I am your brother, p.1

I Am Your Brother, page 1

 

I Am Your Brother
 


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I Am Your Brother


  G. S. Marlowe

  I AM YOUR BROTHER

  With a new introduction by

  PHIL BAKER

  VALANCOURT BOOKS

  Dedication: For Enid Bagnold

  First published in Great Britain by Collins, February 1935

  First U.S. edition published by Harcourt Brace & Co., February 1935

  First Valancourt Books edition 2016

  Copyright © 1935 by G. S. Marlowe

  Introduction copyright © 2016 by Phil Baker

  All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the copying, scanning, uploading, and/or electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher.

  Published by Valancourt Books, Richmond, Virginia

  http://www.valancourtbooks.com

  Cover by Rex Whistler. The Publisher is grateful to Mark Terry of Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC for providing the reproduction of the original dust jacket used for the cover of this edition.

  INTRODUCTION

  Briefly a sensation, fêted for the lush gothic fantasy you hold in your hands, G.S. Marlowe is one of the forgotten men of the Thirties. For some years he was only rescued from total oblivion by a brief, enigmatic account in the recollections of Julian Maclaren-Ross, a Soho and Fitzrovia character who was to become the model for X. Trapnel, the desperate man of letters in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. Maclaren-Ross gives him a tantalising couple of pages in his Memoirs of the Forties, a decade by which Marlowe had already disappeared, in a more than usually literal sense.

  Maclaren-Ross wrote to Marlowe in the hope of adapting I Am Your Brother for the wireless, and was invited to call and meet him. He had formed a mental picture of the writer—as well you might, from the highly-strung and nuanced world of the book—as a small, waspish Englishman, so he was taken aback to find Marlowe was in fact a genial, bear-like foreigner, possibly Scandinavian, with tortoise-shell spectacles and an air of mystery. Marlowe’s flat was lit only by a single desk lamp behind him, creating a halo effect around his head, and it was warm, with the curtains drawn against the world outside. An attractive woman whom he introduced as his secretary poured large whiskies, and the conversation flowed. Marlowe praised the cinematic qualities of Dickens—with the foggy opening of Bleak House—then talked about his own work in Hollywood, his meeting with Greta Garbo (he seemed to know everyone, from bestselling author Hugh Walpole to modernist composer Arthur Bliss) and the genesis of the present book in a bedtime story he composed for the children of Enid Bagnold (heroin-addicted writer of the much loved British children’s book National Velvet), to whom the novel is dedicated.

  Marlowe was a tactful and considerate host, sensing that his guest had no money: as he helped the departing Maclaren-Ross on with his coat he stroked the material lovingly and said “A magnificent coat. How I wish I had a coat like this myself”—“thus,” says Maclaren-Ross, “sending me out into the cold and rain with the illusion that I owned one enviable possession at least”.

  Marlowe moved in due course to a larger and more Thirties-modern flat near Chelsea Barracks, where Maclaren-Ross continued to visit him. On one occasion he managed to get a dinner invitation for himself and his friend C.K. Jaeger, another fan of I Am Your Brother, whose 1940 novel Angels on Horseback is influenced by it. They turned up on the appointed night, only to have Marlowe pour drinks for them and vanish. After half an hour or so they were wondering if they should leave, when Marlowe made a triumphant reappearance and ushered them into the dining room. There, at the long, highly polished dining table were three place settings, and on each plate sat a paper-wrapped parcel of fish and chips.

  Marlowe appeared to be living the life of a successful writer, in what Maclaren-Ross describes as “an Edgar Wallace-like opulence, surrounded by dictaphones, telephones, and typewriters,” and with a new secretary “even better-looking than the last.” But it was here that Maclaren-Ross realised things were not quite as they seemed, with the arrival of a laundry-man who refused to release Marlowe’s clothes until his bill was paid (and from whom, after digging about for money, Marlowe managed to ransom only a single shirt).

  Writer and filmmaker Chris Petit rakes over this relationship in his highly atmospheric essay-story ‘Newman Passage or J. Maclaren-Ross & The Case of the Vanishing Writers’, and manages to find something indefinably sinister in it, right from the first visit: “curtains drawn against daylight; the plying of whisky; the soporific central heating; the odd stroking of Maclaren-Ross’s coat and Marlowe’s announcement that he wished he had a coat like it.”

