Friday, September 8, 2017

Stories by English Authors

A series overview
Having previously read and reviewed the Stories by American Authors series and the Stories by Foreign Authors series, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1884 and 1898, respectively, I decided to tackle their 1896 series Stories by English Authors. Once again, Scribner's offers a ten-volume set, each volume of which contains five to seven short stories or novellas. Contrary to the series title, not all the authors are English—some hail from Scotland, Ireland, or Wales. A proper name would have been Stories by British Authors. The ten volumes contain a total of 60 stories by 54 authors (several are listed as Anonymous). As far as I can tell from the free ebook versions, the volumes are not numbered. Each book is subtitled according to the country or region where its stories are set. I have previously reviewed all ten volumes individually here at Old Books by Dead Guys, in the following order. Click on the links below to read the complete reviews.

Stories by English Authors: England
Stories by English Authors: London
Stories by English Authors: Ireland
Stories by English Authors: Scotland
Stories by English Authors: Germany, and Northern Europe
Stories by English Authors: The Sea
Stories by English Authors: Africa
Stories by English Authors: France
Stories by English Authors: Italy
Stories by English Authors: The Orient

In many cases, the stories feature English protagonists in the various locales, though sometimes the authors write stories with “native" characters, in an attempt to illustrate the local customs and character of the setting in question. Sometimes the stories in this latter category take the form of harmless folktales, but often they can come across as condescending or racist towards the cultures they’re depicting. The worst volume in the series is The Orient, which manages to offend half the peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere. The Ireland volume, though written entirely by Irish writers, paints a dismal picture of the Emerald Isle as a land of drinking, fighting rednecks. Surprisingly, the Africa volume is one of the better books in the series, because it mostly ignores Africans altogether and focuses more on English adventurers launching expeditions into the Dark Continent. The best volume of the ten is the one on Germany, and Northern Europe, largely due to superb entries by Robert Louis Stevenson and Ouida.

These books are in the public domain and can be read online and downloaded for free at various sources, including Amazon and Project Gutenberg. I read the Stories by Foreign Authors series first and was very impressed by it. It contains a lot of great stories by some of the most renowned writers in 19th-century European fiction, as well as other lesser-known authors that prove to be pleasant surprises. Following that with the Stories by American Authors series was a big disappointment. Most of the authors included there have since rightfully faded into obscurity, and their offerings are mostly mediocre. Overall, the Stories by English Authors series proved to be even slightly worse than the American series, and nowhere near the quality of the Foreign series. Like its American counterpart, the English series is also heavy on the obscure and the mediocre, though it is occasionally redeemed by the presence of a heavy hitter like Stevenson, Ouida, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or H. Rider Haggard. As often as not, however, the big name authors deliver lackluster selections, as is the case with Anthony Trollope, Rudyard Kipling, Wilkie Collins, and others.

I highlight the best stories in the series below, as I have done with the American and Foreign series. I tried for a top ten list, but could only come up with nine, and that was being charitable. I have rated each of these stories from five to four stars, and they are listed in descending order of merit.

“Markheim” by Robert Louis Stevenson
from Stories by English Authors: Germany, and Northern Europe
On Christmas night, a lone customer enters an antique dealer’s shop with robbery and murder on his mind. Reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe, Stevens focuses on the psychological state of the killer. The story takes a very unexpected turn and becomes a riveting philosophical thriller.

“A Dog of Flanders” by Ouida
from Stories by English Authors: Germany, and Northern Europe
A boy and his grandfather, poor as beggars but happy, live in a village outside Antwerp. One day they find an injured dog who becomes the boy’s inseparable friend. A great story, though melodramatic at times. Longer than it needs to be, but the ending is worth it.

“A Leaf in the Storm” by Ouida
from Stories by English Authors: France
In a picturesque village on the banks of the Seine, a 92-year-old woman lives a peaceful life with her grandson. Life is good until the reality of the Franco-Prussian War descends upon their sleepy hamlet. Depressing, but reminiscent of Emile Zola with its brutal realism.

“The Four-Fifteen Express” by Amelia B. Edwards
from Stories by English Authors: England
On a train ride to his friend’s country estate, a man meets a mutual acquaintance of his host. When discussing the encounter with his friend, however, he discovers that the mysterious passenger has been on the lam for embezzlement. The two friends investigate, and a good mystery story ensues.

“Long Odds” by H. Rider Haggard
from Stories by English Authors: Africa
Aging adventurer Allan Quartermain tells the story of how a family of lions killed his oxen, and how he hunted them down for retribution. A fun and exciting hunting story with good descriptive passages and just enough local color.

“An Idyl of London” by Beatrice Harraden
from Stories by English Authors: London
Two art students, an old man and a young woman, form an unlikely friendship while copying paintings at the National Gallery of Art. The ending is handled somewhat clumsily, but overall the story is quite touching.

“Ghamba” by William Charles Scully
from Stories by English Authors: Africa
A young white man in South Africa strikes up a friendship with a rather creepy old native named Ghamba, who tells his new friend about a criminal hiding out in a cave in the mountains. Turns into a pretty good and violently fun pulp fiction tale.

“Quarantine Island” by Sir Walter Besant
from Stories by English Authors: The Sea
Spurned by his beloved, a young doctor volunteers to serve on an isolated island where ship passengers are quarantined before being allowed on the mainland. It follows a familiar formula, but the details are well written.

“King Bemba’s Point” by J. Landers
from Stories by English Authors: Africa
A young Englishman goes to work as assistant to the factor at a southeast African trading post. When a visitor arrives from England the assistant suspects that he and the boss share a mysterious prior history. Predictable, but otherwise well executed.

That’s it for Scribner’s short story series. Next, I am moving on to the three-volume set International Short Stories, published by P. F. Collier & Son in 1910. Its three books focus on American, English, and French fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment