Secret Satan, 2022

Here in Berlin the first snows have been and gone, the first Advent candle is lit and the kitchen smells like Plätzchen. Into this wholesome scene strides a familiar hoofed figure, laden with a sack of books specially selected to appeal to a Strange Flowers sensibility … Satan and his little imps have been extra busy this year; leave a glass of absinthe out and hope you get at least one of these titles under your sickly spruce.

We open with the eagerly awaited biography of Joseph Roth, Keiron Pim’s Endless Flight, which I picked up last month in Winchester (where I also managed to walk straight past Jane Austen’s grave in the magnificent cathedral; too busy looking up). Thanks to extensive coverage it seems the great Austrian author is finally gaining the status in the English-speaking book world he deserves. Roth is among my very favourite authors and one I usually reserve for the colder months, so I am looking forward to finally reading this over the holidays. And if you’re new to Joseph Roth yet curious we have a brace of newly reissued translations, including the devastating Job (translated by Dorothy Thompson, all others here translated by Michael Hofmann), The Legend of the Holy Drinker, the reportage of What I Saw and The Hotel Years, The Radetzky March – often cited as his masterpiece – and its follow-up The Emperor’s Tomb. If pressed this might well be my pick of the Roths; I actually forgot to breathe the first time I read the piano scene, while the conclusion is an electrifying collaboration between Roth the novelist and Roth the reporter, incorporating the annexation of Austria in real time.

Roth’s first book was the extraordinarily prescient The Spider’s Web (1923), most likely the first novel to mention Hitler. That same year brought a tale that drew on the same anxieties, but which is now best remembered as a children’s film. Two new English editions of Austrian author Felix Salten’s Bambi (translated by Jack Zipes and Damion Searls respectively) show us the even darker themes behind a tale that has already traumatised millions of children. It can be read as both an allegory of antisemitism, “or a critique of humankind’s assault on nature,” as Maddie Crum writes, adding: “But why not both?”. Salten was both Jewish and a hunter, by the way. A fellow member of the early 20th-century Viennese avant-garde, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, is the subject of Walter Kappacher’s novel Palace of Flies (translated by Georg Bauer). No longer the precocious twink of Austrian letters, the middle-aged Hofmannsthal is holed up in a provincial hotel “plagued by feelings of loneliness and failure that echo in a buzz of inner monologues, imaginary conversations and nostalgic memories of relationships with glittering cultural figures”. This tension also haunts the stories of Johannes Urzidil collected in House of the Nine Devils (translated by David Burnett) in which “… the writing often blurs the border between reportage, memoir, and fiction, such as an encounter with Gavrilo Princip, wasting away in the Terezín prison after his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, or a WWI soldier trying to evade military police and thus disrupting a night at Café Arco, a favorite haunt of the Prague Circle that included Brod, Kafka, and Werfel, as well as Urzidil, the group’s youngest member and one of the last links to that symbiotic milieu of Prague German-Jewish artists.”

In the provocatively subtitled The Last Inward Man, Lesley Chamberlain finds in Prague-born Rainer Maria Rilke a writer who “sought to restore spirit to Western materialism, encouraging not narrow introversion but a heightened awareness of how to live with the world as it is, of how to retain a sense of transcendence within a world of collapsed spiritual certainty” (Chamberlain’s vital Nietzsche in Turin has also been reissued). Still on an Austro-Hungarian vibe, we have Opium and Other Stories (translated by Jascha Kessler and Charlotte Rogers) by Géza Csáth, “a Hungarian psychiatrist, one of Freud’s first followers, as well as a music critic and opium addict. In 1919, at the age of 31, he killed his wife and then committed suicide, just one year after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.” We can’t move on without dropping in on the most fascinating figure of that construct’s demise – Sis(s)i, Empress Elisabeth – recent subject of two feature films plus a Netflix series. The latter also comes as a historical novel, The Empress by Gigi Griffis, which concentrates on Sissi’s first few months at the Viennese court. Fictional licence adds a pivotal lady-in-waiting, an attempted palace coup by the Emperor’s ill-fated brother Maximilian, and a degree of romance that the real imperial couple seem not to have shared. But it also captures the real Sissi’s rebellious spirit and her conflict with courtiers, particularly her mother-in-law. Later Sissi kept her distance from the court; Stefan Haderer falls Under the Spell of a Myth as he traces the steps of the Empress in Greece, including her Corfiot hidey hole named for Achilles.

