Ethel M. Dell
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|Ethel May Dell Savage|
|Born||Ethel May Dell
2 August 1881
|Died||19 September 1939(aged 58)|
|Pen name||Ethel M. Dell|
|Spouse||Gerald Tahourdin Savage (1922–1939)|
Ethel M. Dell (2 August 1881 – 19 September 1939) was a British writer of over 30 popular romance novels and several short stories from 1911 to 1939.
Ethel May Dell was born on 2 August 1881 in Streatham, a suburb of London, England. Her father was a clerk in the City of London and she had an older sister and brother. Her family was middle class and lived a comfortable life. Ethel Dell was a very shy, quiet girl and was content to be dominated by her family. She began to write stories while very young and many of them were published in popular magazines. Beneath her shy exterior, she had a passionate heart and most of her stories were stories of passion and love set in India and other old British colonial possessions. They were considered to be very racy and her cousins would pull out pencils to try and count up the number of times she used the words: passion, tremble, pant and thrill. Pictures of her are very rare and she was never interviewed by the press.
Ethel Dell worked on a novel for several years, but it was rejected by eight publishers. Finally the publisher T. Fisher Unwin bought the book for their First Novel Library, a series which introduced a writer's first book. This book, entitled The Way of an Eagle, was published in 1911 and by 1915 it had gone through thirty printings.
Her debut novel is very characteristic of Ethel M. Dell's novels. There is a very feminine woman, an alpha male, a setting in India, passion galore liberally mixed with some surprisingly shocking violence and religious sentiments sprinkled throughout.
While readers adored Ethel M. Dell's novels, critics hated them with a passion; but she did not care what the critics thought. She considered herself a good storyteller – nothing more and nothing less. Ethel M. Dell continued to write novels for a number of years. She made quite a lot of money, from £20,000 to £30,000 a year, but remained quiet and almost pathologically shy.
Marriage and last years
In 1922, Ethel Dell married a soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Tahourdin Savage, when she was forty years old, and the marriage was happy. Colonel Savage resigned his commission on his marriage and Ethel Dell became the support of the family. Her husband devoted himself to her and fiercely guarded her privacy. For her part she went on writing, eventually producing about thirty novels and several volumes of short stories. Ethel's married name is recorded as Ethel Mary Savage.
Ethel M. Dell died of cancer on 19 September 1939, at 58.
References in literature
George Orwell, in his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying, has his protagonist make several scathing comments about Dell and others (notably, Warwick Deeping) and reserves special venom for The Way of an Eagle. He refers to her in answers to a questionnaire The Cost of Letters (1946) on the subject of a serious writer earning a living by writing.
Winifred Watson, in her novel Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, has the titular character refer to Dell as the source of her inspiration to encourage a young gentleman to punch a rival by hissing, "Sock him one" at the key moment.
In the novel In Hazard by Richard Hughes the engineer Souter aboard the steamer 'Archimedes' has a nightmare about the late chief engineer who was lost at sea. Rather than try to sleep he begins to read a book (we are told in a dry aside) by Ethel M. Dell.
P. G. Wodehouse refers to her in several of his stories. Some have opined that Wodehouse's character, Rosie M. Banks, is based on Dell; however, Wodehouse himself told his biographer Richard Usborne that Rosie is based on Ruby M. Ayres.
Wodehouse mentions Dell by name in his novel Uncle Dynamite (1948), whose diffident hero, Bill Oakshott, is several times encouraged to model himself on the masterful man in The Way of an Eagle.
He also wrote the short story "Honeysuckle Cottage", which uses themes and characters very like those of Ethel M. Dell. In it, a writer of Raymond Chandler-like hard-boiled detective stories finds to his horror that his work (and later his whole life) is being possessed by characters who seem to come out of a syrupy romance novel by "Leila M. Pinkney". Here is a sample:
He shoved in a fresh sheet of paper, chewed his pipe thoughtfully for a moment, then wrote rapidly:
"For an instant Lester Gage thought that he must have been mistaken. Then the noise came again, faint but unmistakable.
His mouth set in a grim line. Silently, like a panther, he made one quick step to the desk, noiselessly opened a drawer, drew out his automatic. After that affair of the poisoned needle, he was taking no chances. Still in dead silence, he tiptoed to the door; then, flinging it suddenly open, he stood there, his weapon poised.
On the mat stood the most beautiful girl he had ever beheld. A veritable child of Faërie. She eyed him for a moment with a saucy smile; then with a pretty, roguish look of reproof shook a dainty forefinger at him. ‘I believe you've forgotten me, Mr. Gage!’ she fluted with a mock severity which her eyes belied."
James stared at the paper dumbly.
In M. John Harrison's novel The Centauri Device, "a calf-bound set of Ethel M. Dell firsts, signed and numbered by the author" are part of the detritus of the 20th Century arranged with other objets d'art at a narcotics party on 24th century Earth.
In Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders, the curate mentions Ethel M. Dell.
In Dorothy Sayers's novel "The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club", first published in 1928, Ethel M. Dell is mentioned as an example of escapist literature. "Servants and factory girls read about beautiful girls loved by dark, handsome men, all covered over with jewels and moving in scenes of gilded splendour. And passionate spinsters read Ethel M. Dell. And dull men in offices read detective stories."
The Keeper of the Door Series
Additional, uncertain titles found in some lists:
- Sources consulted (biography)
- Dell, Penelope (1977). Nettie and Sissie: the biography of Ethel M. Dell and her sister Ella. London: Hamilton. ISBN 0-241-89663-0.
- Sources consulted (bibliography)
- Author and Book Info.com (2007-08-04). ""Ethel Mary/May DELL, Mrs SAVAGE" (bibliography)". New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
- Wands, D. C. (2007-08-07). ""Ethel M Dell" (bibliography)". Fantastic Fiction.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
- Public domain online works