Competition no. 216: results

V.S.Pritchett asks us to assume Oedipus has just come across the fact that Freud has been mentioning him in his lectures, and brings an action for defamation of character. He wants up to 500 words of the speech for the plaintiff.


Pritchett says he finds judging this hard, and also says the entries fall into two categories: orthodox and original. The orthodox line says that Oedipus claims he didn’t know that his father was Laius and Jocasta was his mother. But, reasons Pritchett, isn’t the point of the Oedipus complex that it’s unconscious? (There is something slightly astray about this argument, but let it pass – from the point of view of a chooser of better winners, Pritchett is right.)

T.E. Casson, ever the classicist, is mentioned in dispatches for sending in an extract from an Aristophanic play. A new name, ‘Lamentable’, argues for Oedipus that his dignity is liable to be damaged. Pritchett comments that this is going to hold no water in an English court. He gives the first prize to Guy Hadley, who has done what winners do – gone beyond the brief. the The runner-up, Eremita, has Oedipus asking for the right to retire peacefully in Tunbridge Wells. Hmmm.

Hadley’s choice of an American wide guy is interesting in that many of the ‘Scarface’ films suggest an Oedipal motive. Freud himself, of course, was still alive, and still in Vienna – he didn’t come to England until 1938, well after Hitler’s annexation of Austria.




Competition no. 213: results

Returning after a while, Vita Sackville-West says she regrets that H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage hasn’t included, for example, a section on ‘purple prose’. She asks for a section of 600 (600!!!) words that might get into a future edition. Fowler – Henry Watson Fowler – had published his book in 1926, and had died in 1933, i.e. a year earlier.


In her adjudication, Sackville-West wonders if she’s not been clear enough. All but four entrants ignore the ‘for example’ and produce entries on ‘purple prose’ or ‘purple patch’ (one of the runners-up is Allan M. Laing on ‘Americanisms’, which, alas, is overlooked). Fowler is not at all easy to parody – he is scholarly and subversive, and a great read.

Lester Ralph grabs the two guineas with a definition of ‘purple patch’; Eremita comes close behind with ‘Pulpitry’.




Competition no. 212: results

In Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, the incompetent doctor, Slop, curses Shandy’s father’s servant, Obadiah, for tying the knots on his medical bag too securely (Slop is on hand to supervise the birth of Tristram, and Sterne is lampooning contemporary male attempts to reclaim the authority over birth from midwives). In fact Slop curses Obadiah by reading a Latin excommunication, which is then translated into English:

‘By the authority of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and of the undefiled Virgin Mary, mother and patroness of our Saviour, and of all the celestial virtues, angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, powers, cherubins and seraphins, and of all the holy patriarchs, prophets, and of all the apostles and evangelists, and of the holy innocents, who in the sight of the Holy Lamb, are found worthy to sing the new song of the holy martyrs and holy confessors, and of the holy virgins, and of all the saints together, with the holy and elect of God — May he’ (Obadiah) ‘be damn’d’ (for tying these knots)—‘We excommunicate, and anathematize him, and from the thresholds of the holy church of God Almighty we sequester him, that he may be tormented, disposed, and delivered over with Dathan and Abiram, and with those who say unto the Lord God, Depart from us, we desire none of thy ways. And as fire is quenched with water, so let the light of him be put out for evermore, unless it shall repent him’ (Obadiah, of the knots which he has tied) ‘and make satisfaction’ (for them) ‘Amen.


Slop excoriating Obadiah (detail)

All of which brings us to the new competition, and judge Ernest Betts. Betts wants a curse in a similar style ‘On Modern Times’. He teasingly adds ‘A Latin version is not essential.’ I think you might guess what will happen …

Southron, Redling (notice that they are together again), J.H.G.Gibbs, Pibwob and Lester Ralph get mentions, but none are felt to be ‘Shandean’ enough. The outright winner is Eremita, who has the cutthroat instinct to outdo everyone else by including a Latin version of his curse. The runner up is Olwen Lawton.



