Robert W. Chambers
|Robert William Chambers|
May 26, 1865|
Brooklyn, New York, US
|Died||December 16, 1933
New York City
|Occupation||Novel and short story author|
|Genre||Art Nouveau, Decadent literature, Fantasy, Historical fiction, Horror, Romance, Science fiction, Supernatural|
Robert William Chambers (May 26, 1865 – December 16, 1933) was an American artist and fiction writer, best known for his book of short stories entitled The King in Yellow, published in 1895.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to William P. Chambers (1827–1911), a corporate and bankruptcy lawyer, and Caroline Smith Boughton (1842-1913). His parents met when Caroline was twelve years old and William P. was interning with her father, Joseph Boughton, a prominent corporate lawyer. Eventually the two formed the law firm of Chambers and Boughton which continued to prosper even after Joseph's death in 1861. Robert's great-grandfather, William Chambers (birth unknown), a lieutenant in the British Royal Navy, was married to Amelia Saunders,(1765-1822), the great grand daughter of Tobias Saunders, of Westerly, Rhode Island. The couple moved from Westerly, to Greenfield, Massachusetts and then to Galway, New York, where their son, also William Chambers, (1798-1874) was born. The second William graduated from Union College at the age of 18, and then went to a college in Boston, where he studied to be a doctor. Upon graduating, he and his wife, Eliza P. Allen (1793-1880), a direct descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, Rhode Island were among the first settlers of Broadalbin, New York. His brother was architect Walter Boughton Chambers.
Robert was first educated at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and then entered the Art Students' League at around the age of twenty, where the artist Charles Dana Gibson was his fellow student. Chambers studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and at Académie Julian, in Paris from 1886 to 1893, and his work was displayed at the Salon as early as 1889. On his return to New York, he succeeded in selling his illustrations to Life, Truth, and Vogue magazines. Then, for reasons unclear, he devoted his time to writing, producing his first novel, In the Quarter (written in 1887 in Munich). His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of Art Nouveau short stories published in 1895. This included several famous weird short stories which are connected by the theme of a fictitious drama of the same title, which drives those who read it insane. E. F. Bleiler described The King in Yellow as one of the most important works of American supernatural fiction. It was also strongly admired by H. P. Lovecraft and his circle.
Chambers returned to the weird genre in his later short story collections The Maker of Moons, The Mystery of Choice and The Tree of Heaven, but none earned him as much success as The King in Yellow. Some of Chambers's work contains elements of science fiction, such as In Search of the Unknown and Police!!!, about a zoologist who encounters monsters.
Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers had one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines.
During World War I he wrote war adventure novels and war stories, some of which showed a strong return to his old weird style, such as "Marooned" in Barbarians (1917). After 1924 he devoted himself solely to writing historical fiction.
Chambers for several years made Broadalbin, New York, his summer home. Some of his novels touch upon colonial life in Broadalbin and Johnstown.
On July 12, 1898, he married Elsa (Elsie) Vaughn Moller (1882–1939). They had a son, Robert Edward Stuart Chambers (1899-1955) (who sometimes used the name Robert Husted Chambers).
Robert W. Chambers died on December 16, 1933, after having undergone intestinal surgery three days earlier.
Criticism and legacy
Despite Chambers' effective later abandonment of the weird supernatural tale, these early works are all that remained in print through most of the twentieth century, thanks to Lovecraft's inclusion of them in the critical study Supernatural Horror in Literature.
Frederic Taber Cooper commented:
So much of Mr Chambers's work exasperates, because we feel that he might so easily have made it better."
Critical studies of Chambers's horror and fantasy work include Lee Weinstein's essay in Supernatural Fiction Writers, Brian Stableford's essay in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers and a chapter in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).
Chambers' novel The Tracer of Lost Persons was adapted into a long-running (1937–54) old-time radio crime drama, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, by legendary soap opera producers Frank and Anne Hummert.
Chambers' The King in Yellow has inspired many modern authors, including Karl Edward Wagner, Joseph S. Pulver, Lin Carter, James Blish, Nic Pizzolato, Michael Cisco, Ann K. Schwader, Robert M. Price, Galad Elflandsson and Charles Stross.
