Authors: Arthur Machen

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Welsh novelist and short-story writer


Arthur Machen (MAHK-ehn), the Welsh writer of the bizarre and supernatural, was born Arthur Llewellyn Jones at Caerleon-on-Usk, Monmouthshire; he took his mother’s maiden name in childhood. The sole child of a High Church clergyman, he was an introspective, imaginative, almost mystical boy, forced to spend most of his time by himself. He was educated in private schools, but the family’s poverty kept him from achieving a first-class education. In his early reading he came under the influence of Thomas De Quincey and various medieval writers, and traces of that interest show in his later work.{$I[AN]9810000139}{$I[A]Machen, Arthur}{$S[A]Jones, Arthur Llewellyn;Machen, Arthur}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Machen, Arthur}{$I[geo]WALES;Machen, Arthur}{$I[tim]1863;Machen, Arthur}

Machen worked as a clerk in a publishing house in Paddington, then as a teacher, and finally as a freelance writer. None of these vocations satisfied him, and even writing was a great labor which he never relished. Machen’s best-known works were The Great God Pan, The Three Imposters, and The Hill of Dreams. The latter novel was rejected by the publishers when it was first submitted, and it was ten years after its completion before it finally appeared. Ironically, it was his masterpiece.

Machen married Amelia Hogg in 1887; she died in 1899. In 1902 he joined the Benson Shakespearian Repertoire and toured with them. While with the company he met the actress who became his second wife and the mother of their two children, Hilary and Janet. He joined the staff of the London Evening News when he was fifty years old, still restless, still poor, and still dedicated to an exquisite and otherworldly style of literature which never brought financial reward. He worked for the Evening News for ten years.

Machen finally gave up writing entirely. He could not be popular even when he tried. Nevertheless, he had many appreciative friends among critics and other writers, and he entertained them as often as his budget would allow. He was a congenial man with a liking for children; he had a quick wit and a sense of humor.

Machen’s most popular story was “The Bowmen,” published in the volume The Angels of Mons, the Bowmen, and Other Legends of the War. Machen had been profoundly disturbed by the death of five thousand soldiers at the Battle of Mons in 1914, and in his mystical short story he wrote of St. George and his archers joining forces with the English soldiers to strike down the Germans. Many readers, including men who had fought at Mons, took the story as true. However, Machen’s most highly regarded story is far less reassuring. “The White People,” which appeared in the collection The House of Souls, records an innocent young girl’s initiation into Satanism and her subsequent suicide. In 1943 a committee, including George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm, and T. S. Eliot, was formed to help Machen financially. He died in a nursing home in Beaconsfield, England, on December 15, 1947.

BibliographyCavaliero, Glen. “Watchers on the Threshold.” In The Supernatural and English Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. Cavaliero stresses the importance of landscape and cityscape in Machen’s works as well as the sexual content of his stories. Like most commentators, he praises “The White People” in particular.Joshi, S. T. “Arthur Machen: The Mystery of the Universe.” In The Weird Tale. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Taking a largely negative view of Machen’s work, Joshi dismisses the author’s philosophy and his narrative skill. He observes that, with few exceptions, Machen’s best works were written during the decade 1889-1899.Nash, Berta. “Arthur Machen Among the Arthurians.” In Minor British Novelists, edited by Charles Alva Hoyt. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. Examines Machen’s use of the Matter of Arthur, particularly the Holy Grail, which Nash believes functioned for Machen as a symbol of humankind. Despite the title of the volume, Machen’s short as well as his long works are considered.Navarette, Susan. The Shape of Fear: Horror and the Fin de Siècle Culture of Decadence. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998. Studies Machen along with Oscar Wilde, Walter de la Mare, Henry James, Vernon Lee, and Joseph Conrad, historically contextualizing the works to explore the anxieties and phobias of the era.Reynolds, Aidan, and William Charlton. Arthur Machen: A Short Account of His Life and Work. Oxford: Caermaen, 1988. As the standard biography of Machen, this volume is not likely to be surpassed. Originally published in 1963, it includes illustrations, notes, brief bibliographies, and an index.Sweetser, Wesley D. Arthur Machen. Boston: Twayne, 1964. Sweetser’s study remains the most complete book on Machen, summarizing his life and discussing almost all his vast production. Includes useful (although now dated) primary and secondary bibliographies.Valentine, Mark. Arthur Machen. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales: Seren, 1995. A sympathetic introduction to Machen, briefer than Sweetser’s but taking advantage of more recent scholarship and taking issue with Joshi on several points. Includes illustrations and a select bibliography but no index.Wagenknecht, Edward. “Arthur Machen.” In Seven Masters of Supernatural Fiction. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. This survey by an objective critic gives fair consideration to Machen’s later, lesser-known stories and novels as well as his more familiar works.
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