornish Fox, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1949.
Curtains (poetry), Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1919.
(Editor, with Vera M. Britain and Alan Porter) Oxford Poetry, 1920, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1920.
Winged Victory (poetry), Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1921.
Jumping Joan and Other Stories, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1954.
Contributor to anthologies, including The Second Ghost Book, Barrie (London, England), 1952.
SIDELIGHTS: C. H. B. Kitchin never received popular acclaim for his detective novels or for his more literary efforts. Although he began his career writing poetry, he turned to novels in the mid-1920s with Streamers Waving and Mr. Balcony. William Reynolds, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, found that these novels "combine brilliant wit with serious underlying intentions." In Mr. Balcony, for example, Kitchin's story revolves around a man who travels to Africa on a yacht with several guests. During the voyage, he murders one of his guests, marries and impregnates another, and ends up becoming involved with natives who castrate him. Reynolds noted that the novel "conceals terror beneath a meticulously described surface."
Kitchin is best remembered for the detective novels he introduced in 1929 with his first and most famous work in this genre, Death of My Aunt. The entire story takes place over four days and focuses on a young stock broker named Malcolm Warren. Invited by his wealthy aunt, Catherine Cartwright, to her home in the English countryside for a consultation on her finances, Malcolm becomes a prime suspect when his aunt suddenly dies. Kitchin wrote three more mysteries featuring Malcolm. However, according to a contributor in the St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers, the author "mistakenly chose to stress characterization at the expense of puzzle and plot," thus limiting his audience. Nevertheless, his detective stories did have admirers, especially Death of My Aunt. As Reynolds noted, "Those who praise the novel do so because its characters are clearly drawn and believable, particularly in the way Cartwright's wealth influences her relatives' dealing with her and with one another."
Kitchin admitted that he had only a tangential interest in the detective novel, and he wrote his last such book in 1949. His other mainstream novels, such as The Sensitive One and Olive E., provide a bleak worldview. His most highly praised non-detective novels were The Auction Sale and The Book of Life, with critics differing on which book was his best work. The Auction Sale focuses on Miss Elton, who once worked as a private secretary in a wealthy country household. As the book begins in 1938, Miss Elton is attending an auction of the estate of her former employer. She tries to avoid listening to the conversations around her that mention the upcoming war; instead she focuses on her memories of her happy life living among the gentry. The novel depicts a changing society, the values of genteel life, and the gentry's traditional values as they are subsumed in a more democratic society. According to a reviewer for NewImprovedHead.com, Kitchin deftly develops this theme but has a much broader scope in mind. The reviewer commented, "Much like the magician who has a beautiful assistant do something that distracts attention from the dirty work of subterfuge being performed elsewhere on the stage, Kitchin carefully makes every detail of his novel relevant to an analysis of the value of genteel life while at the same time developing his main theme without our really noticing it." The reviewer went on to comment that "Kitchin's assessment of the value of gentility is ultimately irrelevant, since he was in fact not writing about a specific ideal, but about the effects of ideals in general." Calling the book "interesting and engaging," the reviewer also noted, "Kitchin's analysis of his theme … is intelligent and humane."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 77: British Mystery Writers, 1920–1939, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
St. James Guide to Crime & Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Books, February, 19, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas, p. 16.
Boston Transcript, January 23, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas, p. 2.
Canadian Forum, March, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas.
Chicago Daily Tribune, January 26, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas, p. 10.
New York Times, March 9, 1930, E. C. Beckwith, review of Death of My Aunt, p. 23; January 27, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas, p. 13.
New York World, February 9, 1930, review of Death of My Aunt, p. 11.
Outlook, February 12, 1930, review of Death of My Aunt.
Saturday Review, November 9, 1929, review of Death of My Aunt.
Saturday Review of Literature, March 15, 1930, review of Death of My Aunt; January 26, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas.
Springfield Republican, May 25, 1930, review of Death of My Aunt, p. 7; February 24, 1935, review of Crime at Christmas, p. 7.
Times (London, England), October 24, 1929, review of Death of My Aunt, p. 849.
Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 1934, review of Crime at Christmas, p. 712.
NewImprovedHead.com, http://www.newimprovedhead.com/ (February 1, 2005), review of The Auction Sale.