Novels and story collections
- In the Quarter (1894)
- The King in Yellow (1895) – short stories
- The Red Republic (1895)
- The Maker of Moons (1896) – short stories
- A King and A Few Dukes (1896)
- With the Band (1896)
- The Mystery of Choice (1897) – short stories
- Lorraine (1898)
- Ashes of Empire (1898)
- The Haunts of Men (1898) – short stories
- Outsiders (1899)
- The Cambric Mask (1899)
- The Conspirators (1899)
- Cardigan (1901)
- The Maid-at-Arms (1902)
- The Maids of Paradise (1903)
- In Search of the Unknown (1904)
- A Young Man in a Hurry (1904) – short stories
- The Reckoning (1905)
- Iole (1905)
- The Tracer of Lost Persons (1906)
- The Fighting Chance (1906)
- The Tree of Heaven (1907) – short stories
- The Younger Set (1907)
- Some Ladies in Haste (1908)
- The Firing Line (1908)
- Special Messenger (1909)
- The Danger Mark (1909)
- The Green Mouse (1910)
- Ailsa Paige (1910)
- The Common Law (1911)
- The Adventures of a Modest Man (1911)
- Blue-Bird Weather (1912)
- The Streets of Ascalon (1912)
- The Japonette (1912)
- The Gay Rebellion (1913)
- The Business of Life (1913)
- Quick Action (1914)
- The Hidden Children (1914)
- Anne's Bridge (1914)
- Between Friends (1914)
- Who goes There! (1915)
- Athalie (1915)
- Police!!! (1915) – short stories
- The Girl Philippa (1916)
- The Better Man (1916) – short stories
- The Dark Star (1917)
- The Barbarians (1917)
- The Laughing Girl (1918)
- The Restless Sex (1918)
- The Moonlit Way (1919)
- In Secret (1919)
- The Crimson Tide (1919)
- A Story of Primitive Love (1920)
- The Slayer of Souls (1920)
- The Little Red Foot (1920)
- Eris (1922)
- The Flaming Jewel (1922)
- The Talkers (1923)
- The Hi-Jackers (1923)
- America; or, The Sacrifice (1924)
- The Mystery Lady (1925)
- Marie Halkett (1925 UK, 1937 US)
- The Girl in Golden Rags (1925 UK, 1936 US)
- The Man They Hanged (1926)
- The Drums of Aulone (1927)
- The Gold Chase (1927)
- The Sun Hawk (1928)
- The Rogue's Moon (1928)
- The Happy Parrot (1929)
- The Painted Minx (1930)
- The Rake and the Hussy (1930)
- War Paint and Rouge (1931)
- Gitana (1931)
- Whistling Cat (1932)
- Whatever Love Is (1933)
- Secret Service Operator 13 (1934) - Short stories published in Cosmopolitan between 1930-1932
- The Young Man's Girl (1934) - Serialized in The Delineator, 1933
- Love and the Lieutenant (1935) - Serialized in The Woman's Home Companion, 1934
- Beating Wings (1936) - Serialized in McCall's, 1927
- The Fifth Horseman (1937) - Serialized in McCall's, 1930
- Smoke of Battle (1938) ; this novel was possibly finished by Rupert Hughes.
- Outdoorland (1902) Illustrated by Reginald Bathurst Birch
- Orchard-Land (1903) Illustrated by Reginald Bathurst Birch
- River-Land (1904) Illustrated by Elizabeth S. Green
- Forest-Land (1905) Illustrated by Emily Benson Knipe
- Mountain-Land (1906) Illustrated by Frederick Richardson & Walter King Stone
- Garden-Land (1907) Illustrated by Harrison Cady
Collections containing reprinted work by Robert W. Chambers
- The Hastur Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price, Chaosium 1993
- The Yellow Sign and Other Stories, edited by S.T. Joshi, Chaosium 2004
- Between Friends (1924 silent film adaption of novel)
- "Robert Chambers, Novelist, Is Dead". New York Times. 17 December 1933. p. 36.
- Brian Stableford, "The King in Yellow" in Frank N. Magill, ed. Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, Inc., 1983. ISBN 0893564508 (pp. 844–847).
- Quoted in "Chambers, Robert W(illiam)" by T. E. D. Klein, in Jack Sullivan. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, Penguin/Viking, New York. 1986 ISBN 0670809020 (p. 74-6).
- Bleiler, Everett Franklin and Bleiler, Richard. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent State University Press, 1990. ISBN 0873384164. p. 129-132.
- Lovecraft, Selected Letters vol. 2, ed. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei (Arkham House, 1968), p. 148.
- Cooper, Some American Story Tellers (Henry Holt, 1911), p.81. Quoted in Joshi, The Evolution of the Weird Tale, p.18.
- Lee Weinstein, "Robert W. Chambers in, E. F. Bleiler, ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers. New York: Scribner's, 1985. (pp.739-746). ISBN 0-684-17808-7
- Brian Stableford, "Chambers, Robert W(illiam)" in David Pringle, ed., St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers (London: St. James Press, 1998) ISBN 1558622063 (pp. 130-2).
- Cox, Jim (May 2004). Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons: A Complete History and Episode Log of Radio's Most Durable Detective. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1738-2.
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 74–75.
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