H. Russell Wakefield

H. Russell Wakefield

Herbert Russell Wakefield (1888 – 1964) was an English short story writer, novelist, publisher, and civil servant chiefly remembered today for his ghost stories. These were published in several collections during the course of his lengthy writing career: "They Return at Evening" (1928), "Old Man's Beard: Fifteen Disturbing Tales" (1929), "Imagine a Man in a Box" (1931), "Ghost Stories" (1932), "A Ghostly Company" (1935), "The Clock Strikes Twelve: Tales of the Supernatural " (1940), and "Strayers from Sheol" (1961).

Wakefield's atmospheric and darkly brooding work in the field has been frequently compared to that of M. R. James. Many critics consider him one of the great masters of the supernatural horror tale. August Derleth called him "the last major representative of a ghost story tradition that began with Sheridan Le Fanu and reached its peak with Montague Rhodes James.”Derleth, August. Quoted in Richard Dalby's introductory material for "The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield", Academy Chicago Publications, 1982. ISBN 0-89733-066-8] John Betjeman noted "M. R. James is the greatest master of the ghost story. Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu and H. Russell Wakefield are equal seconds.”Betjeman, John. Quoted in Richard Dalby's introductory material for "The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield", Academy Chicago Publications, 1982. ISBN 0-89733-066-8] M. R. James was slightly more reserved in his praise, calling "They Return at Evening" "a mixed bag, from which I should remove one or two that leave a nasty taste". [James, M. R. "Some Remarks on Ghost Stories", "The Bookman", Dec. 1929.]

In 1946, Arkham House issued an expanded version of "The Clock Strikes Twelve" for the U.S. market; they were also the publishers of Wakefield's final book, "Strayers from Sheol". In 1978, John Murray published "The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield", edited by Richard Dalby, which spanned Wakefield's career and featured some previously uncollected tales. A series of collections comprising his complete output of published ghost stories was produced in the 1990s by Ash-Tree Press in limited editions that quickly went out of print. Ash-Tree also published a volume of previously unpublished stories, "Reunion at Dawn and Other Uncollected Ghost Stories", in 2000.

Wakefield is best known for his ghost stories, but he produced work outside the field. He was greatly interested in the criminal mind and wrote two non-fiction criminology studies, "The Green Bicycle Case" (1930) and "Landru: The French Bluebeard" (1936). He also wrote three detective novels, "Hearken to the Evidence" (1933), "Belt of Suspicion" (1936), and "Hostess of Death" (1938).

In 1968, BBC Television produced a dramatization of Wakefield's supernatural story "The Triumph of Death", starring Claire Bloom.

There is a brief but informative analysis of Wakefield's work in Jack Sullivan's book "Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood" (1978).


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