The Yellow Danger Revisited:

An Afterword  to M. P. Shiel’s China In Arms

 

by  John D. Squires

 

 

            This note is being written in the closing days of 1998 to reintroduce a novel originally written in haste as a serial in 1898.  The Yellow Danger was commissioned by Peter Keary [1] in the closing days of 1897,  as Shiel told us in “About Myself,” “When some trouble broke out in China...” [2] and appeared weekly in Short Stories from 5 February - 18 June 1898 under the title The Empress of the Earth.[3]   The weekly serial interwove contemporary personalities and events from each previous week’s current events into a fantasy of world war predicated on a racial slight and the obsessive love of a Sino-Japanese mastermind for an English nursemaid.[4] 

            The public loved it and within weeks of the first installment Pearson was asking Shiel to string the serial out.  On February 26, 1898 Shiel wrote Grant Richards [5]:

 

                        I originally undertook to make it 70,000 words: then Pearson

                        writes to ask if I will make it 100,000 words; then comes a

                        telegram: can I make it 150,000 words. What I intend to do

                        is this.  I shall make it 150,000 words for them, but 50,000

                        of this will be merely for the sake of money.  The book will

                        consist of 100,000 words which is quite enough.[6]    

 

            True to his word, the Grant Richards edition published in July 1898 was only two thirds

the length of the serial.  Shiel made some further revisions to the Grant Richards text at the insistence of his U. S. publisher, R. F. Fenno, for the American edition published in 1899.  These consisted primarily of deleting some anti-American comments from earlier sections and completely rewriting the closing chapter, “The Black Spot”.  On 7 July 1899 Shiel wrote Richards, “By the way, I re-wrote the last ch. Of T. Y. D. especially for American Publication but we don’t care now I suppose.”[7]   Apparently not, for none of the subsequent English reissues of the novel incorporated these revisions.[8] 

            The Yellow Danger made Shiel’s popular reputation and was almost certainly the most commercially successful of the twenty books published during his first creative period, 1889-1913.  Following the commercial failure of The Dragon [9] in 1913, Shiel apparently turned away from novels.  For most of the next decade he published only a few short stories and wrote at least five plays, but could get none of them staged.      

            Around 1921 he returned to fiction and began writing Richards again about publishing his work.  In a letter dated October 22, 1922 Shiel asked for Richards’ help in approaching Pearson about serializing a possible update of The Yellow Danger, though most of their correspondence centered upon Shiel’s new novel.[10] 

            That novel, Children of the Wind, was finally published by Richards in January 1923.  Possibly on the recommendation of Hugh Walpole, Alfred A. Knopf agreed to publish the American edition which appeared the following October.  Earlier that same month, Carl Van Vechten, having also been introduced to Shiel’s fiction by Walpole [11], wrote Knopf  enthusiastically:

 

                        Shiel is, to my mind, much more than a commercial proposition. 

            He is an artist, and in his strange way an important one….in his

            best work it would be very difficult for a severe critic to find any

            very important faults, granted the critic has any idea what the man

            is trying to do.  He has glamour, imagination, and a brilliant style

….And there is a certain grandeur about his manner, about the

utterly magnificent way he permits his imagination to work,

            which reminds me of no one else but Herman Melville. [12]

 

            Knopf must have concurred with Van Vechten, for by January 21, 1924 Shiel was writing Richards that five of his old novels were to be republished in America, beginning with The Lord of the Sea and Cold Steel.   Shiel was engaged in revising them down to no more than 80,000 words in length, and wondered if Richards would be interested in republishing the revised titles in England? [13]  Richards declined.  Knopf’s edition of the revised text of The Lord of the Sea duly appeared that September. 

            Van Vechten’s fulsome Introduction, Hugh Walpole’s glowing review in the New York Herald Tribune, and the many other generally favorable reviews must not have been enough to draw sufficient sales.[14]  Though The Lord of the Sea was ultimately reissued by Knopf in a cheaper edition, no further revised Shiel texts would appear until after Edward Shanks introduced Shiel’s work to Victor Gollancz in 1928.[15]   The following year Gollancz, amidst great fanfare, published the first five titles of The Novels of M. P. Shiel, which was clearly intended to be the start of a reissue of all of Shiel’s novels.  Again, rave reviews in the Times Literary Supplement  and other publications did not draw a public to match Gollancz’s initial enthusiasm.[16]  No more Shiel titles appeared under the Gollancz imprint until The Best Short Stories of M. P. Shiel in 1948, the year after Shiel died. 

