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Idler, The

Entry updated 16 January 2021. Tagged: Publication.


UK general interest magazine, one of the first to appear following the enthusiastic reception of The Strand, but not a slavish imitation. It was founded by Robert Barr and William Dunkerley (better known as John Oxenham) with Jerome K Jerome as the initial editor. It ran from February 1892 to March 1911, monthly, missing just two months. Robert Barr was the proprietor until he was forced to sell the magazine in 1898 when it passed through a succession of publishers and editors. Initially Barr had been quite hands-on with the magazine, resulting in a clash of egos with Jerome, and in the end he stepped back with Jerome editing the magazine solo from August 1895 to November 1897, when he resigned. Barr resumed the editorship even after he sold the magazine but he too stepped down after September 1898, when it was edited in rapid succession by Edwin Oliver (to April 1899), Arthur Lawrence, Sidney H Sime and others before Barr became editor again from October 1902 and reacquired the magazine in 1906.

Barr had a special interest in what would come to be called science fiction and encouraged it in The Idler, contributing several stories of his own including "The Doom of London" (November 1892), where Pollution brings London to its knees; "The Fear of It" (May 1893), about a strange society on a remote Island; and "The Revolt of the –" (May 1894), highlighting the possible outcome of female emancipation. Jerome tended to keep his contributions amusing, though he wrote one more frightening story in "The Dancing Partner" (March 1893), about the eponymous Automaton. One of the special features of The Idler was "The Idler's Club", a regular monthly gathering (see Club Story) of the literati who chat about anything and everything exploring all kinds of ideas. Several of the contributors to the Club produced their own Proto SF, notably W L Alden, Arthur Conan Doyle and Israel Zangwill (1864-1926). Many of these stories are about new Inventions causing havoc and unexpected problems. The best known is Conan Doyle's "The Los Amigos Fiasco" (December 1892) where a high voltage at an execution in an electric chair rejuvenates the criminal and renders him immortal (see Immortality). Alden wrote a series of stories about crazy inventions, starting with "Professor Van Wagener's Eye" (November 1895), later collected as Van Wagener's Ways (coll of linked stories 1898). Zangwill produced perhaps the most intriguing of these with "The Memory Clearing House" (July 1892) where a professor devises a way of recording and transferring memories (see Memory Edit). In "The Dead Man Speaks" (March 1895), Grant Allen has a dead man revived briefly by an extra supply of oxygen. Rudyard Kipling contributed one of his tales of anthropomorphized Machines, "The Ship that Found Herself" (December 1895). H G Wells also contributed to The Idler, notably his ghost story "The Red Room" (March 1896) and his fantasy "The Apple" (October 1896). Further Wells appearances include the tale of Identity Transfer, "The Story of the Late Mr Elvesham" (May 1896), and his series "Stories of the Stone Age" (May-November 1897) (see Prehistoric SF).

There was little sf published during the period of Barr's absence, though there was a fair amount of fantasy and ghost stories, but it returned with Barr. An odd item was "No Ball" (May 1906) by Roy Horniman where a disagreement in a cricket match (see Games and Sports) between the UK and USA in the future leads to War. Of more interest is "Matchinson's Developer" (June 1906) by Victor L Whitechurch, better known for his railway detective stories. Here a Scientist believes he can photograph the human soul. The story shows the scientific interest at the time in investigating ghosts and spirits (see Eschatology), which had been evident from the start of The Idler with W L Alden's "A Condensed Ghost" (December 1893) where a scientist claims he can condense and imprison ghosts.

In its final years The Idler published three series of interest. The Tracer of Lost Persons (October 1906-April 1907; 1906) by Robert W Chambers concerning a detective with an unerring ability to find people (see Wild Talents); Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder (January-June 1910; exp 1913) by William Hope Hodgson, stories of an occult detective with a degree of scientific rationality; and, of most significance, "The Professor's Experiments" (July-December 1910) by Paul Bo'ld, the alias of Edward George Bousfield (1880-1951). The series considers a series of experiments which explore the sub-atomic and macro-atomic, the fourth Dimension, hypnotic control (see Hypnosis) and Gravity.

Other notable contributors in the magazine's early days were Edwin Lester Arnold, Eden Phillpotts, Sidney Sime, Mark Twain and Patrick Vaux (1872-?   ). Many stories from The Idler were reprinted in McClure's Magazine and vice versa. [MA/JE]

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