The runner-up here (note the surprising conflation of Hitler, Mussolini and Gandhi) was later to publish several romantic novels between in 1950 and 1958, from This Was My Star to Land In Peril. Her full name was Olwen Somerset Lawton (she inherited the middle name from her mother), born in Chorley, Lancs. in 1912 (so she is only 21 here). Her father was a draughtsman, and he had moved south by the time of this competition, where he can be found living with his Marjorie, Olwen and her brother at 1 Essendon, Sanderstead (near Croydon in Surrey). She turns up on several flights (The Canary Islands, Trinidad, Bermuda) before marrying a Jack K Davant in Nevada in August 1959. This seems to be the reason she stopped her successful run of publications. She died in San Diego in 2000. Her most successful novel seems to be Dorothea – which was at the very least translated into Dutch (I assume this means something like ‘Dorothea’s all-consuming love’):


Honours Board 1933

This year we can run to a top twenty (just). L.V.Upward (who is to feature for many years to come) is the first to claim Seacape’s crown, although not quite equal the number of his victories. The numbers at the end are previous placings. As the race for third, seventh and tenth place show, this was a close and far more even outcome than the previous three years.

1.    L.V.Upward              8 victories        £11.0s.0d     (-,9=,8=)

2.   E.W.Fordham           7 victories        £8.8s.0d       (6,-,-)

3=      William Bliss          9 victories       £7.7s.0d        (5,-,-)

W.Leslie Nicholls      7 victories       £7.7s.0d        (-,-,-)

T.E.Casson                 7 victories        £7.7s.0d       (-,-,-)

Black Gnat            5 victories       £6.6s.0d      (-,-,-)

7= Guy Hadley         4 victories        £5.5s.0d       (-,-,-)

 Southron              5 victories       £5.5s.0d       (-,-,-)

Lester Ralph        3 victories       £5.5s.0d      (10=,-,-)

10=  James Hall         5 victories       £4.14s.6d     (3=,-,4)

Alice Herbert      3 victories      £4.14s.6d     (-,-,-)

Marion Peacock  4 victories     £4.14s.6d         (-,-,-)

Redling                 5 victories     £4.14s.6d       (-,-,-)

H.C.M.                   3 victories    £4.14s.6d        (-,-,3)

15=  N.B.                   4 victories    £4.4s.0d         (-,-,-)

W.A.Rathkey       3 victories       £4.4s.0d      (10=,-,-)

Eremita                 5 victories    £4.4s.0d        (10=,-,-)

P.S.C.                     2 victories    £4.4s.0d        (-,-,-)

Seacape                 2 victories   £4.4s.0d         (1,1,1)

20= Rosellen Bett        3 victories   £3.13s.6d       (-,-,-)

Prudence              2 victories   £3.13s.6d        (-,-,-)


A few points:

The major absentees are W.Hodgson Burnet, who won no prizes (but did judge a competition), and who died in the last month after what must have been a severe illness; Pibwob and Little Billee, both of whom managed three wins, and both of whom will return with a vengeance; W.G.; Valimus and Non Omnia.

Black Gnat and Seacape are one and the same, so if they had entered as one, they would have come equal second.

T.E.Casson, in his fourth year, has finally seen rewards for his persistent, weekly entries.

W. Leslie Nicholls is the major new name.

It will be interesting to see who decides to keep going when the WR is taken over by New Statesman and Nation. At least three of the above were still winning prizes in the 1950s.

In 1933, there were 90 winners (down from 114, perhaps a sign of failing circulation) who won £192 (down from just over £201 – not least because of several prizeless B comps). The number appearing behind initials had shrunk from 15 to 8, and the number of pseudonyms was down from 45 to 30. So 50% of the entrants are now providing their names.