            The Vanguard Press had replaced Knopf as Shiel’s American publisher beginning with a new mystery novel.  The Vanguard edition of How the Old Woman Got Home (1928)[17] became a best seller with four printings.  This success was followed up by Vanguard with American editions of the revised texts of Cold Steel in 1929 and The Purple Cloud in 1930, and the rest of Shiel’s new novels through The Young Men Are Coming in 1937. 

            The question remains, when did Shiel revise The Yellow Danger of 1898 into the form reproduced in this volume?  While Shiel had discussed with Richards a possible new edition of Danger as early as 1922, those discussions apparently  included updating the novel and seemed dependant on obtaining agreement from Pearson for a serial preceding any new book publication.  It appears Shiel was not keen on undertaking the work of updating the novel without firm contracts for both serial and book publication.[18]  In contrast, China In Arms displays no attempt to update the story.  It remains a novel peopled by numerous real personalities of the 1890s utilizing technologies and military theories clearly rooted in that historical milieu.

            The Yellow Danger  was not among the titles Shiel mentioned to Richards as being revised for American publication in 1924.  While it also was not among the titles announced as “In Preparation” in Gollancz’s promotional booklet for The Novels of M. P. Shiel in 1929, the revisions of the original text displayed in China In Arms seem to be in spirit with the revisions made to The Lord of the Sea, Cold Steel, and The Purple Cloud for the Knopf and Gollancz reissues.  All four novels were substantially cut, though with little attempt to update anything, beyond the names of some battleships in The Lord of the Sea.  (The revisions to The Dragon, reissued as The Yellow Peril, and The Last Miracle, the other two titles republished by Gollancz in 1929, were far less extensive.)

            We know from the inscription on the title page of China in Arms that Shiel presented the revised text to John Gawsworth on March 8, 1936.  Gawsworth subsequently detailed to Reynolds Morse his unsuccessful attempts to interest various publishers in the novel.  It was rejected as too dated.[19]  In a very real sense I agree with that opinion.  When The Empress of the Earth commenced in Short Stories in February 1898, nearly every reader recognized Shiel’s use in his opening chapter of the beginnings of what historians came to call the “Scramble for Concessions.”  It all began with the murder of the two German missionaries in China in November 1897 and the dispatch by Kaiser Wilhelm II of his brother with ships to enforce new German territorial demands in response. 

            Many of the political and military personalities Shiel described in his novel were real people, such as Lord Charles Beresford[20] and Emile Zola[21].  The ships, their armament, their dependence on coal supplies, the land and naval battles described, all reflected facts and theories being debated in the service journals and popular press.  The reading public of 1898 could relate to the book with an immediacy which was probably lost on the reading public of 1936. 

            The Great War had disproved many of the military theories Shiel had convincingly used in 1898.  The dreadnought battleship dominated the naval actions in the war and dreadnoughts, now fueled by oil rather than coal, still seemed to rule the seas in 1936, though a few visionaries saw promise in a new warship class, the aircraft carrier.  Memories of the horrors of trench warfare necessarily colored the perceptions of readers.

            Japan had been England’s ally in the war.  In 1915 the Japanese stormed and took over the German naval base at Kiao-Chau, China, seized by Imperial Germany in the “Scramble for Concessions”, which played so key a role in the novel. By 1936 China had splintered into spheres controlled by various warlords, with a growing Communist movement supported by Soviet Russia skirmishing with Nationalist troops seeking to reunite the country under central government.  Japan had taken Manchuria from China in 1931.  In 1937 it formally invaded the rest in the opening campaign of World War II. 

            Thus the world still ensnared in the Great Depression in 1936 was indeed very different from the one reflected in The Yellow Danger.  As Shiel himself wrote in an inscription in a collector's copy of The Lord of the Sea in 1924, “So much change so soon!  No more Tsar nor Wilhelm, wireless, flights of angels in the air....” [22]

            While seriously dated in those respects China In Arms remains the best example we are likely to find of Shiel’s methods in revising his early works for a new audience.  Whether his revisions improved his work is a question open to debate.  In general I prefer his original texts, though I may be biased by my fascination with the times they reflect.  Every cut which tends to remove them from those times diminishes them for me.  Reading through this version my feelings are more mixed.  In places, such as pages 74-75, I agree that his deletions result in a tighter style.  In others though some of his poetry seems to be lost. 

