Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Further Uncollected Stories of E. Phillips Oppenheim Stark HouseT

Ghosts & Gamblers

Here’s a rundown on what’s inside Ghosts & Gamblers: The Further Uncollected Stories of E. Phillips Oppenheim, edited and introduced here by Daniel Paul Morrison. . .
The Modern Prometheus.  This volume opens with the hard-to-find novella by Oppenheim, The Modern Prometheus.  It’s a rare book – second only to Amazing Judgment.
While this novella strikes many familiar Oppenheim themes—mistaken identity, romance, overcoming dismal poverty to win great wealth—what surprises me about this book is that it’s really about sex.
Oppenheim loved to write about romance.  Even his detective novels have plenty of romance.  But he was always rather bashful in writing about sex.  The hanky-panky happens off scene and nothing illicit is ever condoned.
But The Modern Prometheus is different.  In this book, the key to the drama – in addition to the struggle for wealth and power – is a single act of illicit sex.  And I’m not talking about a fleeting kiss on a balcony.  I’m talking about a brazen rendezvous at a posh hotel.  The main characters of this novella just rent a room and “do it,” as we say.  That seems tame to us these days.  But in 1898, when this work was published, such shenanigans would land you in jail.
In addition to the illicit sex, this work has a harder edge and a more cynical attitude than most of Oppenheim’s later novels.  Oppenheim was a wildly successful writer, in part, because he learned to give his readers what they wanted—diverting thrills nicely resolved in a happy ending.
But in The Modern Prometheus, we see Oppenheim in an earlier, rawer incarnation.  In this story, the characters get what they are looking for, but when they get it, it doesn’t look so pretty.  Published when he was 30 years old, The Modern Prometheus reveals a young novelist in search of his mature voice.
The Reluctant Gambler.  Andrew Tresholm is the protagonist in six terrific stories that seem like one-half of a would-be Oppenheim bestseller.  Rakish, wealthy, brave and incongruously moral, Tresholm amuses himself by getting mixed up in other people’s problems and doing them a good turn.
The Reluctant Gambler—the title’s ours, not Oppenheim’s—is an appealing collection of stories, not unlike Oppenheim’s Mr. Laxworthy’s Adventures or The Amazing Partnership.  Oppenheim published 37 short story collections, most center or a single character or group of characters.  Typically, these volumes had 10 or 12 stories and it seems like these stories about Andrew Tresholm were on their way to becoming another hardcover collection.
What prevented Oppenheim from finishing another six Tresholm stories I’ve never been able to find out.  Whatever the case, these stories are among my favorites.
An Oppenheim Sampler Dozen.  In the twenty-year between 1896 and 1916, Oppenheim was busy establishing his reputation as a writer.  Espionage, detection, adventure, mystery, romance, supernatural – Oppenheim wrote it all.
And here you’ll find a dozen doozies.
“Darton’s Great Picture” and “The Reformation of Circe” are ambitions stories, both originally published with the fitting subtitle, “A Novel in a Nutshell.”  Curiously, the characters in “Darton’s Great Picture” show up again in “Darton’s Successor,” a story collected in Those Other Days, and “A Sprig of Heather,” a story in For the Queen.
A pair of espionage stories, “The Little Grey Lady” and “The Two Ambassadors,” pit the young Ronald Stourton, a junior Foreign Service officer, against his charming black-sheep uncle-in-law, a freelance spy and master of disguise.
Oppenheim sold lots of books to women, but early in his career, he also catered to men and boys. Three he-man action-adventure stories appear in this collection: “The Lord of Crersa,” “One Shall be Taken,” and “A Strange Conspiracy.”
As he matured, Oppenheim’s writing acquired a sense of humor. “The Girl from Manchester,” “The Storming of Eve,” “A Lesson for Mr. Cutts,” and “And Mr. Baggs was only Twenty-Three!” are all romantic comedies with a dash of detection and adventure and a heap of social commentary.
Finally, “The Road to Liberty” takes up a theme often presented by Oppenheim: a poor, but noble Continental girl rescued from difficult circumstances by a wealthy, adventuresome Brit.  Love, for Oppenheim, is always the reward for noble deeds.
Autobiographical Pieces.  In addition to his endless stream of fiction, Oppenheim wrote lots of nonfiction articles for both newspapers and magazines.  “My Books and Myself” appeared in the New York Times Review of Books and is a handy self-description of his writing methods circa 1922.  His American publisher, Little Brown, issued a reprint of the piece.
Oppenheim’s “Address to the Boys of Wyggeston School” is a 1926 commencement speech given by the so-so scholar returned to his alma mater as a conquering hero in the literary game.
--from Morrison’s introduction to Ghosts & Gamblers

No comments: