Thursday, January 1, 2009

SF authors born 1864-73: 1873

1. J. D. Beresford
2. Ford Madox Ford
3. Alfred Jarry


J. D. Beresford (1873-1947)

John Davys Beresford was an English writer, now remembered for his early science fiction and some short stories in the horror story and ghost story genres. His father was a clergyman in Castor, now in Cambridgeshire near Peterborough. He was affected by infantile paralysis, which left him partially disabled. After training to become an architect, he became a professional writer, first as a dramatist, and journalist. He combined a prominent place in Edwardian literary London with time spent in the provinces, in particular Cornwall where D. H. Lawrence had an extended stay in his Porthcothan cottage. Elisabeth Beresford, children's writer and creator of The Wombles, is his daughter.

British author. Journalist. During World War I in difficulties for pacifist views. Also wrote a considerable amount of fantastic fiction.

* The Hampdenshire Wonder (Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1911; George H. Doran: New York, 1917, as The Wonder). It is one of the first novels to involve a wunderkind. The child in it is named Victor Stott and he is the son of a famous cricket player. This origin is perhaps a reference to H. G. Wells' father. The novel concerns his progress from infant to almost preternaturally brilliant child. The character's intelligence is vaguely more like the children in the much later Childhood's End than like traditional stories of child prodigies. Also Victor Stott is subtly deformed to allow for his powerful brain. One prominent, and unpleasant, character is the local minister. As J.D. Beresford's father was a minister, and Beresford was himself partially disabled, some see autobiographical aspects to the story. What is more concrete is that the story of Christian Friedrich Heinecken was an inspiration for the story. Whether the biography of that child prodigy was accurate or not "the Lubeck prodigy" is mentioned in the work. Also, in the original version, the ideas of Henri Bergson on evolution are also significant.

Bleiler: Irony against church, state, and humanity in general. The first important novel about a superman, and in many respects still the best. The story is told through a journalist who chances upon the phenomenon of Victor Stott, one of the most remarkable mentalities in the literature. Victor Stott is the son of Ginger Stott, a former cricketer of great prowess, whom the narrator knows. The narrator first meets Victor on a train when the child is only a year old, and even at this age it is obvious that the child, though refusing to speak, is highly intelligent. It also has the ability to disturb ordinary humans with its heavy, percing glance. The larger part of the book, however, deals with Victor Stott at about age five. Challis, the local squire, who is an anthropologist of note, befriends the Stotts and, recognizing Victor's unusual abilities, offers him the use of his library. In a matter of days the child absorbs the sum total of human knowledge and has reached integrations far beyond what ordinary men can achieve.

There are, however, great problems associated with Victor. Though unbelievably intelligent, he is inhuman and alien in emotional development, and in some respects is more helpless than an ordinary child — despite the power of his glance. As intellect, he challenges the authority of religion in the form of the local clergyman, who declares a vendetta against him. And as intellect, the child is helpless against the village idiot. Challis tries to protect Victor, though even he cannot totally accept him. As a rule Victor does not speak to humans, but on one occasion, after he first went through Challis's library, he explained the nature of the universe and existence to Challis, who has never recovered from the shock, since it destroyed his own intellectual position. Victor Stott does not live long, though. His corpse is found in a stream. While the official verdict is accidental death, it is obviously murder. Beresford does not make an accusation, but he hints that the vicious curate killed the child out of religious fanatacism. "An excellent psychological study of the impact of the utterly-beyond on normal man, with a mild semi-allegorical note."

Called one of the first novels to feature a wunderkind. Note that W.H. Rhodes' The Telescopic Eye (1876) introduced a child with telescopic vision. Later novels about non-tyhreateninf superhuman children include J.A. Mitchell's Drowsy (1917) and Wilmar H. Shiras's Children of the Atom (1953).

The child, Victor Stott, is the son of a once-famous cricket player. (Wells's father was a cricket player.)

The preternaturally brilliant child -- not a child prodigy, but like the children in Arthur Clarke's Childhood's End. He is deformed -- huge head.

More paranoid accounts of homo superior include: Georges Lebas's Jean Arog, le premier surhomme (1921); Philip Wylie's Gladiator (1930); Olaf Stapledon's Odd John (1936), A.E. van Vogt's Slan (1940).

Victor is a giant-headed genius, but physically weak and awkward Has the ability to memorize and synthesize vast amounts of knowledge and information. Once he has access to a huge ibrary, he forms theories of human progress and argues philosophical points that others can barely grasp.

* The Goslings (Heinemann: London, 1913; The Macaulay Company: New York, 1913, as A World of Women). TK

* Revolution: A Novel (W. Collins: London, 1921. Putnam: New York, 1921, as Revolution: A Story of the Near Future in England). TK

* Signs and Wonders (Golden Cockerel Press: Waltham Saint Laurence, Berks., 1921. Putnam: New York, 1921). TK


Ford Madox Ford (TK)



Alfred Jarry (1873-1907)

Alfred Jarry was a French writer born in Laval, Mayenne, France, not far from the border of Brittany; he was of Breton descent on his mother's side. Best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), which is often cited as a forerunner to the surrealist theatre of the 1920s and 1930s, Jarry also wrote plays, novels, poetry, essays and speculative journalism. His texts present some pioneering work in the field of absurdist literature.

