Elizabeth myers

Over sixty years have passed since she departed from this world, but the novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Myers is an author whose writings still resonate to this day. Throughout her all too brief writing career, tragically cut short on May 24, 1947 when she died at the age of 34, Myers penned dozens of short stories which she contributed to various newspapers, journals and magazines. Many of her stories were collected in book form in various collections which include The Donkey and the Stars and Other Short Stories (1943) and Good Beds -- Men Only (1948). In the 1940s her stories found a new outlet when several were broadcast on BBC radio. A substantial number of Myers' personal letters to friends and family were assembled by her husband Littleton Powys (1874-1955) in the posthumous collection The Letters of Elizabeth Myers (1951). Her letters are an essential read for those wishing to gain a deeper understanding and insight into the life of this extraordinary writer. Myers was clearly a compulsive letter-writer and formed several long-standing friendships through the medium of correspondence. Perhaps the greatest success of her literary career came with the publication and subsequent critical acclaim and notoriety of the three excellent novels she had published in her lifetime. Each of her novels, from A Well Full of Leaves (1943), The Basilisk of St. James's (1945), to her last, Mrs. Christopher (1946), was very different from the others. A Well Full of Leaves gained a certain notoriety. This remarkable novel deals for the most part with the relationship between an abusive mother and her children. The Basilisk of St. James's was about Jonathan Swift. On the surface, Mrs. Christopher is a murder mystery, no doubt influenced by her own love of this genre of literature. But as the story progresses, it develops into more than just a crime story. A film adaptation of the novel was released to cinemas in 1951 under the title Blackmailed. Her novels remain outstanding works, providing a lasting testament to her wide thematic range and narrative skills. These books also serve as a poignant indication of what other fine novels may have followed had she lived longer.

Born in Manchester on December 23, 1912, both parents of Irish descent, Myers succeeded academically despite numerous hardships during her childhood involving the realities of living in tough economic conditions and an -- at times -- unhappy home life. Like many authors she found an escape from daily life in books. From an early age she was an avid reader (and later became a regular cinema-goer) and was soon inspired to begin scribbling down her own stories. Although she was forced to leave the Notre Dame Convent High School  at the age of fourteen, Myers moved to London with her mother and younger sister in the early 1930s. Eventually settling in a flat in Hampstead, she worked as a secretary in Fleet Street for a period and gained a circle of good friends in literary circles. Among these were the author Eleanor Farjeon (who was later to edit a commemorative pamphlet dedicated to Myers in 1957), whom she met in 1940, and George Earle. These contacts and the encouragement she received from those editors and publishers, including her close friend Arthur Waugh (the father of novelists Alec and Evelyn Waugh), who recognized her imaginative talents and literary potential enabled her to finally get her first novel published and sell more of her short stories. Myers' writing career had already begun, on part-time-only basis, when she made her first professional sale, a short story called "Gypsy Prayer", to The Countryman magazine. She was just 19 years old at the time, but despite successfully submitting several short stories to the newspapers and magazines The Daily Mail, the London Evening News, the Birmingham Weekly Post, Columba, John O'London's Weekly, Catholic World, Scottish Country Life and The Missionary (this last an American magazine) in the 1930s, it was not until 1942 that her first collection of short stories, the slim volume Lost in London and Other Short Stories, was published. Further collections followed, with more of her stories appearing in the Evening News.

It would appear that Elizabeth Myers was a truly individual, intelligent, creative and emotionally-gifted person, much-loved and cherished by those fortunate enough to have known her. In the autumn of 1943 Myers found happiness when she married the author Littleton Powys, with whom it was obvious to both friends and family she had found a soul-mate. After their marriage, the couple (she was his second wife) settled at his home in Sherborne, Dorset. Unfortunately, Myers had been plagued by ill health for many years, but her spirit and enthusiasm for life were said to be unflagging. This quality certainly comes across in her stories. The gritty realism that pervades much of her literary output is neatly offset by a spiritual warmth, refreshing optimism and an almost child-like sense of wonder. These aspects go some way towards explaining the essential appeal of her work. Myers' unique prose style is characterized by its direct, simple approach. A typical Myers story will also contain deft characterizations, realistic dialogue and vivid settings that brim with authentic local detail. Many of her stories are set in London; the various locales, which she knew intimately, are described in such classic tales as "The Donkey and the Stars" (1936) and "The Threshold" (1945). There is also a vein of mysticism running through her work. Much of this is connected with her Catholic upbringing and -- what some considered to be -- her unorthodox religious views. She had a profound interest in spiritualism and the childhood tales Myers' great-aunt used to relate to her about her native Ireland provided the source material and inspiration for several whimsical short stories set in Ireland. Among these is the peculiar fantasy story "Woman in the Moon," first published in the London Evening News in 1936. Although Elizabeth acknowledged her Irish roots in these tales (many of which have a somewhat "faerie" quality to them) she never actually visited her family's country of origin.