Like Sissi, the Austrian women in Sophia Haydock’s debut The Flames – models in Egon Schiele’s canvases – are fixed as images. “None of these women is quite what they seem. Fierce, passionate and determined, they want to defy convention and forge their own path. But their lives are set on a collision course when they become entangled with the controversial young artist Egon Schiele whose work – and private life – are sending shockwaves through Vienna’s elite.” There are more muses unmuted in Ruth Millington’s Muse: Uncovering the Hidden Figures Behind Art History’s Masterpieces, tackling the myth of the “passive, powerless model (usually young, attractive, and female) at the mercy of an influential and older male artist”. The role of muse was one proffered to, and roundly rejected by German-born Surrealist Meret Oppenheim. Drawing from her extensive career, My Album “assembles photos, objects, notes, and brief texts, as well as ideas and concepts for artworks, and offers very personal insights into Oppenheim’s private life and thought.” Her most famous object – Object, a fur-lined cup, saucer and spoon – was displayed at the famous 1936 Surrealist exhibition in London, which brings us to The British Surrealists. Desmond Morris’s study takes us from “the unpredictability of Francis Bacon to the rebelliousness of Leonora Carrington, from the beguiling Eileen Agar to the ‘brilliant’ Ceri Richard” (meanwhile Todd Longstaffe-Gowan’s English Garden Eccentrics offers sylvan Surrealism from uncommon gardeners whose creations were anything but common or garden). The evidently inexhaustible well of Surrealism has inspired two recent shows. At Potsdam’s Museum Barberini – which hit headlines recently after a climate activist thoughtfully shared their lunch with one of the gallery’s Monets – Surrealism and Magic revisits the movement’s representatives “who cultivated the traditional image of the artist’s persona as a magician, seer, and alchemist”. Meanwhile Surrealism Beyond Borders “traces Surrealism’s influence and legacy from the 1920s to the late 1970s in places as geographically diverse as Colombia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Romania, Syria, Thailand, and Turkey”; this comes from the exhibition shown at the Tate in London and the Met in New York.

Who – might you guess – was the first woman to enjoy a solo retrospective at the Met? The somewhat surprising answer is the subject of Florine Stettheimer: A Biography by Barbara Bloemink. “During her first 40 years in Europe, Florine Stettheimer studied academic painting and was aware of all the earliest modernist styles ahead of most American artists. Returning to New York, she and her sisters led an acclaimed Salon for major avant-garde cultural figures including Marcel Duchamp, the Stieglitz circle, poets, dancers, writers, etc. She showed her innovative paintings in over 46 of the most important museum exhibitions and Salons, wrote poetry, designed unique furniture and gained international fame for her sets and costumes for avant-garde opera.” It was Duchamp, by the way, who organised that (posthumous) retrospective, and two new books explore the outset of Duchamp’s New York activities during World War One. Ruth Brandon’s Spellbound by Marcel explores the love triangle of Duchamp, Henri-Pierre Roché and Beatrice Wood, while Corinne Taunay’s Marcel Duchamp: Paris Air in New York (translated by Doug Skinner) describes the revolutionary art that emerged at the same time.

Two recent books cover the life and career of Jewish-Austrian artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis who studied under cultish mystic Johannes Itten in Vienna before moving with him in 1919 to a new school in Germany called the Bauhaus, where among many other things she created a poster to celebrate Else Lasker-Schüler’s reading at the school. More of her images come to us in Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Works from the Collection of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, while in Friedl Dicker-Brandeis: Bauhaus Student, Avant-Garde Painter, Art Teacher we discover a “painter, art teacher, and politically active poster artist. Initially, she specialized in textile and graphic design, and later she worked as an interior designer. Her paintings reflect her profound study of the classical avant-garde.” Deported to Theresienstadt, she taught art to hundreds of children; like most of her pupils, Dicker-Brandeis was murdered in the Holocaust. Not just a neglected artist overdue for rediscovery, but an example of the best of humanity in the very midst of Hell.