Competition no. 177: results

A new judge – Ambrose Heath – is brought in, although this is a competition unlike anyone else’s except for the recondite ones that Frank Sidgwick began by setting. Heath had just published his second cookery book – for those who wished to cook on Agas, Agas having been invented in 1922 – and he was to publish numerous more in a long career. However, he was also well-read, and Barry (whose idea the competition really is) has spotted the potential in a piece he’s commissioned from Heath for a competition. The article was called ‘Literary Barmecides’, and for those of you who want to extend their vocabulary by one, a barmecide is an illusory but pleasant experience. Or a pleasant experience which is all in the mind. The most famous barmecide is in the Arabian Nights, and you can read the relevant section here.

The article describes the pleasures of twenty meals. The numbers – twenty of them – indicate that they are from a literary source. Barry’s idea is that this would make a good model for a) writing barmecides of a foody nature, and b) seeing if the competitors can identify Heath’s sources (pun not intended).

Here’s the article:






When you think that competitors had a mere six days to turn this competition round (technically, the A competition is to emulate it, and the B competition is to spot Heath’s references), you realise quickly that this is a tall order. How many references of the twenty did you get? I have to admit I only knew two of them.

Heath is just a trifle (pun not intended) cantankerous. He deals with both competitions at once. This is because absolutely no-one scores higher than 10 in identifying his references (Lilian manages this astounding total). And if only one person gets ten, then maybe the article is a bit too erudite for its own good. (Notice how I am subtly defending my own lamentable performance.)

So, taking the B competition first, here are the answers to Heath’s article:

1. Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles.

This was a highly successful crime novel, first published in 1931. ‘Francis Iles’ was one of several pseudonyms/ variants of his own name used by Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971) – a crime writer who doubled as a literary critic for the Telegraph and Guardian amongst others.


2. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (this was one of the two I got).

3. Heloise and Abelard by George Moore. Moore, the author of Modern Painting and Esther Waters, and born in 1857, had died in January 1933, so only a few months earlier. Heloise and Abelard was published in 1921. There’s a good summary of his career here.

H&A Moore

4. A Ballad of Bouillabaisse by Thackeray. Written in 1855 – you can read it here.

5. L’Assommoir by Emile Zola, written in 1877, the seventh in a cycle of twenty-one novels.


6. Lettres de mon Moulin by Alphonse Daudet, short stories collected in 1867. (‘Letters From My Windmill’ in English.) This has never been out of print in France – and has even featured on stamps:


7. Le Physiologie du Goût by Brillat-Savarin. (One guesses not many sent this one in.) Goût is not gout but taste! This was an early gastronomic work, published in 1825, months before Brillat-Savarin died.


8. Rabelais passim.

Right … Francois Rabelais is 1494-1553. Tuck in. (I’ve never got very far.) I think Heath has now established in which country he feels most at home.


9. Le Cote de Guermantes by Marcel Proust. Published just after Proust’s death in 1922, this was the third of the seven in A la Recherche de Temps Perdu (originally it was two books). Incidentally, one of Proust’s lovers was the son of Daudet (see above).


10. Evelyn Innes by George Moore. 1898. ‘A curious and perhaps deplorable example of the modern psychological novel’ – The New York Times. This is about a wannabe Wagnerian.

11. Ivan Turgenev – The Torrents of Spring. 1877.


12. The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting. Surprise! In fact, the ninth of the twelve books that make up the voyages had only just been published.


13. Fitzboodle’s Confessions by Thackeray (1852). To be pedantic, and I think I ought to be, The Confessions of Fitz-Boodle; and Some passages in the life of Major Gahagan (they were published together after separate serialisation in 1841 and 1842).

14. Thackeray again. Pendennis (1848-1850)


15. South Wind by Norman Douglas. This caused a minor frisson when first published in 1917 – it’s set on Capri, or rather a fictionalised version of it (Douglas lived on Capri). Still highly readable.