            John Hardy’s relationship with Bosey Jay in the novel is crucial to understanding his character.  The pivotal scene between them occurs at pages 279-282 when Hardy goes to see her before the last great naval battle.  Hardy has been literally twisted into a fiend by his tortures in China and his resulting lust for vengeance.  His last chance at spiritual salvation is to confess to Bosey and thus release the poison from his heart.  That scene never fails to move, but is diminished for me here since Shiel has cut my favorite line from page 280: “So wild a pity is in the world, and so bitter a sob.”  

            Some  have agreed with my preference for Shiel’s original texts.  In his Forward to The Best Short Stories of M. P. Shiel John Gawsworth wrote:

 

                 That “revised” texts are frequently not “improved” texts is

            generally accepted....In all cases, except two, therefore, I have

            republished his primal printing: for, from an examination of all

            variations, it was clear that on occasions he “revised” down,

            generally to suit some inferior momentary market.  Such versions,

            forced upon him by economic necessity, and often debasing his

            unique genius, naturally should have no place in any selection of

            his Best Stories.[23]

 

            Other readers, including H. P. Lovecraft, have clearly preferred Shiel’s revised texts.  Shiel himself assured Richards that the revised texts of his novels were much improved, and made similar comments to other correspondents.[24]  This unique presentation of China in Arms will help preserve the text of Shiel’s final revision of The Yellow Danger for the enjoyment of future readers and the consideration of scholars.  I wish to thank A. Reynolds Morse, Eleanor Morse, and Dr. George Grant, Director of Olin Library, for their help in reproducing this rarity from the Morse Collection at Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Part, Florida.

           

 

Notes

 



[1]. Peter Keary (1865-1915) joined the staff of George Newnes’ Tit-Bits in 1884.  By 1890 he was editor of that publication  when he left with C. Arthur Pearson to found Pearson’s Weekly and numerous other magazines as managing director and co-proprietor of C. Arthur Pearson, Ltd.  Keary was editing the Royal Magazine for Pearson in 1901 when it published the serial version of Shiel’s most famous novel, The Purple Cloud.  This serial is reprinted in The Works of M. P. Shiel, Volume 1, Writings, by M. P Shiel, edited with notes by A. Reynolds Morse, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1979) [hereinafter referred to as Works I].

[2]. A. Reynolds Morse, The Works of M. P. Shiel, Volume 2, The Shielography Updated, part one, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1980), page 420 [Works II].

[3]. Also reprinted in Works I.

[4]. For an extensive examination of the contemporary events incorporated into Empress, see John D. Squires, “Some Contemporary Themes in Shiel’s Early Novels” in Shiel in Diverse Hands: A Collection of Essays on M. P. Shiel, edited by A. Reynolds Morse, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1983), pp 249-326. 

[5]. Grant Richards (1872-1948) was Shiel’s primary English publisher.  It is clear from Shiel’s letters to Richards at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin that they remained friends even after their sometimes bumpy professional relationship had ended.

[6]. Works II, page 63.  The original of this letter, or possibly a copy transcribed by John Gawsworth, may be found in the Shiel collection at the Humanities Research Center.  The HRC has the largest known collection of Shiel letters and manuscripts in the world.

[7]. Works II, page 64.

[8]. For details of eight separate editions of The Yellow Danger published from 1898-1908, see the collations in Works II at pp 68-71.  Nevertheless, the study of any author’s bibliography is an organic process.  The Morse collection, housed at Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, has continued to grow since his bibliography was last revised.  It currently includes at least two colonial editions and a R. F. Fenno paperback edition not described in Works II.  Further, according to the publisher’s flyer just at hand, in October, 1998 an offset reprint of the Grant Richards text with an Introduction by George Locke and a Preface by Takayuki Tatsumi, Keio University, Japan was apparently published as volume 7 in a new 8 volume series, Sources of Science Fiction: Future War Novels of the 1890s,  Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE, England.  

