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Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur

Entry updated 28 August 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1863-1944) UK poet, anthologist, academic and author, active as a poet (see Poetry) from the early 1880s, and as an author of novels and tales, many at least partly set in his native Cornwall, from the publication of his first full-length story, Dead Man's Rock: A Romance (1887) as by Q, which revolves around the cursed Great Ruby of Ceylon; for many years he continued to write as by Q, sometimes appending his full name, and as A T Quiller-Couch. Sometimes, but not always, he published later fiction as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, but normally restricted that dignified rendering of his name to non-fiction. His career shows throughout the influence of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose unfinished novel St Ives (1898) he completed.

Quiller-Couch may remain best-known for his exceedingly influential anthology, The Oxford Book of English Verse (anth 1900; much exp 1939), a default representation of its subject for many decades, and still usefully intelligent. As an author of nonfiction, he broke no new paths in the apprehension of twentieth-century literary revolutions, but – unlike some of his contemporaries before the disaster of World War One soured them – he remarkably eschewed pomp. An extended study, Notes on Shakespeare's Workmanship (1917), makes good sense a century onwards. In recent years he has been properly credited with an extremely cogent recommendation for all – not only budding – authors, first uttered in a lecture published in On the Art of Writing (coll 1916):

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Almost all of Quiller-Couch's novels [most not listed below] are adventure tales, rarely set at the time of writing, in which the depth and turmoil of Cornish history take on a straightforward allure that comes at points, all the same, of hinting that some legendary aura both preludes and defines nonfantastic narratives. His short fiction, assembled in several volumes beginning with Noughts and Crosses: Stories, Studies and Sketches (coll 1891) as by Q, deliberately mix together nonfantastic, slantingly legendary and supernatural tales: so that they seem to collaborate in telling the Matter of Cornwall. A posthumous assembly, The Horror on the Stair and Other Weird Tales (coll 2000) edited by S T Joshi, extracts a range of selected tales with supernatural elements from the whole. The introduction is sharp; the bibliography lacks some citations. Necessarily missing is any reference to generically insecure tales like "I Saw Three Ships" in I Saw Three Ships and Other Winter's Tales (coll 1892) as by Q, where a country marriage is subverted by a Mysterious Stranger who seems to claim he is (or has been) the Devil.

Quiller-Couch is of more direct sf interest for his last completed novel, Foe-Farrell (1918) as by "Q" (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch), a Club Story told by Major Otway over several "Nights" to fellow officers in a trench in the middle of World War One. The tale begins in 1907, as his friend Foe is about to reveal a workable theory designed to control rage and other behaviour, first in canines then in humans; but his opponent Farrell, misunderstanding its use, arouses mob violence to destroy Foe's decades of work. Foe decides to stalk Farrell until he fully recognizes the evil he has done, an enterprise which extends over years and continents, until chased and chaser find themselves co-inhabiting a tropical Island in the Pacific with an Incan woman. They become increasingly inseparable, though neither is the other's Doppelganger, until a doom-bringing Identity Exchange occurs. The gloom and ghastly tiredness of the tale is, in a sense, otherworldly; more prosaically, what may be mourned, by an author like his mouthpiece Major Otway too old any longer to flourish, is a world severed from any who try to recapture its storyable cohesion by the Great War.

Castle Dor (November 1961 Ladies' Home Journal; 1962) with Daphne du Maurier represents the latter's completion of a 1920s manuscript in which the legend of Tristan and Iseult haunts nineteenth century lives.

Quiller-Couch was knighted in 1910. [JC]

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

born Bodmin, Cornwall: 21 November 1863

died Fowey, Cornwall: 12 May 1944

works (highly selected)

  • Dead Man's Rock: A Romance (London: Cassell and Company, 1887) as by Q [hb/uncredited]
  • Foe-Farrell (London: W Collins Sons, 1918) as by "Q" (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) [hb/]
  • Castle Dor (London: J M Dent and Sons, 1962) with Daphne du Maurier [completion of 1920s draft: November 1961 Ladies' Home Journal: verso statement that a 1961 American book version exists is incorrect: hb/uncredited]

collections and stories

nonfiction (selected)

works as editor (selected)


previous versions of this entry

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