South Wind

16. George Meredith: The Egoist.  1879.


17. Arnold Bennett: The Grand Babylon Hotel (1902).

Bennett GBH

18. Samuel Butler’s (posthumous, 1902) The Way Of All Flesh (which has attracted some dodgy cover art in its time):


19. Hilaire Belloc’s The Four Men

This is the kind of passage that it is assumed the entrants will summon up:

In Sussex, let me tell you, we have but one cheese, the name of which is CHEESE.  It is One, and undivided, though divided into a thousand fragments, and unchanging, though changing in place and consumption.  There is in Sussex no Cheese but Cheese, and it is the same cheese from the head of the Eastern Rother to Harting Hill, and from the sea-beach to that part of Surrey which we gat from the Marches with sword and bow.  In colour it is yellow. It is neither young nor old.  Its taste is that of Cheese and nothing more.


And finally (the other one I managed)

20. Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol.

The problem with Heath is that he is revealing himself to be a little bit of a show-off. He says of the entrants that they are perhaps ‘forgetful’. But too many of these books, whatever the considerable linguistic skills of WR readers, are in French, and the original article is revealed, I think, to be an exercise in obscurity. There were only a few of these books that I could say, ‘Never heard of it’, and I’ve actually – maybe 20-30 years ago in some cases – read seven of them. I don’t think detail about the food would have stuck with me, and they are sufficiently eclectic not to be owned by a single individual (other than Heath). But of course now we have to deal with his adjudication of those who might emulate him.

The winner is Thurston (B.) Macauley, whose first appearance this is. At the time he was 30 or 31, and a journalist working for the London Bureau of the New York Times. He went on to be an assistant foreign editor for Newsweek, covered Nuremberg for the International News Service, and died in Florida at the age of 95 in 1997. He was English (Maidenhead) by birth, although he is said by the NYT to have had a French connection as well – so perhaps this competition appealed. On the podium with him are Eremita and Noel Archer (who picks up a consolation prize because the A competition has gone haywire). Lots of others are commended (Guy Innes is ticked off for including 22 references).

Let’s see what you make of their sources!










Macauley doesn’t actually name all his writers, but it’s interesting that Woolf makes two lists (and with the same novel), that Butler makes it into one of these lists when he is also in Heath’s, and that Bennett novels now I think long forgotten are to the fore (Bennett was of course very much alive). One wonders how the A competition would go down nowadays.

Competitions nos. 172A and 172B: results

After a while away from the fray, Sylvia Lynd sets a competition to write a poem – ‘a portrait in verse’ – in the manner of George Crabbe (1754-1832). Crabbe can be quite wearisome to read at length, in my opinion, but he is good in small does – the thirty-line limit Lynd sets is about right. The thing about Crabbe is that he almost always writes in rhymed iambic pentameter couplets, so it’s the manner rather the matter that’s a nuisance. For his day, he was a surprisingly revealing writer – the first not to vilify or patronise ordinary people, in his case, in village life. He can be sardonic when he wants, but you do get a sense of the character on whom he is fixing (I can’t offhand think of a comparable portrait artist from the eighteenth century/ early nineteenth, unless you count Wordsworth, who plods rather more dully in Crabbe’s footsteps).

CrabbeLynd wants each submission to include the phrase

“… The fuddled midnight and the peevish day …”

I’m not quite sure a) why she chose the line, and even b) if it is a Crabbe line or a pastiche of Crabbe (probably Crabbe, who loves the word ‘peevish’). My Day-Lewis selection doesn’t have it, and I may have missed it in the online collected Crabbe (you can read some of his poems here).

Crabbe is no problem for the WR competitors (he is quite easy to mimic). Lynd thinks there are many potential winners. She notices that the entrants seem to divide themselves into those who habitually have fuddled midnights and peevish days, and those who shun them at all costs. The majority are shunners (‘to their moral credit’). So she gets virtuous clergymen, punctusl clerks and octogenarian labourers by the score, who don’t do peevish. But as Lynd notes – she could have been more explicit in the instructions, perhaps? – it’s the peevish ones she was hoping to read about. So out go Charles G. Box (who I think is Charles Gerard Box, boirn 1871, and a schoolteacher at Midhurst Grammar School in Sussex), W. Leslie Nicholls, and one or two psudonymous, types, including H.C.M.

