M. P. Shiel

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M. P. Shiel

Matthew Phipps Shiell (21 July 1865 – 17 February 1947), known as M. P. Shiel, was a British writer best known for his novel The Purple Cloud, as well as being one of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite writers. Remembered mainly for supernatural horror and scientific romances, Shiel's legal surname remained "Shiell" while he adopted the shorter version as a de facto pen name.

In 1914, Shiel was convicted of sexual contact with a 12-year-old female (MacLeod, 2008)[1]. Shiel conducted his own defence in court but was unsuccessful and convicted, serving sixteen months hard labour in prison. He wrote to the British Home Secretary about the law he was convicted under, and sent a letter to his publisher discussing and defending his actions (MacLeod, 2008, p. 358):

I have written letter after letter to the Home Secretary, protesting that my innocence is as snow — supposing, I mean, that I had done all that I am charged with, though it does not even chance to be true that I did just what I was “convicted” of, viz. “carnal knowledge” — whether knowledge imparted or received I don’t know — were there ever such ponderous people? making mountains out of molehills and crimes out of love-toyings? — the lady in question being — not two days or months — but two years past her puberty, older than was Napoleon’s mother when her first-born was born, and Napoleon’s mother was not a Hindoo, as this girl is, but an Italian; nor is was this girl much younger than Warren Hastings’ mother when he was born, Hastings’ mother not being a Hindoo, but an English girl; so that the fathers of those really strong-minded men would have got longer “sentences” for getting them, under the Stead and Booth régime, than I have got: and, of course, as I have been trying to cry out in my weak voice for years, the twentieth century rejects a country whose laws are the outcome of the sudden emotions and enthusiasms of such, since France and Germany are not going to keep company with her.

His attractions sometimes leaked into his fiction (MacLeod, 2008, p. 368-370):

At the same time, Shiel’s heroines are often characterized as knowing their mind about their lovers at a young age. Ada of Say au R’voir but Not Goodbye, for example, has loved her older intended since she was twelve, but perhaps the most notable instance of this emotional maturity is represented in Jesse of How the Old Woman Got Home. This novel, in which Metchnikoff’s theory about child-mothers is boldly defended, also daringly characterizes the relationship of its romantic leads—the thirty-year-old Hazlitt and the seventeen-year-old Jesse, who have been sexually active before marriage. Jesse, we are told, has been in love with Hazlitt since she was seven and he with her since he was twenty-three and she ten. [...] In one novel, however, the Biblically themed This Above All (1933; 1943 as Above All Else), Shiel dares to eroticize a much younger girl. Set in contemporary Paris, the novel draws on the resurrection stories of the [twelve-year-old] daughter of Jarius (as told in Mark 5:22–43; Luke 8:41–56; and Matthew 9:18) and Lazarus (from John 11:1–44). In the novel, the heroine Rachel is Jarius’s daughter seeking union with Lazarus (called Surazal), her soul mate. Though nearly two thousand years old, Rachel and Surazal have maintained, in physical terms, the age at which they were resurrected. Rachel, part “child,” part “harlot,” part “saint,” as A. Reynolds Morse has characterized her, is highly sexualized, inspiring lust and devotion in men with her strange beauty and provocative dancing. Her youthful looks, however, pose a danger, even to the immortal Lazarus and he is warned that he is not immune to the earthly punishments that await those who get involved with underage girls: “If Rachel and you co-habit without some marriage-rite, you may see yourself in prison here in Europe, since it cannot be believed that she is as old as fourteen.”

See also