Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lord Dunsany and the "Dictator" series

In 1933, the publisher E.V. Lucas of Methuen in London came up with the idea for a series of small books  to be authored by "a number of the foremost men of the day" to describe what attitudes they would adopt towards "current problems if a dictatorship were set up in England and they were placed in this position of supreme power." (Whether or not this series was inspired by a very similar series of articles published in 1931-32 in the American magazine The Nation is not known. The Nation's series included writers such as Stuart Chase (November 18, 1931), G. Lowes Dickinson (November 25, 1931), William Allen White (December 2, 1931), Lewis Mumford (December 9, 1931), Glenn Frank (December 23, 1931), Harold J. Laski (January 6, 1932), Morris L. Ernst (January 13, 1932), and Oswald Garrison Villard (January 20, 1932).)

Lord Dunsany was invited to contribute in December 1933, and he wrote his book (just over 18,000 words) in a mere four weeks. Dunsany's volume was published in May 1934, the second published of the series.  The first published was by Lord Raglan, and two more appeared in 1934, including volumes by Julian S. Huxley and St. John Ervine.  The "Dictator" series (as it was named by the publisher) had a standard cover design.

Methuen published three more of the series in 1935, by Vernon Bartlett, H.R.L. Sheppard, and James Maxton.  An announced volume by Robert Lynd never appeared, but a volume by C.E.M. Joad entitled The Dictator Resigns appeared in 1936, and was self-evidently connected with the series, providing (at least) a definable endpoint.

Dunsany's biographer Mark Amory gave an interesting evaluation of Dunsany's volume:
He gave it the sub-title, The Pronouncements of the Grand Macaroni, and listed his main quarrels with the twentieth century. It is a good-tempered, short book which manages to include his disapproval of misprints, advertisements (at length), white flour, which destroys the teeth, tinned food, wooden pips in raspberry jams, ginger beer, weedkiller (only salt was allowed at Dunsany), skinning seals, cutting dogs' tails (surprisingly brief), lampshades that fail to shield the glare of the naked bulb and many, many more. Apart from his views that the League of Nations and disarmament are good in themselves but will not present men fighting and a few jokes against Indian independence, he is unconcerned with politics. His only serious positive plea is for a national theatre (Lord Dunsany: A Biography, p. 235).
What Amory leaves out is how dull and dated the book is.  Coming immediately after The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933), one of Dunsany's best novels, it marks a considerable step downward in quality. If I Were Dictator is certainly a low point in Dunsany's oeuvre.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read this book for many years and I remember it was quite a chore getting through it but knowing Dunsany, there are probably a few phrases and prose gems buried in it somewhere.