[9].  M. P. Shiel, The Dragon, (London: Grant Richards, 1913; New York: E. J. Clode, 1914), reissued lightly revised as The Yellow Peril, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1929).  In many ways a more polished re-write of The Yellow Danger, this novel first appeared as a serial under the title, To Arms! in The Red Magazine, 1 January 1913-15 March 1913.  An offset of the serial version was issued by JDS Books in December 1995 in an edition of approximately 35 copies.

[10].  Shiel to Richards letter dated 22 October 1922,  HRC collection.

[11].  Carl Van Vechten letter to Hugh Walpole dated May, 1923: “Now that I have read The Purple Cloud I am with you on Shiel.  We are going to make Children of the Wind go, so we can revive the others.”  Letters of Carl Van Vechten,  edited by Bruce Kellner (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1987), p 53.

[12].  Van Vechten to Knopf letter dated 3 October 1923, Letters of Carl Van Vechten, pp 56-57.

 

[13].  Shiel to Richards letter dated 21 January 1924, HRC collection.

[14].  In his review Walpole said in part:

 

                    I firmly believe that the escape from prison in the first half of The Lord of the Sea is

               one of the great romantic things in our literature...

     He is just about the best Romantic writer we have alive in England to-day.  He cares

               but little for the truth of material things, but everything for the truth of spiritual things. 

               He can be detailed and realistic enough when he pleases, but the kite of his imagination

               is forever tugging him upward   We want our writers to take more risks.  They are afraid,

               poor dears, that people won’t believe them and so they stick to their table legs and railway

               time tables and gritty pavements.

                    That is why some people are afraid that the novel is dying.  It isn’t dying at all: it was

               never more vigorous, but it wants some risks to be taken with it; it wants its nose tweaked,

               and Shiel is the man to tweak it.

 

Hugh Walpole, “Romance” in The New York Herald Tribune, September 28, 1924, page 3.

[15].  Works II, pp 106-107.

[16].  Gollancz’s promotions for the series included a full page ad in The Times Literary Supplement, March 14, 1929, page 201, and an advertising brochure, “The Novels of M. P Shiel” with the first publication of the extended revision of “About Myself”.  See Morse The Works of M. P. Shiel, Volume 3, The Shielography Updated, part 2, pp 669-674. [Works III]   A few of the positive reviews included Ralph Straus, “An Out-And-Out Romantic” in The Sunday Times, March 10, 1929, page 9, L. P. Hartley,  “New Fiction” in The Saturday Review, March 16, 1929, page 363, and “A Master of the Weird” in The Times Literary Supplement, March 28, 1929, page 256.

[17].  First published Richards Press, London, 1927.  See Works II, pp 195-201.

[18].  Shiel to Richards letters dated 22 October 1922, 13 November 1922, and 29 October 1923, HRC collection.

[19].  Works II, pp 60-61.

[20].  Lord Charles De La Poer Beresford, Baron Beresford (1846-1919) was the best known sailor in England in the 1890s.  He was appointed aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, and in September, 1897 elevated to flag rank, though his later reputation was marred by a long-running dispute with Lord Jackie Fisher over the modernization of the navy and other policies.

[21].  Emile Zola (1840-1902) French author and journalist, whose article J’Accuse (“I Accuse”) published January 13, 1898 is credited with launching the public campaign which eventually led to Alfred Dreyfus’ release from Devil’s Island.  Zola was convicted of liable against the Army in the article in February 1898, causing rioting in the streets of Paris.  Shiel duly incorporated those events into the March 12, 1898 installment of The Empress of the Earth.  They are now found, with some revisions, at pages 94-95 of China In Arms.

[22].  Works II, page 93.

[23].  John Gawsworth [T. I. F. Armstrong], forward to The Best Short Stories of M. P. Shiel, page 5.

[24].  See, for instance, Shiel to Richards letter dated 21 January 1924, and Shiel’s letter dated 19 October 1924 to his sister, Gussie, HRC collection.

 




This essay appeared as the Afterword to China in Arms: The Final Revision of The Yellow Danger, by M. P. Shiel, Edited with an Afterword by John D. Squires, Kettering, Ohio: The Vainglory Press, 1998. (See Occasional Publications from JDS Books.)

Copyright © 1998 by John D. Squires. Used by permission.

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