When I wrote about the CWA conference in Abergavenny recently, I mentioned that as well as locally born Ethel Lina White, another writer from South Wales came to my attention that week-end. This was, in fact, Arthur Machen, who was born not too far away in Caerleon-on-Usk (the Usk, as I discovered, is a lovely river and there are a number of very pleasant towns in its environs.)
There is a nice little museum at Abergavenny Castle, and when we visited it, I was interested to see a small exhibition about the life and work of Arthur Machen. I first came across Machen’s name many years ago, when I read Julian Symons’ brilliant Bloody Murder. He praises Machen’s book The Three Impostors, while noting that ‘it falls outside the detective canon’ and describing it as a tale of terror.
The opening line of the book, Symons says, is both tantalising and disturbing: ‘And Mr Joseph Waters is going to stay the night?’ When I first read this, I thought Symons was over-stating the impact of that sentence, and thought it rather ordinary, but on reflection I agree it has a sinister, fairly subtle, quality..
Machen is featured at length in Julia Briggs’ excellent study of supernatural fiction, Night Visitors, which is introducing me to some very interesting writers and stories. He clearly retains a power to appeal to the modern enthusiast – I learned in Abergavenny that there is a Friends of Arthur Machen Society (FOAM!) and for all I know he may even have a Facebook fan club.