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Sherriff, R C

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1896-1975) UK screenwriter, playwright and author, active from 1919. He is best known for his hit play, the nonfantastic Journey's End (performed 9 December 1928 Apollo Theatre, London: 1929), directed by James Whale, who also directed the 1930 film version; it remains the best-known play about World War One, in which Sherriff had served 1914-1917. He also wrote the screenplay for Whale's version of the The Invisible Man (1933) and for him as well co-wrote (uncredited) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

His Scientific Romance, The Hopkins Manuscript (August 1938-March 1939 Good Housekeeping; 1939; rev vt The Cataclysm 1958), is set mostly in a village in an England as World War Two it seems is about to break out; it is the home of Edgar Hopkins, whose description of events in 1939 and the years following is discovered hundreds of years later by bemused archaeologists from Addis Ababa (see Ruins and Futurity), as made clear in the frame story. In his narrative, Hopkins describes a planetary Disaster when the Moon, dislodged from orbit, crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, causing tornadoes and tsunamis; the elegiac tone of his narrative reaches perhaps its greatest intensity in his description of a scene in which the local villagers play a last cricket match under the enormous Moon just before it strikes, "a blazing, golden mountain range that seemed to press the dark earth from it". The rest of the manuscript, which increasingly focuses on ruined London over the next few decades moves into Satire as the nations of the world, after failing to live up to a Wellsian Epoch of Recovery, begin vying over the vast mineral wealth of the shattered Moon. Soon a new conflict, horrifically similar to the Great War, ends Hopkins's hopes. An Asian warlord moves in; Hopkins buries his manuscript. The science of The Hopkins Manuscript is derisory, and Sherriff's failure to anticipate the nature of the real world war about to break out materially lessened the impact of his tale on publication; but its elegy for a world that was in truth disappearing as Sherriff wrote his tale remains potent. [JC]

Robert Cedric Sherriff

born Hampton Wick, Middlesex: 6 June 1896

died Kingston upon Thames [ie London]: 13 November 1975

works (highly selected)

  • Journey's End (London: Victor Gollancz, 1929) [play: first performed 9 December 1928 Apollo Theatre, London: pb/nonpictorial]
  • The Hopkins Manuscript (London: Victor Gollancz, 1939) [first appeared August 1938-March 1939 Good Housekeeping: hb/nonpictorial]
    • The Cataclysm (London: Pan Books, 1958) [rev vt of the above: pb/]


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