Wright, S(ydney) Fowler 1874-1965

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WRIGHT, S(ydney) Fowler 1874-1965

(Sydney Fowler; Alan Seymour; Anthony Wingrave)

PERSONAL: Born January 6, 1874, in Birmingham, England; died February 25, 1965; married Nellie Ashbarry, 1895 (died, 1918); married Truda Hancock, 1920; children: (first marriage) three sons, three daughters; (second marriage) one son, three daughters. Education: King Edward's School, Birmingham, England.

CAREER: Writer and translator. Accountant in Birmingham, England, 1895-1933; Fowler Wright Books Ltd., founder. Empire Poetry League, Birmingham, founder, 1917; Poetry (later Poetry and the Play; journal of Empire Poetry League), editor, 1920-32; editor for Merton Press (organ of Empire Poetry League).

WRITINGS:

NOVELS

The Amphibians: A Romance of 500,000 Years Hence, Merton Press (London, England), 1925, World (New York, NY), 1949.

Deluge (also see below), Fowler Wright (London, England), 1927, Cosmopolitan (New York, NY), 1928.

The Island of Captain Sparrow, Cosmopolitan (New York, NY), 1928.

The World Below (includes The Amphibians), Collins (London, England), 1929, Longman (New York, NY), 1930, published as The Dwellers, Panther (London, England), 1954.

Dawn (also see below), Cosmopolitan (New York, NY), 1929.

Elfwin, Longman (New York, NY), 1930.

Dream; or, The Simian Maid, Harrap (London, England), 1931, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1985.

Seven Thousand in Israel, Jarrolds (London, England), 1931.

(With J. M. Denwood) Red Ike, Hutchinson (London, England), 1931, published as Under the Brutchstone, Coward McCann (New York, NY), 1931.

Beyond the Rim, Jarrolds (London, England), 1932.

Lord's Right in Languedoc, Jarrolds (London, England), 1933.

Power, Jarrolds (London, England), 1933.

David, Butterworth (London, England), 1934.

Prelude in Prague: A Story of the War of 1938, Newnes (London, England), 1935, published as The War of 1938, Putnam (New York, NY), 1936.

Four Days War, Hale (London, England), 1936.

Megiddo's Ridge, Hale (London, England), 1937.

The Hidden Tribe, Hale (London, England), 1938.

The Adventure of Wyndham Smith, Jenkins (London, England), 1938.

The Screaming Lake, Hale (London, England), 1939.

Ordeal of Barata, Jenkins (London, England), 1939.

The Siege of Malta: Founded on an Unfinished Romance by Sir Walter Scott, Muller (London, England), 1942.

Spider's War, Abelard Press (New York, NY), 1954.

Deluge: A Romance; and Dawn, Arno (New York, NY), 1975.

Inquisitive Angel, FWB (Ludlow, England), 1996.

Cortéz: For God and Spain, FWB (Ludlow, England), 1996.

Song of Arthur, FWB (Ludlow, England), 1996.

NOVELS; AS SYDNEY FOWLER, UNLESS OTHERWISE INDICATED

The King against Anne Bickerton, Harrap (London, England), 1930, published as The Case of Anne Bickerton, Boni (New York, NY), 1930, published as Rex v. Anne Bickerton, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1947.

The Bell Street Murders, Macaulay (New York, NY), 1931.

By Saturday, Lane (London, England), 1931.

The Hanging of Constance Hiller, Jarrolds (London, England), 1931, Macaulay (New York, NY), 1932.

Crime & Co., Macaulay (New York, NY), 1931, published as The Hand-Print Mystery, Jarrolds (London, England), 1932.

Arresting Delia, Macaulay (New York, NY), 1932.

The Secret of the Screen, Jarrolds (London, England), 1933.

Who Else But She?, Jarrolds (London, England), 1934.

(As Anthony Wingrave) The Vengeance of Gwa, Butterworth (London, England), 1935.

Three Witnesses, Butterworth (London, England), 1935.

The Attic Murder, Butterworth (London, England), 1936.

Was Murder Done?, Butterworth (London, England), 1936.

Post-Mortem Evidence, Butterworth (London, England), 1936.

Four Callers in Razor Street, Jenkins (London, England), 1937.

The Jordans Murder, Jenkins (London, England), 1938, Curl (New York, NY), 1939.

The Murder in Bethnal Square, Jenkins (London, England), 1938.

The Wills of Jane Kanwhistle, Jenkins (London, England), 1939.

The Rissole Mystery, Rich & Cowan (London, England), 1941.

A Bout with the Mildew Gang, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1941.

