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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I got curious about one of the authorities cited by Charles Derry in THE SUSPENSE THRILLER, one Basil Hogarth, because what Hogarth wrote about thrillers sounded to my ears more like a description of pure pulp-adventure than the somewhat more realistic strain of suspense Derry was analyzing. Only once in TST does Derry quote Hogarth's 1936 book WRITING THRILLERS FOR PROFIT, and it's surprising that Derry quotes him at all, given that Derry gets more substantial help from authors like Highsmith and Rand. Here's an abridged sample from the one Hogarth quote Derry uses:

It is necessary to put the heroine and hero in great danger at regular intervals, just snatching them from the jaws of horrid death in the nick of time. Climax must be piled on climax, and the whole thing must move swiftly... Force and threats play an important part in the plot... The more violent the action the better. Large man-eating apes, poisonous snakes, murderous negroes and bloodthirsty Chinese, surly Mexicans and plotting anarchists may run riot.

On first impression it sounds more like Hogarth was trying to get his readers to write less like Patricia Highsmith and more like Robert E. Howard! Not that there's anything wrong with that (contrary to elitist opinion), but if nothing else Hogarth's comments help show just how confounded the territory was, from the early 20th century on through today, between adventure and suspense.

An amusing factoid came up when I attempted to figure out what credits Hogarth had to his name, since Derry seemed to think that Hogarth was a professional thriller-writer. I found nothing, but thanks to a poster named "Doctor Kiss" on THE CLASSIC HORROR FILM BOARD, it turns out that Hogarth wasn't a professional in the sense Derry believed:

"Basil Hogarth was a 'literary tutor' who offered courses in writing from his office on Bloomsbury Street in London. He published substantially on classical music in British popular magazines during the 1920s and 1930s, in addition to bringing out several more of these 'how to' guides through a variety of publishers during the same period: MUSIC AS A PROFESSION (1925), HOW TO WRITE PLAYS: A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL PLAYWRITING (1933), THE TECHNIQUE OF NOVEL WRITING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR NEW AUTHORS (1934), PERFECT MEMORY BY PSYCHOLOGICAL METHODS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (1935), SELF-MASTERY THROUGH PSYCHO-ANALYSIS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR LAYMEN (1936). Several of these titles were reprinted multiple times during the 1930s and 1940s.

If Hogarth's reported date of birth is accurate - 1908, according to the British Library and the Library of Congress - then he got started on writing these guides while still in his teens (?!). His other work of note is as editor of the book-length collection of essays and transcripts THE TRIAL OF ROBERT WOOD (1936), about a celebrated British murder case. Advertisements for Hogarth's Bloomsbury Street office were still running in the press in the early 1950s.

There's no evidence that I can find of Hogarth having ever been an actual thriller-writer, and his 'how to' guides show no evidence that he had experienced any particular personal success in the fields which he wrote about."-- quoted with the permission of the writer.

One wonders what kinds of "thrillers" Hogarth grew up with, that he defined the genre in the above manner. A good candidate would probably be the BULLDOG DRUMMOND series of novels by one "Sapper," which are impressive on a number of levels, not least their mind-boggling xenophobia.

In any case, I imagine Hogarth's been pretty much forgotten by everyone but this one quote in Derry's book. But at least the excerpt from his book on thrillers provides an interesting snapshot as to how one early 20th-century Brit author viewed the genre.

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