Margaret St. Clair

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Margaret St. Clair (17 February 1911 – 22 November 1995) was an American science fiction writer, who also wrote under the pseudonyms Idris Seabright and Wilton Hazzard.

St. Clair was born in Hutchinson, Kansas. Her father, US Representative George A. Neeley, died when Margaret was seven, but left her mother well provided for. With no siblings, Margaret recalled her childhood as "rather a lonely and bookish one." When she was seventeen, she and her mother moved to California. In 1932, after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, she married writer Eric St. Clair. In 1934 she earned a Master of Arts in Greek Classics.[1] The St. Clairs lived in a house in the hills with a panoramic view near Richmond, California, where Margaret gardened and bred and sold dachshund puppies.[2]

St. Clair wrote that she "first tried my hand at detective and mystery stories, and even the so-called 'quality' stories," before finding her niche writing fantasy and science fiction for pulp magazines. "Unlike most pulp writers, I have no special ambitions to make the pages of the slick magazines. I feel that the pulps at their best touch a genuine folk tradition and have a balladic quality which the slicks lack."[2]

Beginning in the late 1940s, St. Clair wrote and published, by her own count, some 130 short stories. Her early output included the Oona and Jick series of eight stories published from 1947 to 1949, chronicling the comic misadventures of "housewife of the future" Oona and her devoted husband Jick. The stories were ostensibly set in an idealized future but cast a satirical look at post-war domestic life, with its focus on acquiring labor-saving household devices and "keeping up with the Joneses." St. Clair would later remark that the Oona and Jick stories "were not especially popular with fans, who were—then as now—a rather humorless bunch. The light tone of the stories seemed to offend readers and make them think I was making fun of them."[1]

She was especially prolific in the 1950s, producing such acclaimed and much-reprinted stories as "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" (1951), "Brightness Falls from the Air" (1951), "An Egg a Month from All Over" (1952), and "Horrer Howce" (1956). She occasionally drew inspiration from her education in Classics and her knowledge of Greek myth, as in "Mrs. Hawk" (1950), a modern update of the Circe myth, "The Bird" (1951), about a modern man's fateful encounter with the mythical phoenix, and "The Goddess on the Street Corner" (1953), in which a down-on-his-luck wino meets an equally vulnerable Aphrodite.

Beginning in 1950 with "The Listening Child," all of St. Clair's stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction appeared under the pseudonym Idris Seabright. The Seabright story "Personal Monster" appeared in the September 1955 issue immediately before the story "Too Many Bears" by a newcomer to the magazine, St. Clair's husband, Eric; in his introductory note to "Too Many Bears," editor Anthony Boucher quipped that Eric St. Clair "is enviably married to two of my favorite science fiction writers."[3]

Three of her short stories were adapted for television. "Mrs. Hawk" was filmed as "The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk" for the 1961 season of Thriller, with Jo Van Fleet in the title role. "The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes" (1950) and "Brenda" (1954) were filmed as segments of the 1971 season of Rod Serling's Night Gallery.

St. Clair wrote only a handful of stories in the mystery genre, but one of them, The Perfectionist (1946), was widely reprinted and translated, and served as the basis for the play A Dash of Bitters by Reginald Denham and Conrad Sutton Smith.[1]

She used the Wilton Hazzard pseudonym, a general house name used in magazines published by Fiction House, for a story published in an issue of Planet Stories which already contained a story under her own name, and may also have used it for pieces in the magazines Indian Stories and Jungle Stories. Under her own name she wrote several pieces of fiction and satire for "gentlemen's magazines" including Gent and The Dude.

St. Clair also wrote eight novels, four of which were published in the Ace Double series. One of her most highly regarded novels was Sign of the Labrys (1963), notable for its overt early use of Wicca elements in fiction; St. Clair wrote that the book "was primarily inspired by Gerald Gardner's books on witchcraft."[1] The editor of The Crystal Well called Sign of the Labrys "an occult classic,"[1] and in his review of the novel for Analog, P. Schuyler Miller declared that St. Clair was one of the most unappreciated writers in science fiction.[4] St. Clair's research into witchcraft led to her friendship with Raymond Buckland, who recalled the St. Clairs as "absolutely wonderful people, very warm and loving."[5]

In her rare autobiographical writings, St. Clair revealed few details of her personal life, but interviews with some who knew her indicate that she and her husband were well-traveled (including some visits to nudist colonies), were childless by choice, and in 1966 were initiated into Wicca by Raymond Buckland, taking the Craft names Froniga and Weyland.[5] Eric St. Clair worked variously as a statistician, social worker, horticulturist, shopfitter, and a laboratory assistant in the University of California at Berkeley Physics Department; he also published numerous short stories and magazine articles and was "perhaps the leading American writer of children's stories about bears, having sold close to 100 of them."[6]

Maragaret St.Clair died at Santa Rosa, California, in 1995.

Works[edit]

Novels[edit]

Story collections[edit]

  • Three Worlds of Futurity (1964)
  • Change the Sky and Other Stories (1974)
  • The Best of Margaret St. Clair (1985)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e St. Clair, Margaret, "Wight in Space: An Autobiographical Sketch" in Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Southern Illinois University Press, 1981, pp. 144-156.
  2. ^ a b "Presenting the Author" by Margaret St. Clair, Fantastic Adventures, November 1946, p. 2.
  3. ^ Introduction to "Too Many Bears" by Eric St. Clair, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1955, page 63.
  4. ^ Analog Science Fact & Science Fiction, March 1964, p. 91.
  5. ^ a b "Letter From Hardscrabble Creek: Chasing Margaret" by Chas S. Clifton, Hardscrabble #17, June 1997. (Parts of this article were later incorporated into the book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas Clifton, AltaMira Press, 2006.)
  6. ^ Introduction to "Olsen and the Sea Gull"by Eric St. Clair, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1964, page 41.

External links[edit]