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A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2010 10:29PM
In another thread, A. E. Coppard's name arose as an example of a particularly profound author of supernatural tales. I've read very little of his work, but am curious. As Coppard seems to be very prolific, would those who know his work well mind suggesting some particularly representative tales of his?

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2010 07:23PM
Just saw this. Surprised Scott did not post something about this author.

There is a very nice overview of Coppard's supernatural fiction online at the Supernatural Fiction Database:


Coppard is a strange case in that he was a prolific short story writer who could, like Lord Dunsany, turn even the most unpromising material into a saleable story. Also, his forays into the world of folklore make many of his stories more whimsical than profound, though many have an edge to them that belies the gentler or semicomical set-up. However, writers as varied in approach to literature as Ford Madox Ford, Walter de la Mare, and August Derleth admired his work; and he has a way of revealing the melancholy truth behind human existence that can be startlingly poignant at one moment and surprisingly ruthless the next ("Arabesque: The Mouse" is a particularly unpleasant example).

My own favorites include: "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me" (often-anthologized and close to de la Mare in the delicacy with which its author treats his subject), "King of the World", "Marching to Zion", "Clorinda Walks in Heaven", "Simple Simon", "Old Martin" (based on the same folk-belief used by Le Fanu in "The Ghost and the Bone-Setter" and Bernard Capes in "The Ghost-Leech"), "Polly Morgan", "Gone Away", "Father Raven", and "The Homeless One"

Note that the Knopf hardcover compilation, COLLECTED TALES (1948), has very few of the supernatural tales and is largely made up of nicely-written, but essentially ephemeral slice-of-country-life stories. Arkham House's FEARFUL PLEASURES, on the other hand, is entirely supernatural in content, but focuses on the more whimsical stories. A good university library should have several of the original collections, and I would recommend sampling his work before investing in one of the out of print collections or the find (but somewhat pricey) omnibus from Tartarus.

Since I have already brought up Bernard Capes (c. 1870-1918), I might as well as go into a little more detail on that author as well. Has he been mentioned here already? Much of his supernatural fiction consists of fully developed Victorian narratives, which introduce surprising twists into tropes we thought had long grown tired of. The longer stories can seem a little over-developed to some, but I have enjoyed all of the stories I have read thus far, and there are a number of brief and equally effective stories that deserve to be anthologized more frequently than they have been ("A Ghost-Child", "The Marble Hands", "The Thing in the Forest", and "The Green Bottle" are particularly good among the shorter pieces). Fortunately, his first collection, AT A WINTER'S FIRE, was reprinted by Books for Libraries and relatively easy to find in university libraries; it also contains some of his most effective longer short stories: "The Vanishing House", "An Eddy on the Floor", "The Black Reaper", "The Voice from the Pit", etc.


Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2010 08:19PM
Thanks for the additional information about Coppard, and the recommendations. "Clorinda..." is all I've read of the ones you mentioned, but I'll have a look for the rest. De La Mare's admiration is entirely unsurprising; "Clorinda..." is very delicately and poetically written.

I would add that the Arno collection of Coppard's collected tales can still be found, and that, by definition, tilts toward the supernatural. Google Books seems to have a lot of his material available for free perusal.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12 Oct 10 | 08:36PM by Absquatch.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Scott Connors (IP Logged)
Date: 14 October, 2010 01:30AM
jimrockhill2001 Wrote:
> Just saw this. Surprised Scott did not post
> something about this author.

I'm not really a big Coppard fan. I read his Arkham House collection years ago, and wasn't particularly impressed. Maybe I should try re-reading him: I also didn't care for L. P. Hartley then, but when I read the Tartarus Press omnibus a few years back I really enjoyed it. Ditto for Walter de la Mare and Robert Aickman.


Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 14 October, 2010 06:44AM
You are welcome, Absquatch.

Scott - As I had mentioned earlier, I did not find the Arkham House collection to be the best representation of Coppard's work, because it seemed to me to lay more stress on the lighter-hearted stories. If I had not already read some of the collections from which it had been culled by delving into libraries, I would have wondered what the fuss was all about. He can be, I admit, an acquired taste, but he is never less than readable, and his best stories make the effort of finding them worthwhile. As with the Walpole, Hartley, Lorrain, de la Mare, Onions, and other large collections they have produced, Tartarus has a knack for presenting authors in their best light, even if that means that the occasional omission of a few stories the publisher did not feel were up to snuff can frustratingly make their collections less than complete.