Given my penchant for discovering short fiction in old newspapers during visits to the British Library (incidentally, this is a hugely neglected area of research), I was pleased to unearth a number of her stories in newspapers dating from the 1930s and '40s. The results of my endeavours in this form of literary archaeology are included in the bibliography of her works that I have provided below. Without doubt there are other unjustly-overlooked stories by Elizabeth Myers buried in the pages of various periodicals, in addition to those I have already tracked down. Hopefully I will be able to dig out more lost gems in the future. As a gifted storyteller, Myers' remarkable talent is beyond question. Her love of humanity shines through in her novels and short stories. It is a delight to read them today and find that they are still relevant, insightful and inspiring. Although she died at a young age, Myers left us a legacy of outstanding writings that I trust will continue to be discovered by new generations of discerning readers for years to come. Anyone with information to share about Elizabeth Myers is welcome to get in touch (my email address can be found on the homepage of the Evening News website).

Richard Simms, December 2008

SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
"Scraggy Little Dreamer," an essay by Anthony Glynn, The Powys Journal, Volume Nine, The Powys Society, 1999.
Miss Elizabeth Myers, an obituary in The Times newspaper, May 30, 1947.

NOTE: For those seeking further information on Elizabeth Myers, there is an excellent essay about her written by Anthony Glynn called "Scraggy Little Dreamer" (the principal source material for what I've written above, in addition to my own research). This informative, well-researched piece (based on a talk given at The Powys Society Conference in 1998) was printed in The Powys Journal, Volume Nine, published in 1999. Visit The Powys Society website for details on how to order this back issue.


Novels

A WELL FULL OF LEAVES
Published by Chapman and Hall, 1943.

THE BASILISK OF ST. JAMES'S
Published by Chapman and Hall, 1945.

MRS. CHRISTOPHER
Published by Chapman and Hall, 1946.

Short Story Collections

LOST IN LONDON AND OTHER SHORT STORIES
Published by Todd Publishing Company, 1942.
(Contents not known)

THE DONKEY AND THE STARS AND OTHER SHORT STORIES
Published by Todd Publishing Company, 1943.
Contains the following stories:
"The Donkey and the Stars"
"The Voice of Conscience"
"Woman in the Moon"
"Music by Bark"

THE PUBLIC ENTERTAINER AND OTHER STORIES
Published by Todd Publishing Company, 1943.
(Contents not known)

GOOD BEDS -- MEN ONLY
Published by Chapman and Hall, 1948.
(Contents not known)

THIRTY STORIES
Published by Macdonald, 1954.
Edited and with an introduction by Littleton Powys.
Contains the following stories:
"Gipsy Prayer"
"The Plea"
"Miracles Under Her Hand"
"The Donkey and the Stars"
"The Reformation of Rory"
"The Soul of an Advertisement"
"My Da and the Prize Baby"
"Kids!"
"An Old Irish Woman in a Workhouse"
"Guilty"
" "They", the Tuatha de Danaan"
"Woman in the Moon"
"The Voice of Conscience"
"The Fallen Star"
"Gone Away"
"A Few Hours' Leave"
"The Dead and the Circus"
"The Lost Child"
"Kindled"
"Venus de Milestones"
"Spring"
"The Honourable"
"One Night of Enchantment"
"God's Good and Jack's Earning"
"The Angel that was a Gangster"
"Twilight"
" "Hot" Horses"
"Old Woman Moon"
"Nuts"
"The Star in the East"

