Thursday, November 15, 2012

Unveiling our new 20th century classics series

We've been very busy over the past month or so putting together an amazing collection of 20th century fiction to complement our extensive catalogue of 18th and 19th century literature.  This new series will focus on the types of books you've come to expect from Valancourt Books: Gothic & horror, gay interest, and neglected and forgotten classics.  All volumes will be newly typeset from the first editions and will feature new introductions by scholars, critics, or writers.  Although we're still in the process of negotiating with some estates (or trying to track down heirs, in some cases), we can confirm the following titles:

Heroes and Orators (1958)
by Robert Phelps
Introduction by Michael Dirda

Robert Phelps (1922-1988) is perhaps best remembered as a prolific book reviewer and as the translator and editor of Jean Cocteau and Colette and the founder of Grove Press.  In 1958, he published his only novel, Heroes and Orators, which has never been reprinted.

In his landmark book, Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), critic Leslie Fiedler called Phelps "a serious new writer" and Heroes and Orators "a complex and troubling study of homosexuality." But despite positive reviews, Phelps never published another work of fiction.

This new edition will include an introduction by Michael Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer for the Washington Post.  He has previously introduced Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps (2010), and his numerous writings include Classics for Pleasure and On Conan Doyle, which won the 2012 Edgar Award.

The Witch and the Priest (1956)
by Hilda Lewis
Introduction by Alison Weir

Hilda Lewis (1896-1974) was a prolific novelist, particularly of historical fiction, and is also remembered for her children's classic The Ship that Flew, still in print with Oxford University Press. The Witch and the Priest is a carefully researched and compellingly readable novel set in the early 17th century and based on a real witchcraft trial.  In Lewis's novel, Reverend Samuel Fleming is haunted by the memory of the part he played in the death of Joan Flower, a woman he helped condemn as a witch.  Was she really guilty?  He may find out more than he wanted to know when her spirit reappears to him, having been shut out of both Heaven and Hell, to recount to him the story of her rejection of God and her pact with the Devil.  As the publisher's blurb of the original edition said, "Here is a truly brilliant recreation of a time when 'midnight hags set the ministers of hell to work'."

Alison Weir is a best-selling English historian and historical novelist whose books have sold more than 2.3 million copies worldwide and whose historical works have met with widespread critical and popular acclaim.

Hurry on Down (1953)
by John Wain
Introduction by Nick Bentley

The back cover copy of a Penguin edition of this novel describes it as follows:

The book that was the pioneer of the new kind of English novel which appeared in the fifties, linking the names of John Wain, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch, and later John Braine.

'Hurry on Down, a young man's first novel, is a bustling kaleidoscope of a book, by an author fertile in expedient, keenly observant and occasionally probing the heart of darkiness' -- Sunday Times.

This 60th anniversary edition will include a new introduction by Nick Bentley, professor of English at Keele University and author of Contemporary British Fiction (Edinburgh UP, 2008).  Valancourt will also be publishing Wain's The Smaller Sky (1967).

The Dark Glasses (1954)
by Francis King
Introduction by Jonathan Fryer

"No one writes better prose than Francis King and few create more subtle characters. He is a grown-up writer for grown-ups." - Ruth Rendell

"He deserves the widest possible readership." - Melvyn Bragg, Punch

When Valancourt was working with Francis King (1923-2011) to bring out a new edition of his An Air that Kills (1948) in 2008, he said that this little-known novel was one of his favorites among his own works and one he'd most like to see reprinted.  The novel appeared in 1954 following King's biggest success to date, The Dividing Stream (1951), which won the Somerset Maugham Award.  

The Dark Glasses is the story of Patrick Orde and his wife Iris, who travel to Corfu to take possession of a family estate Iris has inherited.  Their marriage is comfortable but passionless. Christo, a laborer on the estate, reawakens long-dormant feelings in Iris, who had been ardently in love with him many years earlier. And meanwhile, as Patrick and Iris grow slowly more distant, Patrick finds himself attracted by Soula, a peasant girl.  But Stavro, Soula's nineteen-year-old brother watches her affair with Patrick carefully.  But is angry because Patrick is involved with his sister, or because he has feelings of his own for Patrick?  These twisted relationships lead inevitably to conflict and tragedy and ultimately a violent denouement.

This edition will include a new introduction by Jonathan Fryer, a friend of Francis King's, and an author of numerous books, including books on André Gide, Oscar Wilde, and Christopher Isherwood.

The Hand of Kornelius Voyt (1939)
by Oliver Onions
Introduction by Mark Valentine

“A disturbing study of spiritual domination .... subtle and terrifying.” Daily Telegraph.

“A striking contribution to the literature of darkness.” — Humbert Wolfe.

Best known for his ghost stories, like the famous "The Beckoning Fair One," Oliver Onions (1873-1961) was also a talented and prolific novelist, winning the James Tait Black Prize with his 1946 novel Poor Man's Tapestry.  The Hand of Kornelius Voyt, published in 1939 and never reprinted, is the story of young Peter, who after the death of his parents is sent to live at the Victorian Gothic mansion of Dr Kornelius Voyt, a reclusive and wealthy German living in England.  It turns out that Voyt can neither speak nor hear, but he has learned to compensate by apparently communicating telepathically and learning to control others with the force of his will alone.  Young Peter begins studying with his tutor, Heinrich, but it soon becomes clear that the real lessons he is intended to learn are those that will be taught by the mysterious Voyt.  What are his inscrutable and terrible ends?

This new edition includes an introduction by Mark Valentine, author, biographer, editor of the journal Wormwood, and editor of volumes for Valancourt, Tartarus, and Wordsworth.

We will have many more exciting new title announcements coming soon, so please check back!