Found Pages: The Remarkable Harold Ernest (“Darcy Glinto”) Kelly, 1899–1969.
Working on Kelly-Glinto-Ascher-Yorke-Toler-Carson-Holt-Wayne- Logan-Parsons has been what I imagine spelunking or caving to be like. Tunnels lead into caves with other tunnels leading off from them, and there are parts that one simply can’t get to.
At the outset I would never have dreamed of Darcy Glinto writing a children’s book about a monkey, or celebrating the romance of the City of London.
And his, or rather Kelly’s, work as a whole, with its multifarious styles and genres, is an extreme example of what I have elsewhere called multiple languages.
Elsewhere, too, I have argued for reading each work by an author, and each stretch in a work, without presuppositions as to what one “must” or will find at any point.
At the same time, it’s natural to look for connections between works, and to wonder what the author was like.
I still have no sense of knowing Kelly as I do, or think I do, Donald Hamilton, or Charles Williams, or Geoffrey Household, or Martin Woodhouse, writers with whom one has, or can reasonably assume, substantial overlaps between authors, characters, and narrative voices.
My best bet, for the time being, is that Kelly cultivated the protective ordinariness of a pub-going former freelance journalist, knowledgeable about boxing and wrestling, and worldly-wise about the publishing business, the money racket, and the pretensions of politicians.
Like Shakespeare he seems not to have been a “character” who left strong impressions in the minds of others. At least, I’ve found no mention of him in memoirs so far.
I note the emphasis on the home as the center of security in Give the People Homes, and Monkey Goes Home could have begun life as a bedtime story. But if he married the Kathleen to whom Blue Blood Flows East is dedicated, he would probably have been in his forties. The first-series Glintos don’t feel like the work of a good family man.
In any event, there seems to me nothing pathological about the authorial multiplicity.
He did the bulk of his writing for his and Hector’s three publishing houses, and most of the books that they published seem to have been by him. In such circumstances, the desirability of pseudonyms is obvious. (See Sidebar 7.)
There could also have been a touch of the secret game to the brothers’ activities, the two of them against the colder world and beating the system. It would have been entertaining listening to someone talking about how they loved this (pseudonymous) author and couldn’t stand that one.
But there may be a bit more to it than that.
A major factor in Kelly’s career, as I’ve suggested, is that he was someone who took two bad falls.
His City Mid-Week, with so many hopes and expectations obviously invested in it, was stomped into the ground by the big players, and a decade later, at the Old Bailey again, he was pilloried for Lady—Don’t Turn Over and Road Floozie. Twice when he had been on a roll the dice were snatched away from him.
So now, to shift metaphors, he isn’t going to put all his eggs in one basket for someone to tread on.
But he goes on being concerned with freedom and empowerment, and he goes on liking women,
George Orwell, who hated bullying, complained, not altogether fairly, that James Hadley Chase’s No Orchids was all about power and that the fish-pond pattern in it of bigger fish gobbling up smaller ones was that of Fascism.
Kelly too was concerned with power, but in a more truly Nietzschean fashion.
Again and again he takes us into the psychology of individuals stubbornly determined not to be destroyed or enfeebled by superior force, whether brute force, or psychological intimidation, or corrosive feelings of guilt and unworthiness.
Eileen O’Rourke in Road Floozie, Edda Garfe in You Took Me—Keep Me, Carrie Donovan in Curtains for Carrie, Connie O’Mara in No Come Back from Connie, the monkey hero of Monkey Goes Home, Dan Roscoe in The Trouble-Kid Quits, Rosa Van Sennes in Blue Blood Flows East —the pattern is there.
The will to dominance is also there—Max Broler refusing to be deflected from raping Edda Garfe, the gang bosses lusting after the heroines in Curtains for Carrie and Blue Blood, the imperialistic big ranchers and town bosses in the Westerns.