I had an even harder time tracking down everything I wanted to read by de la Mare (before the Gilde de la Mare collections and the Tartarus appeared) than I had with Coppard, the Bensons, and several others (Bernard Capes and Marjorie Bowen are exceptionally hard to find in the US, and I am still working on reading all of their short work, let alone the novels).

It would be interesting to do a study of reading tastes and comprehension levels in the general public between de la Mare's time and our own. When I first started reading in the later sixties, de la Mare's work was already difficult to find, but at least his work was still recognized and respected. The number of people capable of even reading his work seems to have dwindled steadily ever since, to the point that it must seem incredible to many that his work enjoyed any popularity in its own time. I have friends who read regularly, but who, I am ashamed to say, find even the prose of Ambrose Bierce and M. R. James difficult.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 14 October, 2010 04:03PM
I've not read enough of Coppard to have an overall impression of his work, but I did read Fearful Pleasures many, many years ago, and I would tend to agree with the general impression given here. They certainly aren't bad stories -- far from it -- but they did generally tend toward the lighter end. "Arabesque: The Mouse", "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me", and "Clorinda Walks in Heaven" about completes my reading (to date) of Coppard, though I have picked up a copy of the Knopf Collected Tales, which does contain several of his weird pieces, such as the three mentioned above, "The Old Venerable", "The Green Drake", "Father Raven", and the like; and somewhere about I have a copy of the collection Adam and Eve and Pinch Me which I was given a few years ago. From those which I have read, I would recommend giving him a try, as he was a fine writer; but if you're looking for the darker end of his spectrum then I'd do a bit of research to aid in the selection.

Jim: In your final paragraph, you posit the possibility that fewer people might be capable of reading (or at least reading and enjoying) de la Mare's work now. I think you might well be right, to a degree. I am not sure, however, that it is a question of innate incapability, or whether it is a learned block to such writing. The reason I question this is that, increasingly, I have over the years encountered people who, when presented with such suggestions in looking for authors to try, originally reacted to their work quite negatively, obviously because it went entirely over their heads. Yet many of these same people gradually learned how to read such work, and several of them went on to seek out such writers quite avidly, once they'd got over that hump. It may be like poetry, which is so abominably taught in schools (in most cases) if taught at all; yet, when someone has it presented in a way which catches their imagination, or which simply makes it accessible to them, then they often become avid readers of such works. Entirely anecdotal, I grant you, but this has been my experience with a good percentage of such cases over the past 30+ years... and if my impression is right, then the picture is at least a slightly less grim one.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 14 October, 2010 05:44PM
Not to hijack my own thread, here, but the declining trajectory of de la Mare's reputation is depressing to contemplate. Jack G. Voller at Literary Gothic has this to say about de la Mare's prose:

De La Mare can be hard to read. Although a fairly gifted prose stylist, his style is, to put it mildly, elliptical at times, and he relies rather heavily on language, much of it colloquial, that will not be familiar to most readers today, especially American readers. Even once you've figured out what he's saying, De La Mare can be hard to make sense of. His works are often thematically indirect; he directly says very little (fittingly enough for an early Modern writer); there is much ambiguity and (deliberate) vagueness, leaving much of the "theme" of his works up to us to determine. This demand placed upon the reader makes him unlikely to make any best-seller lists anytime soon, which is a shame.

Voller has a point, I think, but so does Jim Rockhill. As we move ever faster toward a digital, post-literate age, I fear that there is little that we print-oriented, logophile dinosaurs can do except talk (and occasionally argue ;-) ) among ourselves, as we observe our own gradual extinction.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: jdworth (IP Logged)
Date: 14 October, 2010 11:49PM
Perhaps; but (again relying on my own experience and that of a few others with whom I have discussed this) a fair number of the people I mentioned earlier are discovering these writers because of their availability in a digital world. Most of them are reading them from a screen, either from such places as the Internet Archive, Gutenberg,, etc., or from e-format programs which they can purchase for very little. While I have a personal reaction of distaste toward such things, it is entirely irrational (I think), and, as noted, very personal. The point is that readers who would not normally be able to find these writers, due either to lack of funds, lack of resources in their particular location, or some other cause, are now discovering and enjoying them... and suggesting them to others.

