M. P. Shiel
(1865 - 1947)
The Lord of Language
M. P. Shiel wrote twenty-five novels and dozens of short stories, most of them romantic mysteries or fast-paced adventures, several dealing with world conquest. Others are distinctly supernatural or border on science fiction. Most are interspersed with discourses on his philosophy and sociology of the Overman. And most, regardless of genre, were written in Shiel's patented poetic prose.
His early novel The Purple Cloud (1901) is a classic "last man on earth" story and probably his masterpiece. H. G. Wells called it "colossal... [a] brilliant novel." A New York Post review declared the author to be "a genius drunk with the hottest juices of our language."
Shiel's work drew high praise from many notable writers and critics:
E. M. Benson:
"[Shiel's work is] a glorious excursion into the incredible."
E. F. Bleiler:
"His stories are a welter of stylistic sound effects. "
"The Purple Cloud should live as long as the Odyssey."
"[He was] the Grand Viscount of the Grotesque... [with a] refulgently fanciful imagination and magical command of the English language."
L. P. Hartley:
"A master of the written word and a virtuoso of the imagination."
"Here is a wilder wonderland than Poe ever dreamt of... It is Poe, perhaps, but Poe with an unearthly radiance."
"[He was] a writer's writer ... His mad literary rhythms, seemingly improvised, like a jazz artist's at a jam session, were a bubbling fountain at which new techniques of phrasing could be drunk."
J. D. Priestley:
"If by genius we mean amazing ideas, flashes of real imagination, wild originality, then we must grant it him."
"One of the authentic old masters."
"One of the most remarkable minds and imaginations of our time... a poet and a prophet..."
"The novels of this brilliantly original writer have a kind of white-hot splendour that rouses all one's admiration... There is not a man living who writes better prose."
Rachel Annand Taylor:
"Macabre as Poe, recondite as Baron Corvo, sophisticated as Baudelaire -- gives you un nouveau frisson in short."
Carl Van Vechten:
"What a man! What an imagination!"
"A flaming genius! At his best he is not to be touched, because there is no one else like him."
"A writer of imperial imagination who combines the scientific qualities of Wells with the mystery of Poe and then goes off on a line of romantic imagination that is all his own... Sensible people ought to have a complete set of Shiel."
A reviewer in the London Times Literary Supplement of March 28, 1929 wrote: "He tossed the world about in his dreams, not with a juggler's detachment, but with a sense now bitter, now exultant of the tragedy and splendor that enwrap the mysterium tremendum of existence."
With such praise, it is incomprehensible that so much of Shiel's work remains out of print. Edward Shanks stated, "Others will come after us who will from time to time demand that his work shall be available for them to read." Since Shiel's death in poverty in 1947, only a handful of aficionados -- among them John D. Squires and the late A. Reynolds Morse -- have fulfilled Shank's prophecy by making serious efforts to revitalize interest in this neglected genius.
In recent years, new interest in Shiel is evidenced by reprints from Tartarus Press, new editions of the irrepressible The Purple Cloud, a Spanish selection of stories, and a forthcoming new selection of Shiel's stories in the Lovecraft Library series from Hippocampus Press.
M. P. Shiel: The Middle Years 1897-1923 by Harold Billings. (Austin: Roger Beacham, 2010).
The second volume of Harold Billings's
life of Shiel will be published in November 2010 in two limited editions of 100
trade paper and 50 hard cover. Signed
copies of both editions will be made available from the author and from JDS
Books. This volume covers the most important and productive years of Shiel’s
life and promises new revelations! More info...
M. P. Shiel: A Biography of His Early Years by Harold Billings. (Austin: Roger Beacham, 2005).
Harold Billings's long-awaited, book-length treatment of the topic he first broached over two decades ago in "The Shape of Shiel: A Biography of the Early Years, 1865-1895" (published in Diverse Hands, 1983). This is the first book-length biographical study of Shiel and covers his West Indies origins and his literary beginnings in London's Decadent movement. Includes some 20 photos and illustrations including a rare glimpse of Shiel aet 14. Harold's lively and highly readable study draws upon the horde of Shiel materials that he helped amass at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, UT Austin and has incorporated the latest genealogical information available. Limited to 300 copies -- the author notifies us that very few copies remain of the trade paper edition (only) left. At $29 it is a rare treasure for a paltry sum! More info...
The Shiell Family of the Caribbean Island of Montserrat by Richard Shiell and Dorothy Anderson (Sandringham: Richard Shiell, 2005).
