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Allen, Grant

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of Canadian-born author Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen (1848-1899); peripatetic in his youth, mostly in the UK from 1864, except for a period as Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at Queen's College, Jamaica, a prep school which failed in 1876; active as a writer from around 1875, publishing under his own name and as by Cecil Power, Olive Pratt Rayner, Martin Leach Warborough and J Arbuthnot Wilson. His first works of significance were nonfiction, comprising a series of books based on Evolution theory from a Social Darwinist angle, beginning with Physiological Aesthetics (1877) and The Colour-Sense (1879), and including the informed and appreciative Charles Darwin (1885); this was followed by The Evolution of the Idea of God (1890), where he argues that all Religion is based on worship of the dead, who have been subjected to deification by their descendants; several of the poems assembled in The Lower Slopes (1893 chap) deal with evolution. As an author of fiction, Allen is known primarily for his work outside the sf field, including The Woman Who Did (1895), which became immediately notorious for its attack on contemporary sexual mores. After its success he published a second Satire whose subtitle was meant to imply the far-reaching searching gaze of The Woman Who Did: this is The British Barbarians: A Hill-Top Novel (1895), in which a Time-Travelling social scientist from the twenty-fifth century is scathing about tribalism and Taboos in Victorian society; in the end, the convention-flouting visitor is shot by an affronted husband.

Allen's interest in Anthropology had already been made manifest in The Great Taboo (1890) and in many of the short stories assembled in Strange Stories (1884); this collection includes two sf stories originally published under the pseudonym J Arbuthnot Wilson: "Pausodyne" (December 1881 Belgravia Christmas Annual), an early tale about Suspended Animation, and "A Child of the Phalanstery" (July 1884 Belgravia), about a future society's Eugenic practices. Allen's bibliography is complex; the first of these stories, for instance, also appears as by Allen in The Desire of the Eyes and Other Stories (1895), and the latter as by Allen in Twelve Tales, with a Headpiece, a Tailpiece and an Intermezzo (1899). Other stories of genre interest include "My New Year's Eve Among the Mummies" (January 1880 Belgravia); "Pallinghurst Barrow" (28 November 1892 Illustrated London News), a Timeslip ghost story, written after his friendship with H G Wells had begun, which prefigures the Morlock scenes of H G Wells's The Time Machine (1895); and "The Thames Valley Catastrophe" (December 1897 Strand), where a lava flow from upriver destroys London, a tale which Patrick Parrinder took as a central text in his "From Mary Shelley to The War of the Worlds: The Thames Valley Catastrophe" (in Anticipations: Essays on Early Science Fiction and its Precursors, anth 1995, ed David Seed).

Much of Allen's work traversed genres, his crime fiction in particular often incorporating elements of fantasy and supernatural horror as well as sf: his early "shilling shocker" Kalee's Shrine (1886; vt The Indian Mystery 1897) with May Cotes, is for instance a fantasy of mesmerism (see Hypnosis) with some sf elements; and The Devil's Die (1897) is a mundane melodrama which includes an account of a bacteriological research project. His sf overall prefigures but does not in any significant sense shape the explosive Wellsian creation of the full-blown Scientific Romance. He was a sharp-tongued versatile entertainer, who died young, perhaps just before reaching his full potential. [BS/JC]

see also: Canada; Sociology.

Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen

born Alwington, Ontario: 24 February 1848

died Hindhead, Surrey: 28 October 1899

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nonfiction (selected)

about the author


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