At a certain point a neglected artist becomes … an artist. In the case of Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint that point appears to have arrived. Following blockbuster exhibitions, numerous books (including a multi-volume catalogue raisonné), plus a feature film of her life, the narrative of non-figurative art has been corrected to incorporate her pioneering role. “Like many of the artists at the turn of the twentieth century who developed some version of abstract painting, af Klint studied Theosophy, which holds that science, art, and religion are all reflections of an underlying life-form that can be harnessed through meditation, study, and experimentation.” That’s from Hilma af Klint: A Biography by Julia Voss, who also wrote the afterword for Philipp Deines’s graphic novel, The Five Lives of Hilma af Klint. And the Pamela Colman Smith revival rolls on in another graphic treatment, Cat Willett’s The Queen of Wands. “From a childhood spent between the United Kingdom and Jamaica, to early artistic success in New York, to involvement in the secret occult society Order of the Golden Dawn … Though she received little money and almost no credit for her contributions to the magical realm in her lifetime, Pixie’s impact on tarot, divination, and the worlds of mysticism and the arts have reverberated for nearly 150 years, and her story serves as an enchanted spark.” Meanwhile, if you’re assembling your dinner-party-guests-from-history list, I can recommend Lisa Kröger & Melanie R. Anderson’s Toil & Trouble: A Women’s History of the Occult whose subjects range from “Dion Fortune, who tried to marshal a magical army against Hitler” to “Elvira, queer goth sex symbol who defied the Satanic Panic”.

Every time you mention the word “occult” a book about Aleister Crowley falls out of the sky. Don’t blame me, I don’t make the rules. Tumbling into our selection is the luridly titled Astounding Secrets of the Devil Worshippers’ Mystic Love Cult by William Seabrook, whom you may recall as the subject of wife Marjorie Worthington’s vexed biography. Here, in a series of early 1920s dispatches, Seabrook introduced American newspaper readers to the Great Beast’s orgiastic capers (that’s from Snuggly, of whom more later). Occult artist Austin Osman Spare had comparably earthly conjunctions in mind in his pan-sexual illustrations for Richard Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, published for the first time in a lavish Fulgur production. NSFW, naturally, if that’s even a thing any more (isn’t it NSFH? Oh and while I have you here between parentheses, Phil Baker’s bio, the standard work on Spare, is due for an expanded reissue next year). A dirty book gathers no dust, and we recover some primo Weimar smut in the form of a Berlin Garden of Erotic Delights (translated by Michael Gillespie), whose “charming, witty, and erotic tales capture the trials and triumphs of early twentieth-century gay life without apology or shame”. It was originally issued in the early 1920s by author “Granand” (Erwin Ritter von Busse), and its fate offers a useful corrective to the myth that Weimar Germany was an anything-goes free-for-all; it was banned upon publication and only reissued decades later. True-life transgressions are the subject of Peter Jordaan’s impressively thorough A Secret between Gentlemen, “a unique historical biographical trilogy revealing the gay scandal, hidden for 120 years, that embroiled the noted British M.P., connoisseur, and philanthropist Cyril Flower, Lord Battersea in 1902.”

In After Sappho we have a personalised queer history, a “joyous reimagining of the lives of a brilliant group of feminists, sapphists, artists and writers in the late 19th and early 20th century as they battle for control over their lives; for liberation and for justice.” Subjects include Natalie Barney (who needs no introduction to the readers of these pages), Virginia Woolf (who needs no introduction to anyone), along with many other lesbian or bisexual women of the 19th and 20th centuries. Author Selby Wynn Schwartz describes it as “a book about the desire to write your life for yourself, preferably in good company”. H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) writes her own (early) life in HERmione, now reissued. “She was in her early twenties—a disappointment to her father, an odd duckling to her mother, an importunate, overgrown, unincarnated entity that had no place.” Donna Krolik Hollenberg, an authority on the subject, offers us Winged Words: The Life and Works of the Poet H.D., which “explores her love affairs with both men and women; her long friendship with Bryher; the birth of her daughter, Perdita, and her imaginative bond with her; and her marriage to (and later divorce from) fellow poet Richard Aldington. Additionally, the book includes scenes from her relationships with Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and D.H. Lawrence; H.D.’s fascination with spiritualism and the occult; and H.D.’s psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud.” It’s unclear why there has been such a run on H.D. of late, but if anyone’s keeping track we’re at the lengthy-New-Yorker-article stage of the revival. The women’s suffrage movement is the subject of Wendy L. Rouse’s Public Faces, Secret Lives, specifically the “variety of individuals who represented a range of genders and sexualities,” yet “publicly conformed to gendered views of ideal womanhood in order to make women’s suffrage more palatable to the public.” Another highly welcome historical study to counter the grievous fiction that trans identity is a Western invention of recent origin: Before We Were Trans, in which Kit Heyam seeks “to widen the scope of what we think of as trans history by telling the stories of people across the globe whose experience of gender has been transgressive, or not characterised by stability or binary categories.”

