Arthur Gask, The passion years (#Review, #1936Club)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a Monday Musings in support of Karen (Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling) and Simon (Stuck in a Book) #1936 Club, which involves participants reading, posting and sharing books from the chosen year.The #1936 Club has been running, 12-18 April, which means it is about to finish.

In my post I listed a number of potential books for me – or others – to read (and noted those from the year that I’ve read in the past.) Unfortunately, I did not find the ones I wanted to read, so I decided to do something different, read a short story! The first short story I considered was Ernest Hemingway’s The snows of Kilimanjaro, which was first published in Esquire in 1936, but, I really wanted to do an Australian story – so, back to the drawing board. And, at Project Gutenberg Australia I found a short story published on Boxing Day (26 December) 1936 in, wait for it, The Australian Women’s Weekly! Nothing ventured, nothing gained I thought so in I dived. It’s called of course, “The passion years”.

Published in a women’s magazine on Boxing Day, it is, as you would guess, a romance. It’s past midnight and two women – “all pink and white in their robes-de-nuit” and looking “pretty enough to eat” – are chatting, one of them telling the other about her brother’s romance:

It seems just like a tale one reads and, of course, it’s a very sentimental one, too. Oh, no dear, you take it from me sentiment is not all sickly, and only those say it is who are getting old and sickly themselves. Sentiment’s the most beautiful thing in all the world, and when you’re first in love, well, the sentiment there is just too holy and too sacred to understand.

As the story goes, her brother had lost all his money in a horse race and at the same time a wealthy young woman falls for him, but, being a proud and responsible man, he withdraws when he realises she is showing interest in him because he doesn’t want to be a fortune hunter. You can guess how it works out, but what adds to the story is the perspective and world view offered by the narrator. Our teller asserts that “a baby’s only what every girl who’s really in love looks forward to”. The story is very much of its time and place, highly gendered, but it is nicely written.

However, of more interest is the writer, Arthur Gask. The Australian dictionary of biography (ADB) describes him as a dentist and novelist. Born in England in 1869, he came to Adelaide, Australia, with his second wife, in 1920. He was particularly a crime writer, and was prolific as Wikipedia and the Project Gutenberg Australia show. His first novel, The secret of the sandhills, was published to immediate success in 1921, partly he believes due to the reviews by S. Talbot Smith. Wikipedia says he wrote it while waiting for his patients!

Gask went on to write over thirty books, as well as countless short stories. He gave up dentistry in 1933, and bought a farming property, which he names Gilrose, after his detective, Gilbert Larose. However, apparently most of his stories were set in England. ADB’s Michael Tolley described his writing as pacy and sometimes titillating, and says that his works were translated into several European languages, were serialised in newspapers, and broadcast on radio.

For interest, I tracked down a local review of his posthumously published novel, Crime upon crime. The review was written by AR McElwain in Adelaide’s The Mail on 4 October 1952. I was interested in his comment on the writing

Prolific Mr. Arthur Gask of Adelaide (SA) has a remarkable facility for blending sordid crime with old world charm So much so that I am usually more fascinated by his prose style than by the actual cases …

He also provides insight into Gask’s detective:

Our old friend, Gilbert Larose introduces some unorthodox sleuthing. But there’s a Gaskian explanation for it all, never fear. Larose is simply “acting up to his reputation as a man who always places justice above law.”

McElwain’s comment on Gask’s writing points to why he most drew my attention. His writing was also admired by novelist, HG Wells, who called Gask’s 1939 novel, The vengeance of Larose as his “best piece of story-telling…It kept me up till half-past one.” In addition, philosopher Bertrand Russell also loved his books. Russell corresponded with Gask, and visited him in Adelaide in 1950, when Gask was 81 and Russell 78.

According to Wikipedia, Gask was still writing two 80,000-word novels a year when he was nearly 80. Prolific indeed.

So, my contribution to the #1936club is small, but I’m thrilled to have finally taken part and to have discovered another Aussie writer.

Did you take part in the 1936 Club?