This does not, of course, mean that de la Mare (or any of the other older writers) will make it onto the bestseller lists, or even have a particularly large following; but I think it does continue to keep interest alive in a larger group than has been the case for a very long time. Perhaps I am too optimistic, but I find that rather heartening.

It reminds me of an incident which occurred when I was working at a bookstore some years ago. A group of high-school seniors came wandering into the shop to browse. I was doing some restocking on the shelves, and overheard part of their conversation. What made my ears prick up was when one of them came out with "Yeah, that was her. She was known as the 'IT' girl...." My first reaction? "Naw, they can't be...." But sure enough, they were talking about Clara Bow, and when I talked to them a bit later, I found they are fans of not only Ms. Bow, but Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Lon Chaney, Sr., and Louise Brooks. While such a thing was never common, this wasn't the first (or only) such experience I had there... or since joining a forum on the internet.

So, as I said, perhaps I am being overly optimistic here, but when I encounter this sort of thing, and find I'm not alone in doing so, I can't help but feel a leetle less certain that those of us who relish such things are quite such dinosaurs after all....

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2010 09:17AM
I too believe that this inability is learned rather than innate, and akin to the inability of some people in the present generation to watch a slower moving atmospheric film like THE INNOCENTS or anything by Val Lewton, because television and most of the films made during their lifetime are characterized by elements in the storyline and techniques in editing that move the plot much more rapidly. What we see as tension-generating and atmospheric they see as near stasis, just as I see a film like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS as near-ridiculous in its frenetic attempt to keep expository scenes between car-chases as few and short as possible.

As you say, the situation is not hopeless. My daughter gave up on the R. L. Stine books adored by her classmates pretty quickly - "Don't waste your time trying to read any of these. The writing is terrible!" - and went on to the Narnia books, and although she did not like M. R. James, she is now reading Jane Austen. My niece's husband, who is about 5 years older, loves Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, though it took him a few years (and didn't many of us feel the same way in our teens and twenties, refusing to accept that the output of our favorite authors was finite, and there would be no more of their work to enjoy?) to give up on the pastiches and refocus on the originals.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2010 11:42AM
My last word on this subject, as I'd like for this thread to remain dedicated to Coppard, but what is at present environmentally determined may one day become innate. See, for instance, this New York Times article.

Viewing this particular glass as being "half-full of vomit" does not result from inaccurate perception, I feel, but I'll leave others to judge, as only the future will tell, in any case--and I am happy to say that I won't be around to see it.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: cw67q (IP Logged)
Date: 5 November, 2010 10:02AM

I'm also very fond of De la Mare and have been making my way through Volume 1 of the Giles dlM collections recently, partly rereading and partly filling in gaps.

I do find de la Mare a very difficult (or perhaps demanding is better) read, I can make no sense of his work if I'm tired, I really have to be awake to tackle him. Whereas I can enjoy e.g. Aickman even while sleepy.

From my recent reading standout tales for me were:

"the Three Friends" (sadly overlooked for the Tartarus volume)
"Lispet, Lispett & Vaine"*
"the Tree" (which I hadn't read before)
"Miss Duveen"**
"Mr Kempe"

I also enjoyed "Out of the Deep" much more than on previous visits. I'm about 1/3rd of the way into "the Connoisseur & Other Stories" but have skipped over "Seaton's Aunt"** until later.

I think Ding Dong Bell reads like too much of the same thing although I have enjoyed Strangers & pilgrims in the past when read in isolation.

One thing that I hadn't noticed before was quite how many of dlm's tales occur in conversations between strangers, frequently in pubs, cafes, railway waiting rooms, even graveyards : e.g. mr kempe, crewe, strangers & pilgrims and missing. Others are conversations between friends: the Three friends (in a pub), LL&V, or are largerly inner monologues: e.g. A nap. Strangers & pilgrims indeed!