A more localised piece of queer history in Places of Tenderness and Heat, which spirits us to fin-de-siècle St. Petersburg, “a city full of risk and opportunity”. Author Olga Petri “takes us through busy shopping arcades, bathhouses, and public urinals to show how queer men routinely met and socialized.” One of the most influential products of Silver Age St. Petersburg was Sergei Diaghilev, the revolutionary cultural catalyst and creator of the Ballets Russes, and the subject of Rupert Christiansen’s Diaghilev’s Empire. “Off stage and in its wake came scandal and sensation, as the great artists and mercurial performers involved variously collaborated, clashed, competed while falling in and out of love with each other on a wild carousel of sexual intrigue and temperamental mayhem.” Diaghilev also features in Helen Rappaport’s After the Romanovs: “Talented intellectuals, artists, poets, philosophers, and writers eked out a living at menial jobs, while others found great success. Nijinsky, Diaghilev, Bunin, Chagall, and Stravinsky joined Picasso, Hemingway, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein in the creative crucible of the Années folles …” In a similar vein comes Homeward from Heaven by Boris Poplavsky who shares the not exactly congested category of “Paris-based boxer-poets who died in their early 30s” with our old sparring partner Arthur Cravan. Translated by Bryan Karetnyk, Poplavsky’s novel was “… written just before his life was cut short by a drug overdose at the age of thirty-two. Set in Paris and on the French Riviera, this final novel by the literary enfant terrible of the interwar Russian diaspora in France recounts the escapades, malaise, and love affairs of a bohemian group of Russian expatriates.”

We remain in between-the-wars France for Anna de Courcy’s Five Love Affairs and a Friendship: The Paris Life of Nancy Cunard, Icon of the Jazz Age. “Dazzlingly beautiful, highly intelligent and an extraordinary force of energy, Nancy Cunard was an icon of the Jazz Age, said to have inspired half the poets and novelists of the twenties.” A year ago the great Josephine Baker was interred in the Panthéon, in a ceremony which sadly did not feature the current head of the FBI on his knees begging forgiveness of Baker’s spirit for the Bureau’s vicious campaign of harassment during her lifetime. The Flame of Resistance by Damien Lewis (NB not the actor) is an anomaly in the writer’s oeuvre in that it is not about the SAS. But it is a tale of wartime heroism which finds Baker – “one of London’s most closely-guarded special agents” – undertaking enormously risky clandestine operations. “Baker’s secret war embodies a tale of unbounded courage, passion, devotion and sacrifice, and of deep and bitter tragedy, fueled by her own desire to combat the rise of Nazism, and to fight for all that is good and right in the world.” Josephine Baker often appears in those “awesome women in history” books you grab when you’re panic-buying for a 10-year-old girl’s birthday; how grotesquely unjust that she should have to appear alongside that vile collaborator, Coco Chanel. More Americans in Paris: in Strange Impressions we have extracts from the previously unpublished memoirs of painter Romaine Brooks. The author’s own title, which may give you an insight into her childhood and how it shaped her later life, was No Pleasant Memories.

Natalie Barney (her again!) is the one degree of separation between Brooks (her lover) and our next subject (her sister), who helped popularise the Baháʼí faith in the West, as we discover in The Life of Laura Barney. Author Mona Khademi “traces the journey of Laura Barney from her pampered childhood to her life as a feminist, global-thinker and peace-builder who was twice decorated by the French Legion of Honoré.” (Natalie) Barney biographer Suzanne Rodriguez is the author of Found Meals of the Lost Generation: People, Stories & Recipes from 1920s Paris, now reissued and with which, among other things, “…you can transform your living room into Gertrude Stein’s famous salon”. Stein features in Aging Moderns: Art, Literature, and the Experiment of Later Life, in which Scott Herring offers “portraits of writers and artists who sought out or employed unconventional methods and collaborations up until the early twenty-first century. Herring finds Djuna Barnes performing the principles of high modernism not only in poetry but also in pharmacy orders and grocery lists. In mystery novels featuring Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas along with modernist souvenir collections, the gay writer Samuel Steward elaborated a queer theory of aging and challenged gay male ageism.”

Herring’s account includes a chapter on “The Harlem Renaissance as Told by ‘Lesbian Elder’ Mabel Hampton”, while a clutch of recent reissues introduces a new readership to the outstanding between-the-wars profusion of Black arts that was the Harlem Renaissance. They include The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes’s Not without Laughter, collections of short fiction and essays by Alice Dunbar Nelson and Zora Neale Hurston, respectively, Home to Harlem by Claude McKay (whose collected articles are now available in a single edition) and a convolute of Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen (the latter in a film adaptation last year). Passing is a dominant theme of James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, now reissued by Everyman’s Library, and Alexandra Lapierre’s Belle Greene (translated by Tina Kover), a novelisation of the fascinating real life of Belle da Costa Greene, director of the private library of banker JP Morgan. “Flamboyant, brilliant, beautiful […] Belle is among New York society’s most sought after intellectuals. Although she looks white, she is African American, the daughter of a famous black activist who sees her desire to hide her origins as the consummate betrayal.”

