(1864-1928) UK writer whose happiest creative period was the 1890s, though he remained active until the end of his life. His Supernatural Fiction – most famously the stories assembled in Stories in the Dark (coll 1901) and Stories in Grey (coll 1911) – is more assured than his fantasy proper; but the benefits of his sharp, bluff, edgy mind can be found throughout, although his humorous work – for which he was best-known during his lifetime – now grates. His first professional work, containing some pieces done at the end of the 1880s for Granta, was assembled in In a Canadian Canoe (coll 1891), which contains "The Celestial Grocery", whose narrator is taken to Heaven where the eponymous magic Shop will sell him Love, fame and other things, including death. The most memorable tale in Stories and Interludes (coll 1891), "The Glass of Supreme Moments", again deals with death, this time in corporeal form (> Death) – for it is She who opens for the protagonist a Portal that leads to a tower where the eponymous Mirror opens his eyes to the future, which includes Her. Tales of this sort, in which the real world and the supernatural meet uneasily, appeared throughout BP's career. Sometimes highly effective, they too often withdraw the sanction of belief at their moments of highest intensity.
Most of BP's work is Horror, with the supernatural seen as violating the natural world, but some stories are of more general interest. In "The Moon-Slave" (from Stories in the Dark) the female protagonist's love of dancing opens her to the deadly influences of Eros (always threatening in BP's work); after her betrothal banquet, she slips away into the wild and penetrates (> Recognition) an abandoned maze (> Labyrinth) where the Moon promises her Music, though she must pay the price of becoming its slave. She returns monthly and dances there alone; but on the night before her wedding she finds herself "no longer dancing alone". It is to be presumed that this ending titillated and horrified the readers of 1901, who tended to derive guilty arousal from any evocation of Pan. "Rose Rose" (in Stories in Grey) is an effective painter-and-model tale; significantly, however, the model turns into a Ghost and causes a suicide. Self-expression and punishment, in BP's only superficially jolly world, are usually married – inevitably so if a woman is involved.
Of lighter import are novels like: The One Before (1902), in which a mysterious jewel causes mild Identity-Exchange problems for a suburban cast; Robinson Crusoe's Return (1906; rev vt The Return and Supperizing Reception of Robinson Crusoe of York, Parrot-Tamer 1921 chap), whose protagonist has become immortal and finds the England of 1906 intolerably noisy; The Shadow of the Unseen (1907) with James Blyth, which dooms a young woman to death for consorting with the ghost of an ancestor Witch; An Exchange of Souls (1911), which fluctuates between sf and horror in its attempts to get a fix on metempsychosis, as a dead scientist's Soul gradually alters for the worse within the body of his fiancée. But Going Home: Being the Fantastical Romance of the Girl with Angel Eyes and the Man who had Wings (1921) is of greater interest. The eponymous duo, both afflicted by Et in Arcadia Ego "desiderium", meet and fall in love; in their mating they seem to acquire full Angel status, and they disappear into the sky on transcendental Wings.
Unlocked from his era and his need to do commercial work to survive, BP could have been a writer of the first order. [JC]
other works: Three Fantasies (coll 1904); The Diary of a Baby: Being a Free Record of the Unconscious Thought of Rosalys Ysolde Smith Aged One Year (1907); Stories Without Tears (coll 1912); The New Gulliver and Other Stories (coll 1913), the title novella being sf; One Kind and Another (coll 1914); Collected Tales, Volume One (coll 1916), all previously published; Short Stories of To-Day and Yesterday (coll 1928); More Stories (omni 1930), volumes of interest here included being In a Canadian Canoe and An Exchange of Souls.
Barry Eric Odell Pain