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Book Title: Pharos, The Egyptian|
The author of the book: Guy Newell Boothby
Date of issue: 1898
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 662 KB
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Reader ratings: 5.1
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One can never get enough of these late Victorian potboilers. Evil (foreign) geniuses! Damsels in distress! Loyal stout-hearted Englishmen! Dark secrets!
I've read a half dozen or so weird tales from this era that basically spring from the late 19th century appetite for all things Egyptian. Considered the height of exotica at the time, this was the age of Bram Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars, Theophile Gautier's The Romance of a Mummy, Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lot 249," E.F. Benson's Image in the Sand, and Richard Marsh's The Beetle (all of which, at some point or another, I've happily devoured).
It was the age of the great Egyptologists such as Howard Carter and Gaston Maspero, following in the wake of Napoleon. Few settings seemed to fire the imagination as much as a tale set in Cairo, Luxor, or Karnak, unless, of course, it was a setting in some equally exotic Oriental locale such as China or Tibet. Then, too, it was an age obsessed with mesmerism, hypnotism, spiritualism, and a host of other -isms that now might seem quaint to us but were taken quite seriously but even eminent persons at the time.
Finally, there was the Victorian/Edwardian fascination with evil geniuses. Professor Moriarty, Fu Manchu, Count Fosco, Dracula, Dr. Nikola - these and a host of others lurked in the shadows, using their magnetism to bend others to their will and their considerable mental gifts for evil purposes.
It's no surprise, then, that a number of the potboilers of this age mined all three themes with considerable success. Just a few years before the publication of this tale, for example, was Richard Marsh's The Beetle, which at the time was even more popular than Stoker's Dracula. (The Beetle, alas, never really survived in the modern age, whereas Dracula, of course, has had a long run. However, many of the themes from The Beetle were picked up and used in "The Mummy" and other horror films.) Always there is an indignant or maligned spirit whose tomb has been violated. Often there is a curse. And, of course, any sensational tale worth its salt has a vulnerable woman who is threatened by the evil genius. Usually she is manipulated in some particularly sinister way.
Pharos the Egyptian contains all of these elements, but it takes a particularly grim turn. Still, it can't help from sounding a rather out-of-place note of hopefulness at the end, one that perhaps was demanded by the audiences of the time but which now seems almost ludicrous. Up to that point, though, it's a fairly ripping tale for those who enjoy the somewhat predictable conventions of late Victorian story telling. Parts of the tale reminded me deliciously of Poe's "Masque of the Red Death," and I wondered if Boothby had read it (most likely he had).
One other note I might add is that the 1899 edition I've got is rather lovely, if not in particularly good repair. I can't recall where I picked it up, but it has a lovely ornate gilded cover, all the original illustrations, and pages which were obviously cut by hand. It's badly foxed and the binding is quite brittle, but reading it provided a feeling of antiquity that meshed well with the tale.
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Read information about the authorGuy Newell Boothby was born in Adelaide, South Australia, the son of Thomas Wilde Boothby, a Member of the South Australian House of Assembly. At six years of age he travelled with his mother to England and was educated at Lord Weymouth's Grammar School, Salisbury and at Christ's Hospital, London between 1874 and 1883.
When his education was over he returned to Australia where he eventually became secretary to the Mayor of Adelaide, Lewis Cohen. He was dissatisfied with his prospects in Adelaide and consequently he moved to Brisbane where he hoped his prospects would be better.
In the meantime he wrote a series of comic operas and plays, all of which were relatively unsuccessful.
He was of a roving disposition and at age 24 he travelled across Australia from north to south and later he travelled extensively in the East.
By 1894 he had married Rose Alice Bristowe and he and his wife moved to England in that year, which was notable for the publication of his first book, 'On the Wallaby, or, Through the East and Across Australia', an account of his and his brother's travels in Australia.
He was given advice and encouragement in his writing by none other than Rudyard Kipling and the year 1895 saw the publication of three novels, the most significant of which was 'A Bid for Fortune: or, Dr Nikola's Vendetta'. This introduced probably his best known character, Dr Nikola, a ruthless, unscrupulous figure, with his ubiquitous large cat, who was to feature in five of his novels over the ensuing years. The book was an instant success and brought him a certain amount of fame. Dr Nikola had first appeared in serial form in the Windosr Magazine.
Over the next 10 years he was to write another 50 books and a further five were published posthumously, the last of which was 'In the Power of the Sultan' (1908). He was so prodigious that the story circulated that he spoke his tales into a phonograph, from which they were later transcribed by secretaries.
He is perhaps remembered also for introducing one of the early gentlemen crooks of literature when he featured Simon Carne in 'A Prince of Swindlers' in 1897. Carne had originally appeared in Pearson's Magazine and as a gentleman crook he pre-dated another of his kind in A J Raffles by two years.
Boothby's novels were often set in Australia (not surprisingly) and were classed as 'fast-paced thrillers' although some felt that although exciting in plot they were 'hastily and carelessly written'. In addition they were said to have been enjoyed by those who 'care for frank sensationalism carried to its furtherest limits'. Despite these comments his books were extremely popular and made him one of the most successful novelists of his day.
Boothby, who was also a successful breeder of prize dogs, died suddenly of pneumonia at his home, Winsley Lodge, Watkin Road, Bournemouth in 1905. He left a widow and three children.
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