The Night Land. A love tale.

  • Hodgson, William Hope
  • London: Eveleigh Nash 1912




FIRST EDITION, PRESENTATION COPY, 8vo, pp. 583, [1], 15, [1, ads]. Original red cloth, boards blocked with a frame in blind, spine and front board lettered in gilt. Paper lightly toned, a few tiny spots. Spine dulled and gilt mostly gone, a few marks, spine ends bumped. Presentation inscription to flyleaf: ‘Mrs N Harrison / from / William Hope Hodgson – / Nov: 28th-/12’.


A scarce presentation copy of William Hope Hodgson's landmark horror-fantasy, an early example of a 'Dying Earth' story in the same genre as the end of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine. It made a strong impression on Hodgson's contemporaries: Lovecraft referenced it in 'Supernatural Horror in Literature' as 'yet one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written', and Clark Ashton Smith felt similarly about it.
Hodgson's life was short but eventful, encompassing a sailing apprenticeship at 14, founding a school for personal training at 22, a clash with Harry Houdini, and experiments with photography before turning to fiction and poetry. His novels saw some critical success but did not earn a sufficient living, and Hodgson received a commission in the Royal Artillery shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. His service was interrupted by severe injury in a horse-riding accident but he re-enlisted a year later and was killed by an artillery shell at Ypres in April 1918, aged only 40. The Night Land was his final novel to see print in his lifetime and his work fell into some obscurity afterward, though he left significant material behind (especially his poetry) that his widow saw into print, with still more uncovered after he was rediscovered starting in the 1970s and continuing into the 21st century.
The novel is long and somewhat obscure: there is a opening device set in the 17th century but the body of the work takes place millions of years in the future under a dying sun, where a projection of the early modern character seeks the reincarnation of his lost love among the remains of humanity, who are hiding in a gigantic metal pyramid from forces unknown, half-suspected, or partially or formerly human, including gigantic living shapes referred to as 'Watchers'. There is practically no dialogue or proper names and the archaic language may have been inspired by Paradise Lost. But the power of its imagery is such that a modern rewriting, adding features like character names and direct speech to aid readers, was published in 2011.
This copy, the issue with the ads at the end (no priority), was presented by Hodgson a few months after publication - which had been in late March - to a Mrs N Harrison. This was Nellie Harrison (née Lowe, 1868-1950), widow of a Birmingham coach builder. By 1911 she had moved to London where she was the secretary/housekeeper of the Author's Club in Whitehall Court. Hodgson moved to London in 1910 hoping to advance his writing career, so it seems probable the two met through Nellie's position at the club.

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