Short Stories

"Train Time"
Harper's Magazine, October 1931

"Gypsy Prayer"
The Countryman, (date of issue not known)
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"The Voice of Conscience"
The Evening News, January 31, 1936
The Donkey and the Stars and Other Short Stories, Todd Publishing Co., 1943
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"Woman in the Moon"
The Evening News, February 18, 1936
The Donkey and the Stars and Other Short Stories, Todd Publishing Co., 1943
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"The Donkey and the Stars"
The Daily Mail, April 7, 1936
The Donkey and the Stars and Other Short Stories, Todd Publishing Co., 1943
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"The Cow it was that Died"
The Daily Mail, June 1, 1936

"What Good Will It Do?"
The Daily Mail, April 17, 1937

"One Night of Enchantment"
The Evening News, August 27, 1937 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"Miracles Under Her Hand"
The Evening News, October 29, 1937 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"Whips and Scorpions Flying"
The Evening News, December 2, 1937 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"One Night "Up West" "
The Evening News, January 6, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Away"
The Evening News, March 5, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Guilt-Edged Stock"
The Evening News, March 19, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"The Reformation of Rory"
The Evening News, May 17, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"Lost in London"
The Evening News, August 23, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
Lost in London and Other Short Stories, Todd  Publishing Co., 1942

"The Money-Changeling"
The Evening News, September 20, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Venus de Milestones"
The Evening News, October 7, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"Landlord of the Atlantic"
The Evening News, November 21, 1938 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Money Under Magic"
The Evening News, August 18, 1939 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"My Da's Mermaid"
The Evening News, September 27, 1939 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"My Da and the Prize Baby"
The Evening News, November 29, 1939 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
Thirty Stories, MacDonald, 1954

"Music by Bark"
The Evening News, December 30, 1939 (as by Elisabeth Myers)
The Donkey and the Stars and Other Short Stories, Todd Publishing Co., 1943

"The Terror in the Taxi"
The Evening News, January 19, 1940 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Dan Had Him on Ice"
The Evening News, April 25, 1940 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Dusty Adventure"
The Evening News, May 6, 1940 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Gee-Men"
The Evening News, June 6, 1940 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Off a Duck's Back"
The Evening News, June 20, 1940 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"Hidden Charm"
The Evening News, October 5, 1940 (as by Elisabeth Myers)

"My Uncle's "Find""
The Evening News, June 26, 1942

"No Money Returned"
The Evening News, September 22, 1942

"Sweet Revenge"
The Evening News, October 3, 1942

"Golden Fortune"
The Evening News, January 7, 1944

"The Sorcerer"
Convoy, February 1944

"Buzz of Contention"
The Evening News, February 4, 1944

"The Threshold"
Voyage: An Anthology of Selected Stories, ed. Denys Val Baker, Sylvian Press, 1945
Good Beds -- Men Only
, Chapman and Hall, 1948

"Good Beds -- Men Only"
Good Beds -- Men Only
, Chapman and Hall, 1948

"Night Piece"
Argosy (British Edition), March 1949

"The Star in the East"
Thirty Stories, ed. Littleton Powys, Macdonald, 1954
Argosy (British Edition), January 1955

Miscellaneous and Related Items

GALAXY: A TABLE-BOOK OF PROSE REFLECTIONS FOR EVERY DAY IN THE YEAR
By Arthur Waugh
Published by Todd Publishing Co., 1944.
The pieces in this volume were chosen and arranged by Elizabeth Myers.

THE LETTERS OF ELIZABETH MYERS
Published by Chapman and Hall, 1951.
Edited and with a biographical introduction by Littleton Powys.

ELIZABETH MYERS (WITH A SONNET BY SARA JACKSON)
By Eleanor Farjeon
Published by St. Albert's Press, 1957.

Notes

Various short stories by Elizabeth Myers were aired on BBC Radio in the 1940s. Specific dates of broadcast are not known.

The article "How to Write a Short Story" by Elizabeth Myers appeared in the July 1946 issue of Convoy. Edited by the Hon. Robin Maugham (1916-1981), Convoy was a series of booklets printed between 1944 and 1947 by the London-based publisher Collins.

In the final months of her life, Myers travelled to the United States and spent half a year in Arizona with her husband Littleton Powys. During this period she is known to have worked on what would have been her fourth published novel, The Governor. Sadly, it was never finished. Nor was she able to realize her plans to write a series of short stories inspired by her visit to America. Elizabeth Myers died soon after her return to England.

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Copyright 2006 Richard Simms