  He could have found something even more sinister in Marlowe’s evident fascination with murder. Listening to the rain on the other side of the curtains, dripping on some bushes by the window, Marlowe suddenly quoted “Such dank gardens cry aloud for a murder.” “Do you know this?” he asked Maclaren-Ross, before answering himself:

  “Stevenson.”

  Stevenson. Cry Aloud For A Murder, a wonderful title. But it’s better in the suburbs. They have there laurel bushes and in the houses behind the bushes live murderers. Respectable little people, but with passions also. For love and for money. Like Crippen, Seddon, wonderful fellows. And all the time on the laurel bushes drips the rain.

  It is fitting Marlowe should be a Robert Louis Stevenson enthusiast, because his great novel is a particularly characterful example of the literature of split selves, demon brothers, and accursed counterparts, now definitively represented by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, along with Dorian Gray and his portrait in the attic. Marlowe revisited the theme of doubles and counterparts in a later short story, ‘Hold-up in Harley Street’, where a psychiatrist named Prendergast has a patient arrive out of the blue, also apparently called Prendergast; the second Prendergast displays an uncanny knowledge of the doctor’s personal life before projecting his own madness into the psychiatrist and walking away a free man, leaving the psychiatrist insane.

  The brother theme is inseparable from a madness theme, and Marlowe’s treatment of it mystified some of his reviewers. ‘Torquemada’, in The Observer, judged it to be a tour de force comparable to The Turn of the Screw, and added “Poe and the two Jameses would have loved it”. But what was actually going on? The Guardian reviewer thought the brother was a kind of “anti-self, continually repressed, yet constantly emerging to demand nourishment” and inclined to the idea that the whole thing was an allegory of forces in a single mind, while Ralph Straus in the Sunday Times similarly wondered if it could be “a parable about the artist and his conscience”—at any rate, said Straus, it was “a very mad thriller” with a “weird excitement of its own”, but he hoped Marlowe’s next experiment would be easier to understand.

  The opening scenario is clear enough. It is 1934, in London’s Soho, and a war-crippled street musician is playing a piano contraption with the remains of his hands, while his wife belts out a song. An old woman pokes around the market and visits a butcher for offal, then night falls. At the top of a run-down house in Greek Street we glimpse a distinctly Gothic attic (with “a chink of light high up through the closed shutters of a window”), which is reached by an expressionistic, almost noir-ish staircase (“shadows like the bars of a prison”). The old lady, Mrs. Spencer, has to buy offal to feed the “slimy, shuffling, slithering” inhabitant of this attic, and she regularly taps a Harley Street doctor for money with an insistence that resembles blackmail. The creature in the attic is her son, seemingly the result of a botched experiment by the doctor. Mrs. Spencer has two sons, and when the second—sensitiv
e and supremely gifted musician Julian, the protagonist of the book—finally discovers the creature in the attic, he is almost unhinged by the shock. With that, the second half of the book begins.

  *

  I Am Your Brother is remarkable for its technique, as touted on the original blurb: “the whole book is action; everything is acted, nothing explained”. With a background in theatre and film, Marlowe tells the whole story in external description. It is comparable to the vigorously external, anti-introspective style of arch-Modernist Wyndham Lewis—and, as in Lewis, the sheer physicality often tends to the cartoon-like and grotesque: an orchestra conductor moves like a drunken grasshopper, while on the stage above him is a cheap exotica routine with “three rather Jewish-Hawaiian girls”, and a sailor in the audience has “the head of a freak potato”.

  So far, so Lewis. The elegant flip in Marlowe’s case, of outer and inner, is that this external approach is not used for Lewis-style social satire, but paradoxically for rendering internal, introspective, dream-like states and fugues of madness. There is a clue to this aspect in his suggestion to Maclaren-Ross that a radio adaptation could fade up the sound of a dynamo to indicate when (in Maclaren-Ross’s words) “the hero’s delusions were about to overtake him”. Dynamos (“dynamos, millions of dynamos”) are already used in the book to convey Julian’s reeling shock at first encountering his brother.

