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Houghton, Claude

Entry updated 19 July 2021. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of UK author Claude Houghton Oldfield (1889-1961), known primarily outside the sf field. Unfit for active service in World War One, he served in the Admiralty. Some pining frustration at a missed destiny can be detected in the poems assembled as his first book, The Phantom Host and Other Verses (coll 1917 chap); the Pastoral calm depicted in the titular verse-drama from The Tavern of Dreams: A Volume of Verse (coll 1919 chap) is soon disrupted by a Mysterious Stranger whose war news opens all eyes to the world to come. Houghton declared that his work was substantially based on the thesis that modern civilization must collapse "because it no longer believes it has a destiny"; thus his novels of ideas occasionally stray into the surreal, the supernatural or sf. His first novel, Neighbours (1926), is an intriguing study in abnormal Psychology whose narrator makes an obsessive study of his "next-door neighbour", unaware of the fact that he is a Doppelganger of the man he thinks he is observing. The mysterious eponym of I Am Jonathan Scrivener (1930), though he shapes the lives of every other character in the novel, is not himself ever seen until in the final chapter a stranger of impressive aspect calls on the narrator and, as the book's closing line, utters its title. (Jorge Luis Borges's "The Approach to Al-Mu'tasim" [in Historia de la eternidad, coll 1936, as "El acercamiento a Almotásim"; trans 1962] has some thematic similarity to this novel.) Some of Houghton's later works also feature eccentric psychologies, but their fantastic elements are usually minimal. Julian Grant Loses His Way (1933) is a bitterly misanthropic character-study cast in the form of a Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Three Fantastic Tales (coll 1934 chap) contains three brief philosophical fantasies.

Houghton comes closest to the full Scientific Romance in This Was Ivor Trent (1935), which examines the effect upon a writer of a vision of human Evolution in which he is communicated with by a man of the future, confirming in Trent a mysterious ability to influence his fellows. But this power is insufficient to stay the omnipresent dread felt by the cast – and indeed by most of Houghton's characters – a dread specifically associated with the aftermath of the previous war and premonitions of World War Two. [BS/JC/DRL]

see also: Superman.

Claude Houghton Oldfield

born Sevenoaks, Kent: May 1889

died Eastbourne, Sussex: 10 February 1961

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