Two years ago my mother died and part of the winding up involved emptying several bookcases full of books. I know they were full because the more recently acquired books were in stacks on the floor. I would sometimes remonstrate about tripping hazards; more usefully, I would sometimes quietly move a particularly obstructive or teetery stack back along the wall.
But I knew better than to suggest she might get rid of any books on the shelves. Many were collections of poetry from her university days; some were books her own mother had treasured.
Two such grandmother-books came to my own bookshelves, which I am now thinning out. I pulled one out the other day, to consider reading it. I flipped it open at random:
‘A day that I shall scarce see, and it will be well if thou dost,’ returned her uncle,
‘unless the hearts of the burghers of Ulm return to the liberality of their fathers,
who devised that spire! But what trampling do I hear?’
The trampling I heard was the pitter-patter of my feet, as I devised a way to return this novel to the shelf.
Only slightly daunted, I pulled out another.
An incident like that of the missionary box could not but fix in Charlie Grace’s mind
the approximate date of his first conscious wish to be a clergyman.
We all shine, if only in comparison. I settled in to give it a try. After five pages I was hooked by its non-sappy child’s perspective, gentle humour, and charming writing style. Not a dost in sight.
As I put it down until later in the day, I glanced at the cover to see who had written it, wondering if I would know the name. What the heck?
An unnamed author? An author identified only by another work? What, was I supposed to know who wrote The Inner Shrine? Clearly not — this 1919 printing did not have me in mind at all, as strange as that seems — but equally clearly the publisher expected this to be sufficient as identification to the book buyers of the day.
I had to go to the title page to get the author’s name: even there it was given a bit reluctantly, I thought. Odd.
Basil King was a Canadian clergyman who took to writing novels when failing eyesight and thyroid disease drove him out of the ministry. The Inner Shrine, published anonymously (Aha!) in 1909, went viral (OK, OK, it was popular), which explains how this novel was marketed: More people knew the book title than the author’s name. Wild.
There’s no Wiki entry for The Way Home, but The Inner Shrine was made into a 1917 silent movie, now lost. Wiki says that Basil King was “an author popular with actresses.”
Well, of course he would be, if only because he’d never have insisted on getting higher billing. Or any billing at all.