Widdershins by Oliver Onions

Penguin, 1939, 244 p.

Widdershins cover

This is a book of eight short stories – well, one is a novella – first published in 1911, by Yorkshireman Onions. He wrote well, each of the stories holds the attention and his characterization is good. All have at least a hint of the strange or unnatural. They stand up even a century after writing.

In the combined ghost and horror story The Beckoning Fair One a writer takes a flat in an otherwise empty house and finds he can no longer continue the novel he has been working on, nor the enthusiasm for much else. I was reminded a bit of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
Phantas is the story of the captain of a becalmed – and sinking – galleon out of the port of Rye, who dreams of a means of propulsion which would enable ships to avoid such a predicament. Out of the mists looms a grey, steam-driven modern destroyer.
Rooum is one of those unlettered men who has a natural flair for competency in his trade. He questions our unnamed narrator about molecules and osmosis as he feels he is occasionally subject to a kind of interpersonal merging.
The register in which Benlian is told is a familiar one to readers of Fantasy or Science Fiction, a realist depiction of a weird phenomenon. Benlian is a sculptor whose essence is increasingly opaque to photography, a man passing away, into his sculpture. The possibility that the narrator is mad rather spoils things though.
In Io a young woman who is convalescing tries to remember the dreams she had during her illness so as to enter their reality.
The Accident occurs when a man about to meet an old adversary in an attempt at reconciliation has a vision of how the encounter will – must – turn out.
The Cigarette Case is one of those shaggy dog stories of the “as told me by a friend” variety.
In Hic Jacet a successful author of detective fiction – a thinly veiled model, this – is asked to write the “Life” of an artist friend (who did not compromise his integrity for commercial success) and finds the gods of writing are against the project.

Pedant’s corner:- accidently (accidentally,) a missing end quotation mark. “But an effort of will he put them aside” (either ‘By an effort of will’, or, ‘But by an effort of will.’) “I seemed so natural” (context also supports ‘It seemed so natural.’) “whiskys and soda” (whiskies; but at least we weren’t subjected to ‘whisky and sodas’.) “ A group of scene-shifters were” (a group was,) plaintains (plantains,) pigmy (I prefer pygmy,) “penumbia of shadow” (penumbra,) “I confess that the position had effect of the thing startled me for a moment” (I can’t parse this phrase at all,) “his position involved a premium on which the rich amateur, he merely replied…” (seems to be missing a word after “amateur”, besogne (besoin,) “the abiquitous presence” (ubiquitous, I suspect.)

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