The magnificent Morgan Library that Greene built up was recently the venue for a major exhibition on the life and work of provocateur Alfred Jarry, whose works are still being rediscovered in English. Speculations, translated by R J Dent, is a “darkly comic collection of surrealist and satirical prose pieces … everything is worthy material for his surreal satire; the Passion is presented as a sporting event; buses are the prey of big game hunters, and even the Queen is licked from behind”. Something for everyone, then. By this stage of our Satanic selection, when talk turns to the umbral delights of the Belle Epoque, regular readers will know to expect a slew of Snuggly titles – and this year is no exception. New anthologies address the classic fin-de-siècle trope of the femme fatale and collate occult-related fiction while a new collection of works by Hersh Dovid Nomberg bears the delightful title of Happiness and Other Fictions (translated by Daniel Kennedy, who has more translations from the Yiddish at Farlag Press). From the late-breaking (1923) Decadence of Hélène Picard’s Sabbat (translated by Brian Stableford): “Seeing Satan emerging from a poppy and accepting him as her poetic savior …” OK, stop right there and just take my money. Snuggly have an impressive list of works by the similarly outré Jane de la Vaudère, to which they now add The Priestesses of Mylitta (again translated by Brian Stableford). Set in Babylon, it introduces us to “the cult of the eponymous goddess, whose worship consists, in part, of newly married women delivering themselves to haphazard lovers, the story, which was very probably the author’s last completed work, is one of both tenderness and torture, brutal bloodshed and the adoration held in delicious kisses.” Each of these rediscoveries points to an uncommonly interesting creative force, so how fortunate that this year also brings the first English biography of the author, Resurrecting Jane de la Vaudère by Sharon Larson. “A controversial figure who was known as a plagiarist, La Vaudère attracted the attention of the public and of her peers, who caricatured her in literary periodicals and romans à clef. Most notably, La Vaudère claimed to have written the Rêve d’Egypte pantomime, whose 1907 production at the Moulin Rouge featured a kiss between Missy and Colette that led to riots and the suspension of future performances.” From the same era the fascinating polymath Victor Segalen looks back at one of his idols in the 1907 Le double Rimbaud, here in a bilingual edition (English translation by Blandine Longre and Paul Stubbs). “While disclosing the two Rimbauds that most interested him, the writer and the adventurer, the seer and the outlaw, Segalen aims at overlapping his own shadow with Rimbaud’s and walking beyond the signposts of his own mind so as to confront the two roads taken by the other poet, the imaginative one and the real one.”

I don’t at all hold with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, the mouthpiece of the party that has screwed the country from top to bottom, but they do a good obituary, with some of the more diverting recent examples to be found in Eccentric Lives: The Daily Telegraph Book of 21st Century Obituaries. It was a Telegraph obituary that sparked the classic account of butch fatale island despot Joe Carstairs; author Kate Summerscale returns with The Book of Phobias and Manias: A History of Obsession (whose cover bears the classic image of the divinely manic Countess de Castiglione – who died on this day in 1899). You name it, someone somewhere is turned on or terrified by it, as we discover in this “history of human strangeness, from the middle ages to the present day, and a wealth of explanations for some of our most powerful aversions and desires.” Obsession drives Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, “a carefully woven tapestry of death and melancholy that has seen numerous cinematic and operatic adaptations and inspired the source material for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo” (and also worked its way into Jean Lorrain’s Monsieur de Bougrelon). The translator is Will Stone, who also brings us the first English edition of Nietzsche in Italy, an account of the philosopher’s travels by Guy de Pourtalès first published in 1929 (which neatly complements Lesley Chamberlain’s Nietzsche in Turin, mentioned above). Friedrich Nietzsche’s own Thus Spake Zarathustra is available in a new translation by Michael Hulse in which “Zarathustra is revealed in all his bold and ironic splendor as a man who prizes self-worth above all else as a moral code to live by.” Salomo Friedländer (who published as Mynona) was the author of an influential study of Nietzsche; like many writers born around the beginning of the German Empire, he was in thrall not just to Nietzsche’s thinking, but his magisterial prose as well. But in the slim volume Black – White – Red (translated by W. C. Bamberger), Mynona works in the “grotesque” form, a mode that was enjoying renewed attention from Germany’s avant-garde in the early 20th century, including writers like Hermann Harry Schmitz, Oskar Panizza and Else Lasker-Schüler (a fellow devotee of Nietzsche).