Limited to only 200 copies, this new book commits to print for the first time all of the genealogical essays which the authors have shared with the present website, in a large (8" x 11.5"), easily readable format! In addition are several maps of the Caribbean, foreword by Harold Billings, introduction and two dedicatory verses by Richard Shiell, numerous appendices, and photos. Copies may be ordered directly Richard Shiell in Australia for A$25 each plus postage (about A$10); inquire by email at email@example.com
The House of Sounds and Others by M. P. Shiel. Edited by S. T. Joshi. (New York: Hippocampus Press, January 2005). Paper. ISBN 0-9748789-6-0
Contains nine essential stories ("Xélucha",
"Tulsah", "The Pale Ape", "Huguenin's Wife", "Many a Tear", "The
House of Sounds", "The Spectre-Ship",
"The Great King", "The Bride") and the novel The Purple Cloud (1901 text), which are
thought to be Lovecraft's favorites. The first new collection of Shiel stories
in decades, and a steal at $15.00.
Order from: Hippocampus Press
The Redondan Cultural Newsletter
An occasional newsletter published in England, it is primarily concerned with literary matters but also includes updates on the various claimants to the throne of Redonda. The editors are: Roger Dobson, 182 Barns Road, Oxford OX4 3RG, England and Mark Valentine, 23 Southfield Terrace, Addingham, Ilkey, West Yorkshire LS29 OPA, England.
P. Shiel: Poet and Prophet
A biography and cursory review of his writings by Alan Gullette
An Annotated Bibliography of M. P. Shiel
With brief descriptions largely derived from Morse's 1948 bibliography
A Shiel Webography
A lightly annotated collection of links to M. P. Shiel on the Web
Artwork from a selection of Shiel's book covers
Prepared from scans provided by J.D.S. Books (101k)
A Catalog of Books By and About M. P. Shiel
Books in print available from J.D.S. Books
By John D. Squires
Shiel to his sister, Augusta Horsford
About Myself: A Letter to Editor of The Candid Friend (includes response to review of Lord of the Sea)
The Habit of Command: A Letter to the Editor of The Daily Chronicle
Shiel to Everrett Harre
H. G. Wells to M. P. Shiel
The letters of M. P. Shiel are Copyright © Javier Marías, Literary Executor for the Estates of M. P. Shiel and John Gawsworth, c/o Mercedes Casanovas, Iradier 24, 08017, Barcelona, Spain.
Prince Zaleski (Review)
[Unsigned], The Manchester Guardian, 26 March 1895
Prince Zaleski (Review)
Jas. Stanley Little, The Academy, 13 April 1895
Prince Zaleski (Review)
[Unsigned], The Times, 20 April 1895
The Yellow Danger (Review)
[Unsigned], The Academy Supplement, 30 July 1898
The Lord of the Sea (Review)
[Unsigned], The Candid Friend, 13 July 1901
The Lord of the Sea (Review)
[Unsigned, attributed to W. T. Stead], The Review of Reviews, August 1901
The Purple Cloud (Review)
[Unsigned], The Academy, 19 October 1901
The Weird O't (Review)
[Unsigned], The Academy and Literature, 13 December 1902
The Lost Viol (Review)
C. W. Mason, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 27 November 1905
A Detective Story Far Out of the Common (Review)
[Review of Three Men and a Maid by Robert Fraser, i.e. Louis Tracy and M. P. Shiel]
[Unsigned], New York Times Book Review, 20 April 1907 and 15 June 1907
A review of White Wedding
New York Times, 15 February 1908.
M. P. Shiel: Master Of Fantasy (Obituary)
Attributed to John Gawsworth, The Times, 20 February 1947
The Arno Reprints (Review Excerpt)
R. D. Mullen, Science Fiction Studies, #6 (July 1975).
Liquid Air Engines in The Purple Cloud
Some Closing Thoughts on M. P. Shiel; or, The Frustrations of a Putative Biographer
Afterword to M. P. Shiel and the Lovecraft Circle
Sun Yat-Sen And Yen How
Shiel and His Collaborators
Over the course of his literary career M. P. Shiel collaborated with three writers,
beginning with his first novel, The Rajah's Sapphire (1896), and ending with a series of short stories published in the 1930s.
The Yellow Danger Revisited
Afterword to China in Arms
A Family Tree of Matthew Phipps Shiell
The Shiell Family of Montserrat: A Possible Family Chart
Henry Shiell (1827-1889)
James Phipps Shiell (1790 -1834)
John Shiell (1788-1847)
Mary Ann Shiell (1829-1896)
Matthew Dowdy Shiell (1824-1888)
Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865-1946)
Queely Shiell (1755-1847)
William Shiell (1785-1853)
William Shiell, Jr. (1823-1899)
Other Shiells on Montserrat
Blake, Dowdy, Harmon, and Phipps Family Names
Thanks to H. P. Lovecraft for pointing the way to this towering literary genius!
Special thanks to John D. Squires (Redondan Duke of Tort) for his many contributions to this site and his efforts to preserve the name of Shiel.
Thanks to Victor A. Berch for providing transcriptions of early reviews of Shiel's books.
Thanks to Richard Shiell and Dorothy Anderson for providing their genealogical essays on Shiell and related families.
Thanks to Harold Billings for his scholarly and insightful
biography of Shiel in two volumes.
First posted: July 27, 1996
Last Updated: March 30, 2011