At 17 Jarry passed his baccalauréat and moved to Paris to prepare for admission to the École Normale Supérieure. Though he was not admitted, he soon gained attention for his original poems and prose-poems. A collection of his work, Les minutes de sable mémorial, was published in 1893.

When he was drafted into the army in 1894, his gift for turning notions upside down defeated attempts to instill military discipline. The sight of the small man in a uniform much too large for his less than 5-foot frame—the army did not issue uniforms small enough—was so disruptively funny that he was excused from parades and marching drills. Eventually the army discharged him for medical reasons. His military experience eventually inspired the novel, Days and Nights.

Jarry returned to Paris and applied himself to drinking, writing, and the company of friends who appreciated his witty, sweet-tempered, and unpredictable conversation. This period is marked by his intense involvement with Remy de Gourmont in the publication of L'Ymagier, a luxuriously produced "art" magazine devoted to the symbolic analysis of medieval and popular prints. Symbolism as an art movement was in full swing at this time and L'Ymagier provided a nexus for many of its key contributors. Jarry's play Caesar Antichrist (1895) drew on this movement for material. This is a work that bridges the gap between serious symbolic meaning and the type of critical absurdity with which Jarry would soon become associated. Using the biblical Book of Revelation as a point of departure, Caesar Antichrist presents a parallel world of extreme formal symbolism in which Christ is resurrected not as an agent of spirituality but as an agent of the Roman Empire that seeks to dominate spirituality. It is a unique narrative that effectively links the domination of the soul to contemporaneous advances in the field of Egyptology such as the 1894 excavation of the Narmer Palette, an ancient artifact used for situating the rebus within hermeneutics.

The spring of 1896 saw the publication, in Paul Fort's review Le Livre d'art, of Jarry's 5-act play Ubu Roi — a rewritten and expanded version of play he'd written as a schoolboy about one of his teachers. Aurélien-Marie Lugné-Poe produced the play at his Théâtre de l'Oeuvre. On opening night (10 December 1896), with traditionalists and the avant-garde in the audience, King Ubu (played by Firmin Gémier) stepped forward and intoned the opening word, "Merdre!" A quarter of an hour of pandemonium ensued: outraged cries, booing, and whistling by the offended parties, countered by cheers and applause by the more forward-thinking contingent. Such interruptions continued through the evening. At the time, only the dress rehearsal and opening night performance were held, and the play was not revived until 1907.

The play brought fame to the 23-year-old Jarry, and he immersed himself in the fiction he had created. Gémier had modeled his portrayal of Ubu on Jarry's own staccato, nasal vocal delivery, which emphasized each syllable (even the silent ones). From then on, Jarry would always speak in this style. He adopted Ubu's ridiculous and pedantic figures of speech; for example, he referred to himself using the royal we, and called the wind "that which blows" and the bicycle he rode everywhere "that which rolls."

Jarry moved into a flat which the landlord had created through the unusual expedient of subdividing a larger flat by means of a horizontal rather than a vertical partition. The diminutive Jarry could just manage to stand up in the place, but guests had to bend or crouch. Jarry also took to carrying a loaded pistol. In response to a neighbor's complaint that his target shooting endangered her children, he replied, "If that should ever happen, ma-da-me, we should ourselves be happy to get new ones with you" (though he was not at all inclined to engage with females in the manner implied).

Living in worsening poverty, neglecting his health, and drinking excessively, Jarry went on to write what is often cited as the first cyborg sex novel, Le Surmâle (1902, The Supermale), which is partly a satire on the Symbolist ideal of self-transcendence.

Unpublished until after his death, his fiction Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, pataphysician (Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien) describes the exploits and teachings of a sort of antiphilosopher who, born at age 63, travels through a hallucinatory Paris in a sieve and subscribes to the tenets of 'pataphysics. 'Pataphysics deals with "the laws which govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one". In 'pataphysics, every event in the universe is accepted as an extraordinary event.

Jarry once wrote, expressing some of the bizarre logic of 'pataphysics, "If you let a coin fall and it falls, the next time it is just by an infinite coincidence that it will fall again the same way; hundreds of other coins on other hands will follow this pattern in an infinitely unimaginable fashion".

In his final years, he was a legendary and heroic figure to some of the young writers and artists in Paris. Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, and Max Jacob sought him out in his truncated apartment. After his death, Pablo Picasso, fascinated with Jarry, acquired his pistol and wore it on his nocturnal expeditions in Paris, and later bought many of his manuscripts as well as executing a fine drawing of him.

Jarry lived in his 'pataphysical world until his death in Paris on 1 November 1907 of tuberculosis, aggravated by drug and alcohol use. It is recorded that his last request was for a toothpick. He was interred in the Cimetière de Bagneux, near Paris.

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