  As a thirties depiction of madness there are similarities here with the “click” heard by George Harvey Bone in Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square (1941), but it is more ambiguous—the reader often has to judge when these dynamos might be heard—and it leads to some of the book’s funniest and most beautiful scenes, such as the hardware-shop visit where the shopkeeper not only knows, without being told, that Julian wants the ingredients for a murder but is avid to provide them: “I like to help talented young murderers . . . It takes a hundred films and true detective thrillers, mystery thrillers, wars, and revolutions, murders, dicatorships, to bring some beauty into my humble life”. In a very different key, Julian slides easily into a delicate romance with the mute Lamenta, Lady Castle: one moment they are sitting beside each other at dinner, and the next they are walking together through a snowy landscape towards a magical park.

  Marlowe’s novel is too lyrical and florid to be reducible to a pseudo-clinical picture of schizophrenia. Its fugues often seem to be more than the protagonist’s hallucinations, while not being real either: they are like objective correlatives for the underlying feelings of a given moment; extemporisations where the book takes flight into further riffs on a theme; dramatisations of what is going on in some alternate reality with its roots in Julian’s state of mind but its flowerings more diffuse and surreal, almost looking forward to the dreamers of Under Milk Wood.

  The split mind of the book defies simplistic either/or distinctions, like Julian’s musical masterpiece, A Symphony of London—which seems at the same time to be called A Dream of London. In its more realistic aspect, the book is like a dynamic, avant-garde documentary of the Thirties metropolis, with its roadworks, top hats, neon signs, chorus lines, milk wagons and omnipresent advertising. On Sunday at twelve o’clock the pubs will open in unison, and then “thousands of families” will be simultaneously eating roast: a modernistic overview almost as bold as Ian Fleming’s “when the big hands of Moscow’s 100 electric clocks reach the hour of six” (he was reporting for Reuters from a Thirties show-trial in Russia). Meanwhile Soho, heartland of this stridently cosmopolitan book, is teeming with life in its cafes and markets, but the organic vitality and abundance slides towards an obsessive, nightmarish preoccupation with offal, internal organs, and gross, visceral physicality—like the great trombone larynx of Kraut, Julian’s love rival, not to mention the brother himself —until it becomes a motif, counterpointed against the more ethereal realm of Julian’s music.

  Considered as a lost Modernist, Marlowe is never mentioned in the company of writers such as Ivy Compton-Burnett or Henry Green. Of course, they have him beaten hands down with the slow-burning persistence of their writing careers, and consequent long-term achievement, but it may also be that the sheer vitality and excess of Marlowe’s book—its grotesque, sentimental, freakshow, roll-up, roll-up quality of operatic guignol—have done it no favours in comparison with the altogether better-mannered, better-bred, and comparatively etiolated experiments of these very English modernists. But Marlowe richly deserves to be read for the vividness of even his most throwaway descriptions (a Pekinese dog is a “fur covered Japanese goldfish”); the strangeness of his perceptions and memorable fancies (post offices “retire at night to unearthly and very obscure places”; “Animals don’t love with their hearts. Only with their eyes and their small awkward bodies”); and his conjuring of gateways to other realms: “three deep chords, every one of them very distinct and beautiful, like stepping-stones into a dream.”

  Above all, perhaps, Marlowe’s novel is memorable for the pathos of the brother himself, who not only has a grotesque forked tongue, flicking in and out, but an unforgettably affectionate and trusting character. When is mother coming back?

  *

  As for Gabriel Marlowe, he wasn’t the Scandinavian that Maclaren-Ross imagined. He was born Gabriel Beer-Hofmann in Austria in 1901, son of the Viennese playwright Richard Beer-Hofmann, and may have come to London around the time of the First World War. He was certainly active there between the wars, incidentally taking his pseudonym—according to the critic Cyril Connolly, another of the many people Marlowe knew—from Marlow in Buckinghamshire, where there was a country house they both stayed in.