But bullies can be resisted, and if it is done with enough skill and determination and intelligent small-group co-operation, their victory is not inevitable. Nor is that of ossified and dysfunctional Good Order, as in Monkey Goes Home and Space-Time Task-Force, or the inflamed insistencies of mobs in the Westerns.
It is often a close-run thing, though, as Wellington said after Waterloo. In a Kelly novel you can never feel confident about how things will turn out for the good guys. But he gives us a number of morally, if not always conventionally, admirable heroines and heroes, and it would be interesting, though I won’t be attempting it, to try and figure out what some of the likenesses are that make them a Wittgensteinian “family.”
I see that I am now talking as though Kelly were a Real Author. Well, so I am and so he is. And here I must make a confession.
My anecdote in Sidebar 2 about Disraeli’s saying that when he married his wife he did it for her money but that if he were to do it again it would be for love may not have been strictly accurate. At least, when I looked it up it was his wife who said that he would have married her for love. But it is neater the first way, and it partly carries over to my work here.
When I embarked on it, I was principally concerned to figure out how the author of Lady—Don’t Turn Over could also have written Road Floozie and, if it was in fact his, Deep South Slave.
But I was also hoping for more of the Glinto scandalousness, and a bit disappointed when it didn’t appear. And I was nervously alert for places in the books which an unfriendly reader might seize upon as indicators of Kelly’s being infra dig and, aside for two or three happy accidents, below the radar of serious attention.
I’m now convinced that he really matters, and not just as a leading denizen, along with Stephen Frances, of the post-WWII pulp-paperback jungle
I’d like to know how well his books sold. I’d like to be reassured that when he retired to the Canary Islands in the Sixties, it was for his health and not because of poverty.
But by and large, his career is a heartening example of difficulties overcome and intelligent adaptation.
He was tougher-minded than poor Frances, who published over two hundred books, sold in the hundred-thousands, and died poor. He possessed a better business sense, and, thanks to his relationship with brother Hector, preserved his independence. He didn’t let the bastards grind him down.
The history of “literature” is in large part a history of writers who enjoyed some kind of reputation for a bit and then sank into footnote obscurity. The list of twentieth-century British fiction writers whose names are now recognized only by students of the period keeps growing.
I’ve said that Harold Ernest Kelly is a more interesting writer than René Brabazon Raymond.
But that is slim praise. Despite Raymond’s success in France as James Hadley Chase, and the many movies made from them, his books after the first few, to judge from the handful that I’ve sampled, are close to unreadable in the banality of their prose, when set beside those of Jim Thompson, John McPartland, Charles Williams, and other real Americans. Maybe they’re better in French?
Well, all right, then, Kelly is more interesting, more complex, and at his best more of a “real” writer,” than reputable twentieth-century British novelists like—but there are too many names to choose from, especially in the second half of the century, and caution is tugging at my sleeve now.
(“You mean he actually said Kelly was better than Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis, and Will Self put in a bag and shaken up together? Better than—gulp—Kingsley Amis?”)
No, no, that would never do.
The Kelly Story effectively ends before the cultural explosion in the mid-Sixties when the world started permanently changing and a Britain exhausted and impoverished by the War returned to significant, if rather feverish, life.
In any event, it was through some turbulent and problematic decades that Kelly, who obviously was neither Leftist nor Establishment-conservative, made his way, concerned intelligently with questions of power, particularly as it affected women, and without the use of ready-made formulae in his thrillers.
Which is partly why, in addition to his at times remarkable writerly skills, and some obviously strong personal concerns, his best work is still so readable today when formerly much bigger and brighter names, both “serious” and “mere” entertainers, have dimmed.
His creative vitality during that particularly dreary decade of low-energy creation and political decline, the 1950s, is particularly noteworthy.
If I were to attempt a larger generalization, it might go something like this:
In a time of largely gentlemanly British (fictional) heroes dealing with or in crime and employing relatively little in the way of violence. James Hadley Chase hardened and simplified the psyches involved. Kelly, as Glinto and later in the Westerns, kept things more open, took us into more complex attitudes and accomodations, and in the end came back to heroes, in the Westerns who were basically chivalric, but much more at home with respect to violence, and more sophisticated in their use of it and counters to it.