Second Bout with the Mildew Gang, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1942.

Dinner in New York, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1943.

The End of the Mildew Gang, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1944.

Too Much for Mr. Jellipot, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1945.

Who Murdered Reynard?, Rich & Cowan (London, England), 1947.

With Cause Enough?, Harvill Press (London, England), 1954.

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

(As Sydney Fowler) The New Gods Lead, Jarrolds (London, England), 1932.

The Witchfinder, Books of Today (London, England), 1945.

Justice, and The Rat (Two Famous Stories), Books of Today (London, England), 1945.

The Throne of Saturn, Arkham House (Sauk City, WI), 1949.

S. Fowler Wright's Short Stories, FWB (Ludlow, England), 1996.

POETRY

(As Alan Seymour) Scenes from the Morte d'Arthur, Erskine MacDonald (London, England), 1919.

Some Songs of Bilitis, Poetry (Birmingham, England), 1921.

The Song of Songs and Other Poems, Merton Press (London, England), 1925, Cosmopolitan (New York, NY), 1929.

The Ballad of Elaine, Merton Press (London, England), 1926.

The Riding of Lancelot: A Narrative Poem, Fowler Wright Books (London, England), 1929.

NONFICTION

Police and the Public: A Political Pamphlet, Fowler Wright Books (London, England), 1929.

The Life of Sir Walter Scott: A Biography, Poetry League (London, England), 1932, Haskell House (New York), 1971.

Should We Surrender Colonies?, Readers' Library (London, England), 1939.

EDITOR

Voices on the Wind: An Anthology of Contemporary Verse, three volumes, Merton Press (London, England), 1922-24.

Poets of Merseyside: An Anthology of Present-Day Liverpool Poetry, Merton Press (London, England), 1923.

(With R. Crompton Rhodes) Poems: Chosen by Boys and Girls, four volumes, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1923-24.

Birmingham Poetry 1923-24, Merton Press (London, England), 1924.

From Overseas: An Anthology of Contemporary Dominion and Colonial Verse, Merton Press (London, England), 1924.

Some Yorkshire Poets, Merton Press (London, England), 1924.

A Somerset Anthology of Modern Verse 1924, Merton Press (London, England), 1924.

The County Series of Contemporary Poetry (verse anthologies), thirteen volumes, Merton Press (London, England), 1927-30.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Last Days of Pompeii: A Redaction, Vision Press (London, England), 1948.

TRANSLATOR

Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, Fowler Wright Books (London, England), 1928.

Alexandre Dumas, Marguerite de Valois, Temple (London, England), 1947.

Dante Alighieri, The Purgatorio, Oliver & Boyd (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1954.

Dante Alighieri, The Paradisio, FWB (Ludlow, England), 1996.

Contributor to anthologies, including Beyond the End of Time, edited by Frederik Pohl, Permabooks (Garden City, NY), 1952; Science-Fiction Adventures in Mutation, edited by Groff Conklin, Vanguard (New York, NY), 1955.

ADAPTATIONS: Deluge was adapted as a motion picture released by RKO in 1933, starring Sidney Blackmer.

SIDELIGHTS: During a lifetime that spanned over ninety years, S. Fowler Wright worked dutifully as an accountant, married, was widowed, remarried, and fathered and supported ten children. He began writing fantasy novels and stories during middle age and enjoyed subsequent fame and success as a writer of futuristic tales. Like many other science fiction and fantasy writers, Wright sought to convey his ideas on the direction of society through the medium of fiction—and he entertained grave anxieties about the "progress" of science and technology. As Darren Harris-Fain put it in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Wright's voice "was one of caution, if not alarm, about what human beings would do with technological changes and better-organized social structures. . . . Wright was distrustful, if not disdainful, of many modern social and technological developments. The scientific worldview so central to modern science fiction comes under attack in much of Wright's fiction." His pessimistic view notwithstanding, Wright enjoyed success in England and America for his fantasy works and was highly regarded in England as well for his detective and historical novels.