  Marlowe published two more books, both in 1938 and neither of them making anything like the impact of I Am Your Brother. Pictures on the Pavement is a novel about a pavement artist who is something of a romantic chancer and con-man, and Their Little Lives contains six London short stories. In one of them, ‘Death of a Spinster’, Marlowe writes of the brash Thirties that “the syncopated music of our times seems to be written solely for loud, dangerously sparkling brass and noisy kettledrums”, before showing his own more human sympathies with a somewhat melancholy and sentimental account of the quiet, disappointed, unsung life of Hettie Sullivan.

  Their Little Lives is dedicated to Vera von der Heydt, an émigrée baroness who worked as a reader for a literary agency, converted to Catholicism in 1937, and became an eminent Jungian analyst. We don’t know how well Marlowe knew her, but her interests are suggestive. Certainly I Am Your Brother would be a gift for Jungian interpretation, with the brother as Julian’s “shadow”: the dis­avowed, rejected part of ourselves; the thing we have no wish to be and want to distance ourselves from. My reading of the book, apropos of Ralph Straus-style confusions, is that this is akin to the significance the brother has in Julian’s mind, while the brother also has a real existence of his own, as attested by the independent narrative concerning the mother and doctor.

  In 1940 Marlowe made the decision to go to Norway, seemingly to escape his debts—a very unfortunate move, as it turned out, because Norway was about to be invaded by the Nazis. Marlowe was Jewish, and many of his old acquaintances—since he was, to all intents and purposes, never heard of again—assumed he had perished in the Holocaust.

  What was Marlowe doing in Norway? When I first read the Norway story, I wondered if he went there on intelligence work of some kind, given his wide-ranging connections in Britain (Enid Bagnold’s brother Ralph, for example, founded the Long Range Desert Group, precursor to the Special Air Service, the SAS), his Nordic appearance, his ability to speak German, and his intrinsically anti-Nazi sympathies. However, there is a much simpler possibility, which is that he might never have got to Norway at all: there seems to be no evidence for it outside of Maclaren-Ross.

  Whatever Marlowe did in the war, he survived. Maclaren-Ross later met a man who seemed to have had a drink with him in an English village pub. The name of the village was forgotten and—having no idea Marlowe was supposed to be missing—the man didn
t ask him where he’d been. There is a more solid sighting in the autobiography of a priest, Love as Strong as Death, by Father Ronald Walls, who knew Marlowe in Scotland around 1947 and remembered him as a Jewish convert to Catholicism (Walls was then a Presbyterian, and Marlowe encouraged him towards the older doctrine). Marlowe’s spiritual sensibility perhaps shows in the wistful and even mystical flashes in his writing, such as the strange “unearthly” beauty of the brother’s voice, “like a little village, like houses in a little village at sunset . . . A village you’ve never seen, but always hoped to find . . .”

  *

  Marlowe lived quietly in St. Albans, not dying until 1971. What he did with the rest of his life is a mystery, at least to me. Back in 1938 he showed Maclaren-Ross four long short stories he had written on the theme of murder in the London suburbs (one of them, Maclaren-Ross remembered, was entitled ‘Dead Man’s Money’). He planned to publish them in a single volume, possibly to be called Cry Aloud for a Murder. It would be wonderful if they could be found.

  Phil Baker

  January 2016

  Phil Baker’s books include The Devil is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley, and Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London’s Lost Artist. He has also written an academic book on Samuel Beckett, a short critical biography of William S. Burroughs, and a cultural history of absinthe, and recently co-edited Lord of Strange Deaths: The Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer.

  I AM YOUR BROTHER

  I

  “. . . and broke my heart and left me so alone! It was so beautiful and all is gone!”

  And nothing is wrong with these words and still—no—it’s probably this voice, this husky hideous voice of this blowsy woman, thin and haggard, yet bloated and blown up, swollen in the middle like a drowned cat floating down a muddy river towards a dark ditch. She stands in clothes too old and too worn to be sold, on bony feet: high shoes, that are only holes and heels and torn laces. Here she stands in the street, on the cold pavement, and sings without ever stopping, accom­panied by her husband on a piano on wheels, or whatever you may call this shamelessly naked, mauled contraption which gives out dead sounds without any vibration, though the man stamps on the pedals. He has only eight stumps of fingers, a fact explained by the death-sentence of a perfectly good existence chalked on the back of the instrument: “Ex-soldier, out of work. Wife and five children.”

 
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