The Times, Thursday, February 20, 1947
M. P. Shiel
MASTER OF FANTASY
Mr. M. P. Shiel, whose death at St. Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, on Monday at the age of 81 has already been announced, was a master of fantasy less widely known than he deserved.
He had the fertile imagination of an Irish Dumas père and an original if bizarre prose style. His masterpiece, The Purple Cloud, for all its extravagant incident, is far more than merely an exciting story; though it may be taken in its external literality, it is, too, symbolic of the loneliness and duality of the human soul. It was always so in his best work; he tossed the world about in his dreams, not with a juggler’s detachment, but with a sense now bitter, now exultant of the tragedy and splendour that enwrap the mysterium tremendum of existence. At his slacker moments a “shocker” perhaps, at his tenser, poet, seer, and “flaming genius” as the late Sir Hugh Walpole once said of him.
Matthew Phipps Shiel was born at Plymouth, Montserrat, on July 21, 1865. Of Irish descent, the son of Matthew Dowdy Shiell, a shipowner and trader. Gaining honours in the examination for the London marticulation from Harrison College, Barbados, where he was educated from 1881 to 1883, Shiel proceeded to King’s College, London. After two posts as a mathematics master and six months at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital he was appointed in 1891 interpreter to the International Congress of Hygiene and Demography, where he became associated with Florence Nightingale. Mrs. Gladstone taking an interest in his early writing, he was emboldened to send his Prince Zaleski to John Lane, who published it in 1895 as No. 7 in the “Keynote” series with Beardsley decorations. A novel in collaboration with W. T. Stead was succeeded by a further “Keynote” volume and five novels, first serialized by Harmsworth, of which The Yellow Danger (1898) was the most distinctive.
In 1901 appeared his masterpiece, The Purple Cloud. Until war broke out in 1914 Shiel published an annual volume with regularity. After a silence of 10 years he resumed writing in 1923 with Children of the Wind, and in 1927 established his reputation in America with the widely read How the Old Woman Got Home. A reissue of five of his novels in England in 1929 brought him temporarily into considerable prominence and the appearance in the following year of Dr. Krasinski’s Secret and The Black Box stabilized his literary reputation. Four novels followed, two written in collaboration with his bibliographer, Mr. John Gawsworth, and a volume of poems. He left in manuscript his study, Jesus two volumes of essays and stories, a new novel, five plays, and several revised texts of early books.
In 1935 he was awarded a Civil List pension, which was increased in 1938. He was twice married and is survived by a daughter.
[Attributed to John Gawsworth]
Return to M.P. Shiel at Selected Authors of Supernatural Fiction