As often happens when Lynd judges, the prize money gets carved up. The two guineas are split betweem Eremita and Valimus, and the bonus goes to Hutch. They’re all perfectly competent, but Crabbe can cause an allergic, soporific reaction …


The B competition – a little unpromising, although Lynd was surprised that entries weren’t so good – was to write a letter from one young person to another on the subject of a picnic. Lynd had been expecting wild and hilarious tales. She doesn’t get them. She also breaks the rules in giving Eremita a prize in B when she or he already has a prize in A. And once again, she splits the first prize, which is daft, as it means it is the same value as the second prize. The ‘first prizes’ belong to Eremita and Marion Peacock. the runner up is ‘F.J.B’, who must be Freda Jane Bromhead.


Surely an argument for deducting points for being too clever?!


Dear Alfred, – We had the best kind of picnic last night, on the way home. I don’t know quite where it was; we turned down a track on a long road between Stratford-on-Avon and Oxford, and found a field. We left the theatre at eleven (it was ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’ – I do like a bit of slapstick on a Saturday night, don’t you?’ – and the moon had set, so we couldn’t see anything, except what our headlights picked out, They made the trees look as green as delphiniums are blue. There wasn’t a sound or a movement anywhere – not a dog barking or a moth fluttering. We ate little cold sausages (the Lees call them ‘bangers’. I suppose because of the fuss they make in the drying-pan) and drank shandy. We;d bought a melon in Stratford and Peggy cut it up with Boy’s knife – “big blade is for pipe and horse’s hoofs, small blade, oranges and cheese”, and ate it standing up, and bending over so that the juice shouldn’t drip to our toes. This looks like a very heathen rite when it is done in the beams from two strong headlights, with streaming shadow behind. We were rather quiet; nobody sang or told long stories. We’d all five been together since lunch-time, but I don’t think anyone was bored, aggrieved or sick of the arrangement. Certainly I wasn’t, for someone else had driven the car, someone else had poled the punt on the river before the theatre, and someone else had provided my sausages and shandy. It was the best kind of picnic.


I have to say I think the last one is the best – it catches a particular kind of idiocy that is all too believable.

Competitions nos. 171A and 171B: results

Another new judge for us: R.Ellis Roberts, who (like Clennell Wilkinson) had been New Statesman‘s Literary Editor – and who was the only writer whom Kingsley Martin could not bear as a writer –  says he has a friend who can remember a punchline to a story, but not the story itself. The punchline is ‘And then he said “Call that good spitting?”‘ The short story is asked for (no word limit given). Most go for an American story. Some turn Roberts’ stomach. Lester Ralph is admonished for ‘sordid realism’. James Hall, William Bliss and James Henderson get close but the winner is ‘Seton C‘. Now there’s already a competitor on the books called Seton, so I am going to take a wild stab and suggest that they are one and the same. The runner-up (doing very well, incidentally) is Southron.



The B competition is for an acrostic sonnet, to spell out PSYCHOANALYSIS.

One of the runners up (mis-spelled as Blarraid) is the Irish poet and playwright Blanaid Salkeld, who had just brought out her first collection of poetry, Hello Eternity. Born in what would become Pakistan in 1880 (where her father was a friend of Tagore), she grew up in Ireland, married, returned to India with her husband, who died in 1908, and came back to Ireland in 1909. She worked as an actor. She wrote five collections of poetry, and verse plays. She encouraged Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh, and her grand-daughter married Brendan Behan. She died in 1959. There is a brief synopsis of her life here.

Roberts prefers poems with models (and he believes they have missed a trick by not using Donne, but doesn’t explain why). He therefore goes for Eremita and Black Gnat (Seacape).