What are some things about Kelly’s works that I particularly like? Well, let’s see.
The detailed descriptions of hand-to-hand fights, for one, not because I follow them closely, but because of a kinaesthetic vitality, a thereness in those bodies that may well be unique in English prose fiction, and which is also an affair of mind, of whole runs of lightning decisions and adaptations.
For another, there are the problem-solving mental processes of characters, whether shadowing someone, or finding someone, or breaking out of confinement, or calming down a lynch mob, or handling frightened cattle and runaway horses, or talking one’s way out of the clutches of someone dangerous,
But these actions don’t always go as planned, so that’s my third thing, the fact that events don’t settle down into conventions so that after a bit you can be pretty comfortable about how things will turn out for the good guys. They don’t go programmatically wrong, like in the glummer noirs. But they have their own dynamics, and good people make mistakes, and bad ones get lucky or get things right in other ways.
So I like
—these centers of energy, these individuals, who Kelly sets in motion and allows to run;
—his women, his gutsy women, at times managing gangs or ranches without being butch about it, at others trying to cope with bad hands that have been dealt them;
—the unmystified but not mechanistic or leering treatment of sex, the relationships more important than the couplings, the believable loves;
—the moral delicacy of the relationships with women in the Westerns;
—the truthfulness of some of the darker violences, the intensity of emotion issuing in unacceptable actions that are nevertheless credible and in character.
—the suspense at times when someone whom one cares about is in great danger;
—the continuing aura of scandalousness, the possibility of the transgressive, the envelope-pushing, the outrageous in the gangster novels that I’ve read and the ones that I may never get to read;
—the pleasure of owning a banned book (the first edition of Lady—Don’t Turn Over) and beating the world-be censors and eliminators;
—the acquaintances that I have made because of this site.
—going on the trail of someone totally off the official literary map, who in most of his books, as a self-publisher, is answerable only to readers with a bob or two to spare;
—finding that texts and information that seemed lost for ever, at least to me, were recoverable;
—the sheer lovely writing at times, particularly outdoors in the Westerns at night, with other beings, human or animal, moving around;
—the ability of characters to go through terrible experiences and come out the other side without being permanently intimidated or embittered;
—the importance of loyalty, especially in the Westerns, and of not promising more than one knows one will be able to give, and the scrupulousness with respect to obligations;
—the discriminating in the books between legality and moralty, and the subtle computations as to how a book must end so as to satisfy one’s deeper sense of emotional rightness;
—discerning patterns and continuities in what initially seemed chaotic.
There is even a literary- theoretical aspect here that pleases me.
Portentous talk about the “subjectivity” of knowledge, is often just lazy-mindedness.
If you can never arrive at the truly known, why put out all the effort required for deciding, to the best of your ability, which of various more or less “expert” hypotheses is correct? So, come on, who really knows who killed the millionaire in his transcontinental berth? Who’s to say that that nosy little Belgian’s opinions are right? There could have been some completely different explanation that was just as good.
Borges knew all about that kind of feeling, though he also knew, in his own fictions, that there were indeed correct solutions to puzzles.
But I think there can also be the felt oppressiveness of the too known, what Wallace Stevens called “the malady of the quotidian.” Federico Fellini brilliantly catches that aspect of the later 18th century in his Casanova, the feeling that basically the order of things is known, the game rules are settled, and all that’s left now is to go on playing by them, but with a growing feeling of ennui.
So it’s good to be reminded, as the tangle of texts and guesses labelled “Harold Kelly” reminds us, that the known, or what passes for it in the instantaneities of Google, has always been the result of a piecing together. And that, unless one opts for the extreme subjectivity of Borges’ Tlön, in which a critic will knowingly take two wildly dissimilar texts and discuss them as the work of a single author, there is really no responsible alternative to trying to figure things out, in the knowledge, all the time, that one could be wrong, but that sometimes one can be right.