Reaching further back in German cultural history, Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self explores ideas to which Strange Flowers is irresistibly drawn – the modern conception of personality that arose in the wake of the French Revolution. Alongside familiar figures like Goethe, Schiller and Hegel, author Andrea Wulf introduces us to writer and translator Caroline Schlegel, whose salon brought these and other minds together. “When did we begin to be as self-centered as we are today? At what point did we expect to have the right to determine our own lives? When did we first ask the question, How can I be free? It all began in a quiet university town in Germany in the 1790s …” Simultaneously, the dandies were modelling another conception of self-will; British Dandies by Dominic Janes “explores that social and cultural history through a focus on three figures: the macaroni, the dandy, and the aesthete. The first was noted for his flamboyance, the second for his austere perfectionism, and the third for his perversity.” Their spiritual descendants haunt Nino Strachey’s Young Bloomsbury, which describes the moment in the movement’s history when a “group of queer young creatives joined their ranks, pushing at gender boundaries, flouting conventions, spurring their seniors to new heights of artistic activity.” Subjects include Vita Sackville-West’s dazzlingly camp cousin Eddy, who furthered the early 20th-century tradition of the cultured country house in “England’s last literary salon” as related in Simon Fenwick’s The Crichel Boys. “Sackville-West, Shawe-Taylor and Knollys – later joined by the literary critic Raymond Mortimer – became members of one another’s surrogate families and their companionship became a stimulus for writing, for them and their guests. Long Crichel’s visitors’ book reveals a Who’s Who of the arts in post-war Britain – Nancy Mitford, Benjamin Britten, Laurie Lee, Cyril Connolly, Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Cecil Beaton, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson – who were attracted by the good food, generous quantities of drink and excellent conversation”. Country house social experimentation of a different kind in Anna Neima’s Practical Utopia: The Many Lives of Dartington Hall, a progressive community inspired by Rabindranath Tagore. The invented tongue of the original Utopia, Thomas More’s, joins “the linguistic fantasies (or madness) of Georgian linguist Nikolai Marr and Swiss medium Hélène Smith; and considers the quest for the true philosophical language” in Marina Yaguello’s Imaginary Languages (translated by Erik Butler). The island of Redonda comes closer to the original meaning of the word “utopia”, or “non-place”. Redonda is a place, just – an uninhabited outcrop in the Caribbean which makes Joe Carstairs’s Big Whale Cay look positively continental. But in Try Not to Be Strange, we discover the bizarre and remarkably persistent mythology which arose around the island “kingdom” and its succession of underworld overlords, largely fabricated in the distant bohemian enclave of Fitzrovia. Author Michael Hingston presents “the complete history of Redonda’s transformation from an uninhabited, guano-encrusted island into a fantastical and international kingdom of writers. With a cast of characters including forgotten sci-fi novelists, alcoholic poets, vegetarian publishers, Nobel Prize frontrunners, and the bartenders who kept them all lubricated while angling for the throne themselves …”

And with this very Strange Flowers selection of misfits we draw our Satanic selection to a close. My own publishing venture is winding up, so rest assured this will be the last time I shill for Rixdorf Editions (though I can’t promise I won’t put out anything under my own name and tell you all about it!). Most titles are still available but they’re selling fast at the five-year anniversary price of five yo-yos; have a look here. It will all be over at the end of this year; they’ll be gone forever and this will have been nothing but a strange and beautiful dream.



  1. Wow, you have really outdone yourself. Selves! Thank you for the marvelous end of year tips, there seems to be hope for 2023 after all!

  2. James, thanks for this – as every year. And thanks again for Rixdorf – like Weimar, it was fun while it lasted. Now, where to find the blasted shelf space….

  3. What a fine and dangerous (to the wallet) list! Thank you!

  4. Ellie Payne

    I have treated myself to a A Secret Between Gentlemen and am so pleased with my gift. Thank you so much as I do not know if I would have found this without your help.

  5. Robert Alen Richter

    Though I’m not the target audience because I can read them in the original text, really impressed at the work that you put into the publishing venture (beautiful covers), the blog over the years; one of the net’s treasures, an abiding joy. I wish you well.

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