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The Green Book 21

“Editor’s Note”

Let us begin this issue with B. M. Croker (1849-1920), whose writings our readers might already be familiar with from the Swan River Press edition of “Number Ninety” and Other Ghost Stories (2019; Sarob, 2000), edited by Richard Dalby. Although born in Co. Roscommon, Croker accompanied her husband, John Stokes Croker, an officer in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, to India in 1870. Many of Croker’s novels, and the ghost stories collected in the aforementioned volume, feature colonial India as their backdrop. Likewise, colonial India also serves as the setting for the story we’ve included in this issue, “The Little Brass God”—although once you read it, you might wonder, as I have, why it wasn’t instead titled “The Little Brass Goddess”. The supernaturalism in this story is only implied, a whisper of uncanny influence; perhaps this is the reason Dalby chose not to include it in his selection for “Number Ninety”, in which the stories are more overtly ghostly? Whatever the case, it’s a good read, and I’m happy to include it here.

Courtesy of the National
Library of Ireland

The centrepiece of this issue is undoubtedly Althea Gyles’s “A Woman Without a Soul”, which, to my knowledge, has never before seen print. This story is mentioned often in the scant scholarship on Althea Gyles (1867-1949) that exists, with most critics curiously referring to the piece as an unpublished “novel” or sometimes “novella”. At just over seven thousand words, it is assuredly a short story—and an intriguing one at that. In his critical profile of Gyles in The Green Book 20, Simon Cooke calls the story a Faustian tale of necromancy and obsession; other scholars have likened “A Woman Without a Soul” to The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, whom Gyles befriended in Paris after an introduction from publisher Leonard Smithers. Kristin Mahoney, in her excellent Literature and the Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence, goes so far as to write that the story “reads much like a revision of The Picture of Dorian Gray, a feminized retelling of one of Wilde’s most significant works”. Suffice to say, I’m pleased to be able to present this hitherto unpublished story—after patient and careful transcription by Jim Rockhill—to The Green Book’s readership.

For those who are curious about the details, the manuscript for “A Woman Without a Soul” is housed at the National Library of Ireland: it is comprised of two 24-page school exercise books, written in erratic longhand with small edits throughout—including changing the title from “The Woman Without a Soul” to “A Woman Without a Soul”. The final page is signed “A. Gyles / 53 Mount Pleasant Square”, where Gyles lodged in Ranelagh shortly before moving to London in late 1891 or 1892. Coincidentally, Gyles’s former address is a five-minute walk from our old Swan River offices in south Dublin.

As a companion to “A Woman Without a Soul”, we also present a selection of poetry by Gyles, possibly the first such assembly of poems by “the girl with very bright red hair and an eager face”, as Ella Young once called her. According to Arthur Symons, in a letter to Thomas B. Mosher (5 July 1904), Gyles did once assemble a collection a poetry, which she had submitted to a willing publisher. However, the collection never appeared due to the publisher’s objection to her dedication: “to the beautiful memory of Oscar Wilde”. Even if the publisher could overcome the then “tarnished” reputation of Wilde, who died in November 1900, he nevertheless insisted that the word “beautiful” still be removed. Gyles, who harboured a profound adoration for Wilde her entire life, withdrew the collection. For the most part, her poems languished in newspapers and magazines, uncollected, many never even reprinted, until now. With the assistance of Simon Cooke and Ana Portillo, we’ve assembled the largest selection of Gyles’s poetry hitherto published. We feel it only appropriate, for this presentation, to reinstate Althea’s original dedication to Oscar.

If you’d like to learn more about Gyles, be sure to check out The Green Book 17, which reprints Gyles’s marvellously weird illustrations to Wilde’s “The Harlot’s House”; Issue 19, our Irish Theosophy issue, haunted by Gyles on almost every page; and Issue 20, wherein you’ll find Cooke’s profile of this extraordinarily gifted and often overshadowed poet-artist.

Finally, we’d like to introduce you to the equally enigmatic Mary Frances McHugh (1899-1955), whose work, according to Jim Rockhill’s assessment, has fallen into oblivion. In the mid-1930s, McHugh contributed a trio of macabre, dream-like vignettes to a pair of anthologies edited by John Gawsworth. Her stories sit beside those by M. R. James, Arthur Machen, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie—however, unlike these writers, McHugh is now all but forgotten. Near as I can tell, these are her only stories written in the genre. Has anyone else found any further tales or learned more details about this elusive writer?

The cover illustration for this issue is by Norman Keene, and appeared alongside McHugh’s story “Encounter at Night” in Thrills, Crimes and Mysteries (1935). The background—the rather worn-looking bricks—is a photograph showing the front wall of our new headquarters, in a secluded and less-frequented neighbourhood of central Dublin, recently shorn of its mid-century pebbledash, in hopes of restoring some semblance of its turn-of-the-century glory. And this is the first Green Book to issue from our new home . . .

Buy The Green Book 21

Brian J. Showers
Æon House, Dublin
15 March 2023