Which of the “problem” Kelly texts are really by him? Did the author of Lady—Don’t Turn Over and Road Floozie, also write Deep South Slave, so that one can reasonably discern a progression there? Lance Carson, Clinton Wayne, Bryn Logan—which texts are indeed Kelly’s, since obviously, given the numbers, they can’t all be, and a few, as I’ve argued on internal evidence, are almost certainly not?
I have made my own guesses, just as scholars at a more exalted level have made their guesses about “problem” Shakespeare texts like Henry VIII and the poem that was included in an Oxford University Press edition of Shakespeare some years ago and to me felt obviously not by him. I shall be interested to see if there is unambiguous documentary evidence that corrects some of my guesses. (I once guessed, with conviction, that B. Traven was an American author.) But it may not always be a matter of moving from a definite wrongness to a definite rightness. I am leaving some of my wrong guesses here, while supplying the corrections, as a reminder of the actualities of the process of truths-seeking—truths, not the Truth.
Shakespeare too, to judge from the ongoing biographical flood, some of it plainly ridiculous, obviously also offers the satisfaction of a combination of some definite knowns, though not of the smoking gun variety, and a lot of unknowns or uncertains. Hence the pleasure of connecting up the dots afresh, when it isn’t always certain what is a dot.
At any rate Kelly is now vastly more there than he was before I started. I may have been wrong in a number of my speculations. But as the title of that portrait—of him?— puts it, “If you don’t speculate …”
There are no short-cuts.
And you know? I also like how the Glinto/Toler prose differs from the efficiency of the general run of my own once favourite Gold Medal books, an efficiency that after a while can become formulaic, so that what was once so gripping can now seem period and faded.
Kelly was always somewhat anachronistic, with the result that when one reads him now one’s reading him and not swatches cut from a large general fabric.
He must have written very fast, and at times he can be pretty bad, so bad in fact that there can be doubts at times as to the authorship. But he can also write remarkably well, whether throughout a novel or in such quiet observations as,
And that was where they were alike. They could both say the thing that was in their minds in plain words and they could both look straight out of their eyes at whoever was in front of them.
I also admire the variousness of the things that he successfully attempted, and how he got back up from falls that could have emotionally crippled someone else, and how he preserved his independence and didn’t let the bastards grind him down.
How did this very private writer view his own work, I wonder? In which books did he take particular pride? Did he have any twinges of regret about their fates?
Coming out from behind Lady—Don’t Turn Over, he deserves a better chance to be read attentively now than he enjoyed during his lifetime, and he will repay the attention.
For that, of course, some accessible texts are needed.
Road Floozie, the original, uncut “existential” Road Floozie, has to be brought back into print. Has to. So must lovely Deep South Slave, which truly is by Kelly, I don’t know how, but it is, and couldn’t be by anyone else. The Trouble-Kid Quits must be there, a Western to read even if you don’t read Westerns. And in its own right, and not just as a period document, the rightly most notorious scandal thriller in English, uncut, and still with power to disturb, Lady—Don’t Turn Over, must take its place there too. After which, lap of the Gods.
I came late to the drawing by Imre Hofbauer described in Note 40. Until then, while curious as to what Kelly looked like, I thought it mightn’t be a bad thing for that particular dog to go on sleeping. An off-putting photo of an author can be worse than nothing. But the figure in the drawing has become Kelly for me, at least until a correction comes along.
The forty-six issues of City Mid-Week are there in the British Library to be mined, as are the novels classified as Rare and unable to travel. There are individuals out there—there have to be—who know things about the Kellys that I don’t. (Hector, born in 1911, lived on until 1991.) There are obviously copies of some of the “lost” Glintos in private collections. There is plenty still to be discovered.
But some of Harold Kelly’s pages, at least, are now no longer missing.