*Mark Valentine's beautiful tale "the White Company" from the Ash-Tree Press anthology "At Ease with the Dead" (reprinted in MV's magnificent "Nightfarers" from ex occidente) struck me as channeling perfectly the spirit of dlm's approach (I'm sure this was deliberate on Mark's part). Rereading LL&V convinced me that this story was the model and inspiration for mark's tale. I think MV distils the best of dlm and Machen into his own writing and his work easily stands alongside the best writing of the earlier authors. (For anyone who hasn't read Mark Valentine, Tartarus Press recently published a pb omnibus of his stories based around the psychic detective "the Connoisseur", whose name it now occurs to me may have been a nod towards dlm?)

** There is a very interesting essay by Russell Hoban discussing these three tales here:


Bernard Capes is another fine read, not quite as difficult as dlm (well apart from "A Gallows Bird" and "Accursed Cordonnier" :-) An Eddy on the Floor is a marvelous, and rather nasty, ghost story, my other favourites are probably "the Green Bottle" & "Moonstricken"

Cheers - Chris

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Nov 10 | 10:04AM by cw67q.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 5 November, 2010 01:43PM
I think Ding Dong Bell reads like too much of the same thing

I couldn't possibly disagree with you more, but I am glad that someone is at least reading Ding Dong Bell!

P.S. De La Mare clearly needs his own thread, here.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 5 Nov 10 | 01:43PM by Absquatch.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: casofile (IP Logged)
Date: 5 November, 2010 03:07PM
I also am a huge fan of the classic English ghost story, as practiced by the masters of the genre. (Le Fanu, M.R. James, Benson, Burrage, Wakefield, de la Mare, etc.) Having read Coppard in the distant past, I really don't recall anything particularly remarkable about this writer. Perhaps I'll re-visit Coppard and see if I've missed something.

cw67q Wrote:

> I do find de la Mare a very difficult (or perhaps
> demanding is better) read, I can make no sense of
> his work if I'm tired, I really have to be awake
> to tackle him. Whereas I can enjoy e.g. Aickman
> even while sleepy.

Aickman I've read with a much different reaction. I find him too vague for my tastes and feel cheated when I have to try and guess what the author is trying to say. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate understatement (esp. in a ghost story) but Aickman often carries this too far which I find ultimately unsatisfactory.
I'm aware that many readers have a very high regard for Aickman, and certainly don't mean to offend anyone. "There's no accounting for taste." is of course a
banal statement which is still undeniably true.

> *Mark Valentine's beautiful tale "the White
> Company" from the Ash-Tree Press anthology "At
> Ease with the Dead" (reprinted in MV's magnificent
> "Nightfarers" from ex occidente) struck me as
> channeling perfectly the spirit of dlm's approach
> (I'm sure this was deliberate on Mark's part).

Thanks for the tip! I have this book and will place it in the "To read" stack on the nightstand.

I have recently re-discovered Russell Kirk, and must say I recommend his ghost stories highly. The ten stories collected in THE SURLY SULLEN BELL, along with the excellent essay "A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale" make this book a 'must read' for the connoissuer of the classic ghost story. Of these ten, I found:
"Ex Tenebris"
"Sorworth Place"
"Behind the Stumps"
"What Shadows We Pursue"
To be truly excellent, the other stories in this collection were also extremely enjoyable and well written.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: Absquatch (IP Logged)
Date: 5 November, 2010 03:45PM
Coppard's style is sweet, but I didn't care much for the substance of the couple of tales that I read subsequent to this thread. They seemed a bit pointless, to me.

Which reminds me...

Amen, regarding Aickman. I like his work, in general, but he is far too vague for my tastes, and ought not to be mentioned in the same breath as de la Mare. De la Mare makes the reader work, but I never get the impression that he is trying to make me do all the work, the way I often do with Aickman.

I have recently re-discovered Russell Kirk

Quick question re. Kirk: To what extent do his political views obtrude into his tales? I've read only one story of his, but was quickly put off by his non-too-subtle politicking.

Re: A. E. Coppard?
Posted by: casofile (IP Logged)
Date: 5 November, 2010 04:14PM
I don't know if there's a quick answer to this . . I've heard Kirk was both very vocal and very conservative, but didn't consider the tales from this angle. I guess "Uncle Isaiah" might have some political undertones, but Kirk seemed to me more of a regionalist than anything else, at least in these stories.
I'd try him again.

Very well said re: Aickman.

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