Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.
(1873-1961) UK commercial artist, illustrator and author, active in various genres since 1899; married to Berta Ruck from 1909 until his death; in 1918 he legally changed his name to George Oliver but continued to write as Onions. He is best remembered for powerfully disturbing tales of ghosts and supernatural horrors, such as The Beckoning Fair One (in Widdershins coll 1911; 2000 chap), whose subtle haunting by perceived sounds may also be read as a nonfantastic account of deepening psychosis. [See The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below.] Other stories collected in Widdershins include "Phantas" (February 1910 Nash's Magazine), in which a Renaissance shipbuilder and mariner speculates – while his vessel founders – on the ideal ship of the future, and has a resonant Timeslip encounter with a twentieth-century destroyer and its crew.
Of particular sf interest is The New Moon: A Romance of Reconstruction (1918), which imagines the rebuilding and expansion of Britain's canal and railway Transportation after World War One (here referred to as the Bloodletting), an account of making a Near Future Utopia tainted to some small extent by the necessities of authoritarian oversight; the story proves to be the dream or Precognitive vision of a young soldier who like the author is in the Royal Engineers, and still struggling in the trenches of the Great War. The protagonist of The Tower of Oblivion (1921), having reached a certain point in middle age, is or believes himself to be living backward and growing younger (see Time in Reverse). A Certain Man (1931) is a mildly wish-fulfilling fantasy centred on a magical overcoat that always fits perfectly and repairs itself. The Hand of Kornelius Voyt (1939) subjects a young orphan to a sinisterly charismatic figure's malign psychic or Hypnotic influence. A late fantasy, completed by Berta Ruck, is A Shilling to Spend (1965), whose titular coin (see Money) is always available to be spent again.
Onions's supernatural fictions have been usefully assembled as The Collected Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions (coll 1935; exp vt Ghost Stories coll 2003; differently exp vt The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions coll 2010). [DRL]
George Oliver [born Oliver Onions]
born Bradford, Yorkshire: 13 November 1873
died Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire: 9 April 1961
works (highly selected)
- The New Moon: A Romance of Reconstruction (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1918) [hb/]
- The Tower of Oblivion (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1921) [hb/]
- A Certain Man (London: William Heinemann, 1931) [hb/]
- The Hand of Kornelius Voyt (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1939) [hb/Abbey]
- A Shilling to Spend (London: Michael Joseph, 1965) [hb/Charles Gorham]
collections and stories
- Widdershins (London: Martin Secker, 1911) [coll: hb/]
- Ghosts in Daylight (London: Chapman and Hall, 1924) [coll: hb/]
- The Painted Face (London: William Heinemann, 1929) [coll: hb/]
- The Collected Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1935) [coll: hb/]
- Bells Rung Backwards (London: The Staples Press, 1953) [coll: five stories from the above: hb/]
- Ghost Stories (Leyburn, North Yorkshire: Tartarus Press, 2003) [coll: exp vt of the above with added stories: edited and with introduction by Rosalie Parker: hb/]
- The Dead of Night: The Ghost Stories of Oliver Onions (Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2010) [coll: exp vt of the above with added stories: pb/]
- The Beckoning Fair One (New York: Dover Publications, 2000) [novella: chap: first appeared 1911 in Widdershins above: pb/]
previous versions of this entry