South Wind, 1917
They Went, 1920
In the Beginning, 1927
Siren Land, 1911 (travel)
Fountains in the Sand, 1912 (travel)
Old Calabria, 1915 (travel)
London Street Games, 1916
Alone, 1921 (travel)
Together, 1923 (travel)
D. H. Lawrence and Maurice Magnus, 1924
One Day, 1929 (travel)
Capri: Materials for a Description of the Island, 1930
Summer Islands, Ischia and Ponzo, 1931 (travel)
Looking Back, 1933 (autobiography)
Late Harvest, 1946
Seldom has a writer, on the strength of one novel, been made the object of such a cult as that centered on George Norman Douglas after South Wind had become well known. It was his only book to achieve any wide degree of popularity, yet because of it he overshadowed for a time writers of more enduring accomplishment. Ironically, the novel also eclipsed Douglas’s own more substantial works.
Douglas, the descendant of an ancient Scottish family, was born in Austria. Because he disliked English public schools he was sent to a Gymnasium in Karlsruhe in 1883, where he became a fluent linguist. While a student, he contributed articles on zoology to scientific publications. He joined the British Foreign Office in 1893 and in 1894 was sent to St. Petersburg; however, he soon withdrew from government service to become a writer, eventually settling in Italy.
His first book, Unprofessional Tales (1901), written in collaboration with his wife, had almost no sales; ten years later his second, Siren Land, was published only through the help of Joseph Conrad and Edward Garnett. It was during the blackest period of World War I that he attained celebrity with South Wind.
It would seem that, during every literary period, there must be what might be called a “coterie novel,” familiarity with which becomes the hallmark of the cognoscenti. Such a role was played by South Wind as its fame gradually spread to the United States and it was taken up by sophisticated readers. The book’s tone fit in with the prevailing enthusiasm for the work of James Branch Cabell and Ronald Firbank, writers who, like Douglas, provided escape literature of a sophisticated kind. Polish, urbanity, and a gentle cynicism were important, and through the artificial atmosphere thus created the writer could satirize bourgeois society and its standards.
Like many Englishmen, Douglas seems to have been fascinated by southern Europe, where he spent most of his adult life. The setting of South Wind is the imaginary Mediterranean island of “Nepenthe,” inhabited by an extraordinary group of eccentrics who have, in various ways, succumbed to the local atmosphere. By viewing most of the story through the eyes of an English bishop, Douglas emphasized the eternal contrast between northern and southern Europe. Nepenthe is, in miniature, the Mediterranean world, unchanged throughout the centuries, whose ripe, immemorial charm Douglas describes appreciatively and with exquisite humor.
Douglas’s other fiction has not survived, but his travel books are still recognized as belonging to the best in the genre. Besides Siren Land they include Fountains in the Sand, which is about Tunisia; Old Calabria and Alone, which describe Italy; and Together, about Douglas’s birthplace, the Vorarlberg region of Austria.