Frank Herrmann on H. A. Manhood

Lives on the Edge

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One of the great advantages of running an auction house for books is that you see a vast range of publications. And if you’ve been a publisher for many years before you became an auctioneer, you frequently wonder what on earth possessed publishers of earlier generations to select some of the incredible rubbish that saw the light of day. But you do find the odd unknown pearl among the dross. I happened to be interested in the short story, and after the First World War collections of these were published in large numbers. Among them a name, a strange name, figured fairly frequently – that of H. A. Manhood. His own story is interesting.

He was born in 1904 and died fairly recently, in 1991. At the age of 23 he sent a selection of twelve stories he had written to Andrew Dakers, who was a literary agent as well as a publisher. Dakers was instantly and deeply impressed by the quality of Manhood’s work. At the time, John O’London’s Weekly (founded in 1919) was the principal literary journal for middlebrow readers, and every young writer’s ambition was to be published by it. Dakers sent the stories to George Blake, the then editor, who responded by return to say that he wanted to publish at least two of the stories at once. The first, ‘Brotherhood’, appeared in the issue of 11 June 1927. Two others followed in August and October. Somerset Maugham chose ‘Brotherhood’ twenty-four years later for Great Modern Writing, an American anthology, and it was also included in The Best Short Stories of 1927.

On hearing the good news, Manhood brought Dakers carbon copies of the stories, which Dakers sent to Jonathan Cape. Only days later, Cape accepted the stories for volume publication. And after a matter of weeks, Viking Press in New York cabled an offer for the American book rights. So impressed were Cape and Viking by Manhood’s talent that when they heard he lived in straitened circumstances and could not support himself

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About the contributor

Frank Herrmann has been a publisher and a senior director of Sotheby’s. In 1983 he founded Bloomsbury Book Auctions, which he ran for 22 years. He is the author of a series of children’s books and an autobiography, Low Profile: A Life in the World of Books.

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