Saturday 31 October 2020

A Damon Gaunt mystery - Eyes that saw not

Continued from last week's post on Isabel Ostrander, the creator of the blind detective Damon Gaunt

Unlike Thornley Colton, who displayed his skills in a number of novella length tales before getting into a novel-length adventure, Damon Gaunt's first appearance is in a serialized novel. Because of the bigger  scope of the novel, he doesn't have to show off his skills till about thirty paragraphs in. His first deduction is that the person who has brought him the case of Garrett Appleton, murdered at his home, is a cocaine addict. He bases this on the constant sniffing and rubbing of his nose.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Isabel Ostrander - Author

Isabel Ostrander was a prolific writer in the early twentieth century, contributing more than thirty serials using three pseudonyms, and perhaps more under other names, to the Munsey and Street and Smith pulps in little over a decade before her untimely death. Many of these serials were later reprinted as novels, some with changed titles.

Her inclusion in this series of articles is due to her creation of Damon Gaunt, the second blind detective to feature in American fiction. The first was Thornley Colton, created by Clinton H. Stagg. Damon Gaunt is however, closer to the British school of detective fiction epitomized by Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. How? We’ll see later.

Isabel Ostrander c. 1907
Isabel Ostrander c. 1907

Saturday 17 October 2020

Bibliography of the Thornley Colton stories

Continued from last week's post on Clinton H. Stagg who the creator of the first blind detective, Thornley Colton.All eight Thornley Colton stories were published in People’s magazine, Street and Smith’s companion to The Popular Magazine , from February 1913 to October 1913. One story per issue except for August 1913. People’s is one of those ultra-rare pulps you don’t hear much about, because most people haven’t seen a copy, let alone read an issue.

Which is why it is fortunate that all the Colton stories and the novel were recently reprinted by Coachwhip Publications. Coachwhip is a small print-on-demand publisher that publishes an eclectic mix of titles on crypto-zoology, mysteries, history and business. Their mystery lineup is worth checking out.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Clinton H. Stagg - Author, Script Writer, News Reporter

Clinton Holland Stagg, the creator of the first fictional blind detective, was born on 22 November 1888 in Newark, Essex, New Jersey to William E. Stagg and Annie Stagg (neĆ© Holland). There is no record of his father’s profession at the time of his birth. In the 1900 census, Clinton is listed as “At School”, and his father’s occupation is “Machinist”. The family had moved to Bloomfield, less than 10 miles distant from Newark. A younger brother, Horace was 9 years old and attending school.

Clinton H. Stagg - Creator of the first blind fictional detective
Clinton H. Stagg - Creator of the first blind fictional detective

Saturday 3 October 2020

The first blind detective in modern English fiction

October is Blindness Awareness Month when the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), holds outreach activities to create opportunities for people to meet blind people living in their communities and to realize that blind people are vital contributing members of society.

My small contribution to this is to get you to meet the earliest blind detectives and their authors. Three of them in fact:

Clinton H. Stagg’s Thornley Colton appeared in a series of stories in Street & Smith’s People’s Ideal Fiction Magazine starting in February 1913
Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados made his debut in the British tabloid, The News of the World on August 17, 1913 and made one appearance in Flynn’s Detective Fiction
Isabel Ostrander’s Damon Gaunt appeared in the Munsey pulps - The Cavalier, The Argosy, first appearance not known to be earlier than February 1914

Thornley Colton appeared in eight stories in People’s Ideal Fiction Magazine from February to October 1913, beating Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados (first appearance in The Coin of Dionysus, published in News of the World, August 17, 1913) by six months, and Isabel Ostrander’s Damon Gaunt by over a year (first appearance in Eyes that see not, published in The Cavalier, Feb 14, 1914). It’s possible that there could be an even earlier story, yet undiscovered, but until then Stagg and Colton have first place in the pantheon of blind detectives.

Hellen Keller (photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

Why did so many blind detectives appear at around the same time? I think it had to do with Helen Keller. Born in 1880, she overcame many obstacles to become the first deaf-blind graduate of Radcliffe College for women. She graduated summa-cum-laude, and published her autobiography in 1902. The Story of My Life was a best-seller, and by 1913, Keller was on a lecture tour around the United States, going from city to city and giving talks on her experience as a blind person.

By 1913 the world had seen blind people match their sighted brethren in skills and accomplishments. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been writing Sherlock Holmes’ stories for over a quarter century, and detective stories were a staple of popular fiction in the all-fiction rough paper magazines and their more sophisticated counterparts. Then, as now, an author of detective fiction needed something different –the setting, the crime, the detective or the criminal - to differentiate his story from the crowd. While Stagg wasn’t unique in picking blindness as his detective’s distinguishing characteristic, he was the first to be published.

Next week: Clinton Stagg and Thornley Colton