James Machin gives an introduction to Welsh writer Arthur Machen, ‘The Flower-Tunicked Priest of Nightmare’
Arthur Machen (1863–1947) was an author, journalist, occultist, and thespian. He grew up among the ancient woods and ‘wild-domed hills’ of south Wales before moving to London to establish himself in literature.
After initial literary success – in particular with the long short story ‘The Great God Pan’ (1894) – Machen fell out of favour along with other ‘decadents’ in the wake of the Oscar Wilde trial. After a spell as a strolling player in the Benson Shakespeare company, he settled begrudgingly into a decades-long career on Fleet Street. Machen’s re-emergence into the popular consciousness came towards the end of 1914, with his story ‘The Bowmen’ becoming his own piece of unintentional Great War myth-making.
Despite being considered as an obscure and peripheral figure, Machen’s work has enjoyed consistent attention, and his influence on H. P. Lovecraft in particular has led to him being regarded as a major figure in horror. Machen’s reputation is built on such contradictions: he was the quintessential starving artist of the fin de siècle, shivering in a New Grub Street garret, who also imported wine from his own vineyard in the Touraine. He is a ‘lost’ writer whose work is perhaps more widely available than ever, under respectable Penguin Classics and Oxford World Classics imprints. He is the Golden Dawn member and formative influence on countercultural psychogeography who was also a sceptic and a High Tory. In this talk, James will explore these and other puzzles about Machen’s life, writing, and times.
James Machin is co-editor of Faunus, the journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen. His book Weird Fiction in Britain: 1880–1939 was published by Palgrave in 2018. Other recent publications include Of Mud and Flame: A Penda’s Fen Sourcebook (Strange Attractor, 2019) and British Weird: Selected Short Fiction, 1893-1937 (Handheld Press, 2020). He teaches at the Royal College of Art and the University of Bedfordshire, and is Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London.
Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see: https://edwardparnell.com