The E-BNR aims to build a comprehensive & unique cross-artform guide to
the British neo-Romantic tradition,
from 1880 to the present day.
While the British Romantics of 1789-1824 have spawned a vast industry of
publishers, conferences & tourism, the later neo-Romantic traditions
remain largely neglected. The E-BNR is aimed at bringing this hidden
tradition to light.
PayPal donations are very welcome! Click the
button below to make a small donation to ongoing site costs. Thanks!
WHAT IS NEO-ROMANTICISM ?
Neo-Romantic artists have drawn their inspiration
from artists of the age of Romanticism or earlier.
Characteristic themes in their work include a
mystical approach to the British landscape...
ENTRY: Machen, Arthur
Arthur Machen (b. March 3, 1863 Ė d. December 15, 1947) was a leading
fantasy author of the 1890s. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy and horror
He was born Arthur Llewelyn Jones, in Caerleon, Monmouthshire (now in Newport, Wales). His father John Edward Jones
became Vicar of the tiny church of Llandewi Fach, near Caerleon. Machen's love of the beautiful landscape of
Monmouthshire with its everyday associations with misty Celtic, ancient Roman and medieval history made a powerful
impression on him which are at the heart of many of his works. At the age of eleven Machen boarded at Hereford
Cathedral School where he received an excellent classical education. Family poverty however ruled out
attendance at University and Machen was sent to London where he sat exams to attend medical school
but failed to obtain a place.
Machen however showed literary promise; publishing in 1881 a long poem "Eleusinia". Returning to London he
lived in relative poverty attempting to work as a journalist, and as a childrenís tutor, while writing
in the evening and going on long rambling walks through the streets of London.
Machen later secured work as a translator of overseas works into a spirited English style. In 1887
Machen married Amy Hogg, an unconventional music teacher with a passion for the theatre who had
literary friends in London's bohemian circles. Amy had significantly introduced Machen to A.E. Waite
who was to become one of Machen's closest friends. Machen also made the acquaintance of other
literary figures such as M.P. Shiel and Edgar Jepson. Soon after his marriage, Machen began to receive
a series of legacies from Scottish relatives that allowed him to gradually devote more time to writing.
Around 1890 Machen began to write stories for literary magazines very much influenced by the works
of Robert Louis Stevenson, some of which used gothic or fantastic themes. This led to the creation
of his first major success The Great God Pan. It was published in 1894 by John Lane.
Machenís story sold well, going into a second edition.
However, following the scandal surrounding Oscar Wilde Machenís association with works of decadent and fanstastic
horror made it difficult to find a publisher for new works. Thus though he wrote some of his greatest
works over the next few years some of these were published much later. These included
The Hill of Dreams and the story The White People.
Following the death of his wife, he became an actor in 1901 and a member of Frank Bensonís company of
traveling players, a profession which took him round the country. This led in 1903 to a second marriage
to Dorothie Purefoy Hudleston which brought Machen much happiness. Machen managed to find a publisher
in 1902 for his earlier work Hieroglyphics, which was his analysis of the nature
of literature, wherein he came to the conclusion that true literature must convey ecstasy.
From the beginning of his literary career Machen espoused a mystical belief that the humdrum
ordinary world hid a more mysterious and strange world beyond. His gothic and decadent
works of the eighteen-nineties concluded that the lifting of this veil could lead to
madness, sex, or death, and usually a combination of all three.
Machenís later works became somewhat less obviously full of gothic trappings,
but for him investigations into mysteries invariably resulted in life changing
transformation and sacrifice. Machen loved the medieval world view
because he felt it combined deep spirituality alongside a rambunctious earthiness.
Machenís strong opposition to a materialistic viewpoint is obvious in many of his works
marking him as part of neo-romanticism. He was deeply suspicious of science, materialism,
commerce and Puritanism, all of which were anathema to Machen's conservative, bohemian,
In 1906 Machenís literary career began once more to flourish as the book The House of Souls
collected his most notable works of the 1890s and brought them to a new audience. Machen also was
at this time investigating Celtic Christianity, The Holy Grail and King Arthur.