Born and reared in Birmingham, England, Wright spent his early literary career as a poet, a translator of poetry, and an editor of poetry magazines and anthologies. His accomplishments in these fields were particularly noteworthy in light of the fact that he also worked full time as an accountant and cared for ten children during the early decades of the twentieth century. Wright turned to fantasy fiction in the 1920s. Deluge, perhaps his greatest popular success, was published in 1927. It was 1924, however, when Wright's own publishing house, Merton Press, issued his first novel, The Amphibians: A Romance of 500,000 Years Hence. This novel's structure "recapitulates Homer's Odyssey," according to a writer in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

The genesis of The Amphibians and its 1929 sequel, The World Below—they were originally planned as part of a trilogy—was also influenced by Wright's work on a translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. These novels describe a far-future Earth on which three new intelligent species struggle to take the place of extinct humanity. Amphibians are willowy and intellectual, Dwellers are giant-sized scientists, and Killers are reptilian hunters. The novels contain a good deal of social commentary aimed at Wright's own species and epoch. Harris-Fain observed: "Wright was clearly operating within the conventions of [the fantasy] mode in The Amphibians, writing about an Earth 500,000 years in the future contested by three intelligent species, none of them human. . . . Wright extrapolates about the far future from an evolutionary viewpoint; he speculates about the possibility of human extinction and the idea of more than one powerful species in conflict; and he does so for more than mere entertainment."

With his 1927 publication of Deluge, Wright achieved critical and commercial success for the first time. The book, which echoes the biblical story of Noah, is a disaster novel in which much of England is overwhelmed by waters. A man and two women are among the survivors, and the three of them establish a new society together. Calling Deluge "engrossing," Mary S. Weinkauf in Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers expressed admiration for Wright's handling of the survivors' emotions: some criminals become more humane, while some formerly ordinary citizens become sociopathic. Criticism at the time of publication was also quite favorable. William Rose Benet summed up the press reaction in the Saturday Review of Literature: "A London reviewer . . . after quite inevitably referring to the earlier H. G. Wells in this connection, added these remarks: 'Others have written fantasies of unknown worlds. Mr. Fowler Wright creates one.' The latter sentence is no less than the truth. Deluge lives and breathes with actuality in its every detail. It is energized by a profound scorn for the artificial environment our modern industrialism has made for us."

The Times Literary Supplement contributor who reviewed Deluge differentiated Wright from H. G. Wells, and from Jules Verne, on the grounds that the latter two might have treated the material more sociologically or politically. Wright, creating "an exceedingly good story," concentrated on "the adventures and loves of individual men and women." A critic in the New York Times recommended the book as "vastly amusing." Some reviewers, such as those for Bookman and Outlook, found the author's moralizing on social issues distracting, but even they were enthusiastic about its entertainment qualities. The novel was made into a motion picture in 1933, and Wright retired from accountancy.

In 1928, Wright released The Island of Captain Sparrow, whose evident affinities are to Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau. The novel presents a ship's captain who lands on an uncharted island where the blood-thirsty inhabitants are half-human, half-satyr, and where ten-foot-tall birds do the gardening. The captain saves a French-English girl who has successfully hidden on the island for two years, and together they find happiness. Again, reviewers generally concurred in characterizing the novel as well-written; while some found its fantasy element uncongenial, a Bookman reviewer termed it "a swift, exciting yarn, with a touch of improbable fantasy which gives it spice." A Nation and Athenaeum reviewer called it "a brilliant book," asserting that the author "keeps his imagination in control and writes in a good matter-of-fact way about these creatures of fancy." A contributor to the New York Herald Tribune Books recommended it to "all those who like a roaring adventure tale—and who are willing to be kept up at night until the tale is done."

Wright returned to his drowned England of the future with Dawn, the 1929 sequel to Deluge. Harris-Fain characterized the work as "less a sequel than a companion, as much of the action parallels the story in Deluge." The essayist noted that the novel "was less critically successful than its predecessor, in large part because there is less action and more philosophical discussion on the part of the characters." A reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune Books, for instance, asserted that Dawn was weighed down by philosophizing on the part of figurehead characters. However, in a review for the Boston Transcript, a critic declared that the author "has a truth to impart, and surely there could be no more subtle or dramatic way in which his object could be accomplished." Similarly, the New York Times reviewer claimed that Wright had found "a theme of unbounded potentialities, one to intrigue the imagination and to compel a rapt attention."

Although continuing to write fantasy novels, Wright turned to the mystery genre for the first time with The Case of Anne Bickerton, which was eventually published in England under two other titles at two different times. A Saturday Review of Literature commentator assessed the book's ending as too predictable to make a successful mystery, but the Bookman reviewer praised the "brilliant characterizations." The year 1930 also saw the publication of Wright's historical novel Elfwin, a tale of the daughter and granddaughter of Alfred the Great and their political and social relations with Danish invaders. Some reviewers found the novel's style to be an unfortunate attempt at Anglo-Saxon simplicity—but Donald Douglas, in Books, raved: "Not even the Scandinavian authors have done those early years with such somber richness and poetry drawn from the very blood of life." A Saturday Review of Literature piece called Elfwin "a historical novel very much above the average, full of meat and shrewdness."

In 1931, Wright published the first volume of a projected trilogy, Dream; or, The Simian Maid, which dealt with the adventures of Margaret Cranleigh, who, with the aid of a psychologist-magician, travels into prehistory where ape-humans battle monstrous rats for dominance. A second volume in the trilogy, The Vengeance of Gwa, was published in 1935 under the name Anthony Wingrave, and the third volume, Spiders' War, which deals with a conflict between future humans and giant spiders, was not published until 1954. It was in 1935 that Wright issued the first volume of a different kind of fantasy, a rather prophetic vision of a near-future world war begun by an authoritarian Germany. Wright had visited Nazi Germany in 1934 with the task of writing newspaper articles, and the additional result was the novels Prelude in Prague: A Story of the War of 1938, published in 1935, Four Days War, published in 1936, and Megiddo's Ridge, published in 1937. Some reviewers of Prelude in Prague responded negatively, assessing it as unpersuasive. The critic for the Saturday Review of Literature remarked: "As prophecy it does not altogether impress. As a good 'yarn' it frequently holds one's close attention." In contrast, New York Times correspondent E. C. Beckwith wrote that Prelude in Prague "deals in a most compelling fashion with uncertain world realities, which may be now just over the way, presenting them without exaggerating the likelihood that they must plunge this afflicted earth again into the horrors of Armageddon."

When World War II did arrive, it found Wright turning out mystery novels at a steady rate, an activity that, in England, supported the war effort by furnishing reading matter to soldiers and sailors. Although in the view of the writer in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Wright's abilities as an author were diminishing during this period, he published a well-received collection of science fiction stories, The Throne of Saturn, in 1949. Two eminent science fiction writers offered praise for the collection: Anthony Boucher, in the Chicago Sun, welcomed it as a "deft and delightful assortment of previews, often chilling in their implications, of the aseptic and rational world of tomorrow," and Fritz Leiber, assessing the book for the Chicago Sunday Tribune, wrote, "Here is a collection of science-fiction stories characterized by dramatic power, horror and shocking social predictions. . . . The narratives grip the reader's mind with a peculiar fascination."

According to Weinkauf, Wright's best short stories include "Justice," which was published in book form in 1945, and "Original Sin," which was the source for Wright's 1938 novel The Adventure of Wyndham Smith. Curiously, it is Wright's short stories that have received greater attention since his death, with collections published in America and abroad as recently as 1996.

Appraising Wright's career as a whole, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction writer rated Wright below Wells as a social commentator, but called him "a strikingly original writer and one of the key figures in the tradition of UK scientific romance." Harris-Fain concluded: "Although Wright's literary career did not really begin until his forties and he did not begin publishing fiction until his fifties, he produced dozens of noteworthy stories and novels in the half of his life remaining." Wright died in 1965, leaving several unpublished manuscripts that have since found their way into print.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 255: British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002, pp. 289-296.

Moskowitz, Sam, Strange Horizons: The Spectrum of Science Fiction, Scribner (New York, NY), 1976, pp. 92-106.

Nicholls, Peter, editor, Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: An Illustrated A to Z, Granada Publishing (London, England), 1979, pp. 1350-1351.

Stableford, Brian, Scientific Romance in Britain, 1890-1950, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, 3rd edition, edited by Noelle Watson and Paul E. Schellinger, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991, pp. 889-890.

Weinkauf, Mary S., Sermons in Science Fiction: The Novels of S. Fowler Wright, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1994.

PERIODICALS

Bookman, May, 1928; September, 1928; September, 1930.

Books, September 28, 1930, p. 35.

Boston Transcript, November 23, 1929, p. 10.

Chicago Sun, February 3, 1950, p. S6.

Chicago Sunday Tribune, January 22, 1950, p. 6.

Foundation, November, 1983, pp. 10-52.

Nation and Athenaeum, June 23, 1928.

New York Herald Tribune Books, July 22, 1928, p. 3; December 15, 1929, p. 10.

New York Times, March 4, 1928, p. 5; November 17, 1929, p. 10; March 1, 1936, p. 23.

Outlook, March 28, 1928; November 6, 1929.

Saturday Review of Literature, March 3, 1928; September 29, 1930; September 13, 1930, March 28, 1936.

Times Literary Supplement, December 15, 1927, p. 963.

ONLINE

Works of Sydney Fowler Wright,http://www.sfw.org.uk/ (December 31, 2002), bibliography of author's works.*

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Wright, S(ydney) Fowler 1874-1965

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