Publishing his views in Lord Alfred Douglasís journal The Academy, where he wrote regularly,
Machen concluded that the legends of the Grail actually were based on dim recollections of
the rites of the Celtic Church. These ideas also featured strongly in The Secret Glory
which he wrote at this time. In 1907, The Hill of Dreams, generally considered Machenís
masterpiece, was finally published, though it was not recognized much at the time.
The next few years saw Machen continue with acting in various companies and with journalistic
work, but he was finding it increasingly hard to earn a living as his legacies were long
exhausted. Machen was also attending literary gatherings like The New Bohemians and
The Square Club amongst other activities. Finally Machen accepted a full time journalistís job
at Alfred Harmsworthís London Evening News in 1910. In February 1912 his son Hilary was born,
followed by a daughter Janet in 1917. The coming of war in 1914 saw Machen return to public
prominence for the first time in twenty years due to the publication of The Bowman and the
subsequent Angels of Mons episode. He published a series of stories capitalizing on this
success, most of which were morale boosting propaganda but the most notable,
The Great Return (1915), and the novella The Terror (1917), were more accomplished and dwelled more closely on legend.
He also published a series of autobiographical articles during the war, later published as Far off Things.
In general though Machen thoroughly disliked work at the newspaper, and it was only the need to
earn money for his family which kept him at it. The money came in useful allowing him to move
to a bigger house in St Johnís Wood in 1919 with a garden, which became a noted location
for literary gatherings attended by friends like the painter Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis,
and Jerome K. Jerome. Machenís dismissal from the Evening News in 1921 came as a
relief in one sense though it caused financial problems. However Machen was recognized
as a great Fleet Street character by his contemporaries and he remained in demand as
an essay writer for much of the twenties.
Fortunately 1922 also saw a revival in Machenís literary fortunes. The Secret Glory
was finally published, as was his autobiography Far Off Things, and new editions of
Machenís Casanova, The House of Souls and The Hill of Dreams all came out. Machenís works
found a new audience and publishers in America.
In 1924 he issued a collection of bad reviews of his own work, with very little
commentary, under the title Precious Balms.
He received some recognition for his literary work when he received
a Civil List pension in 1932 of one hundred pounds, but a gradual loss of work since the early 1920s
later made things difficult once more.
Machenís financial difficulties were only finally ended by the literary appeal launched
in 1943 for his eightieth birthday. The initial names on the appeal show the
general recognition of Machenís stature as a distinguished man of letters
as they included Max Beerbohm, T. S. Eliot, Bernard Shaw, Walter de la Mare,
Algernon Blackwood and John Masefield amongst others.
The success of the appeal allowed Machen to live the last few years of his life till 1947 in relative comfort.
significance is substantial being translated into many
languages and his stories have been reprinted in short
story anthologies countless times. More recently the
small press has continued to keep Machen's work in
Literary critics see Machenís works as a significant
part of the late Victorian revival of the gothic novel
and the decadent movement of the 1890s bearing direct
comparison to the themes found in contemporary works
like Robert Louis Stevensonís The Strange Case of Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Bram Stokerís Dracula and Oscar
Wildeís The Picture of Dorian Gray. At the time
authors like Wilde, W.B. Yeats and Arthur Conan Doyle
were all admirers of Machenís works.
His popularity in 1920s America has been noted and
Machenís work was an influence on the development of
the pulp horror found in magazines like Weird Tales and
on such notable fantasy writers as Robert E. Howard.
His significance was recognized by H. P. Lovecraft, who
in his essay on "Supernatural Horror in Literature" named
Machen as one of the four "modern masters" of
supernatural horror. Machenís influence is not limited to genre fiction,
however Jorge Luis Borges recognized Machen as a great
writer, and through him he has had an influence on
magic realism. He also was one of the most
significant figures in the life of the Poet Laureate,
Sir John Betjeman, who attributed to Machen his
conversion to High Church Anglicanism, an important
part of his philosophy and poetry. Obviously, Machen's
niece Sylvia Townsend Warner (who has written extensively on fantasy and fairytale) was also influenced by
Machen might also be seen as a pioneer in psychogeography, due to his
interest in the interconnection between landscape and
the mind. His strange wanderings in Wales and London
recorded in his beautiful prose make him of great
interest to writers on this subject, especially those
focusing on London such as Iain Sinclair, and Peter Ackroyd. Alan Moore wrote a graphic novel exploration of Machenís
mystical experiences in his work Snakes and Ladders.