Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More Authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction-Margaret St. Clair-Part 2

Born in Kansas in 1911, orphaned with the death of her father in 1919, and removed to California with her mother in 1928, Eva Margaret Neeley attended Santa Ana Junior College (now Santa Ana College), where she contributed to Tavern Post, the college literary magazine, and First the Blade, California Collegiate Anthology of Verse. At the time, Santa Ana Junior College was, I believe, a department of Santa Ana High School. Eva Margaret Neeley may have graduated from that high school before continuing at the college located on the same grounds. Then again, she may have received her high school diploma in her native Kansas before arriving in California at around age seventeen.

Eva Margaret Neeley, sometimes shortening her name to Margaret Neeley, graduated from Santa Ana Junior College in June 1930 and thereafter matriculated at the University of California, Berkeley. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a winner of scholarships at Berkeley. On May 15, 1932, she received her bachelor of arts degree with honors. Eleven days later, on May 26, 1932, she married Raymond E. St. Clair in Berkeley.

Raymond E. St. Clair, who must have been the man "Eric" described in Margaret St. Clair's various biographies, was born on July 30, 1903, in Upland, California. Eight years older than his wife, he was at various times, according to Wikipedia, a "statistician, social worker, horticulturist, shopfitter, and a laboratory assistant in the University of California at Berkeley Physics Department." (He also seems to have been a very early example of someone falling for the schemes of a Nigerian "prince." See the letter in "Let the Public Speak: Offer of African 'Tiger Skin' Merits Scrutiny, Says Reader" in The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, California, August 24, 1951, page 4.) According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Eric St. Clair wrote four stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (edited by Anthony Boucher) in 1955-1956 and 1964-1965. Like his wife, St. Clair was elusive, and I have little further information on him except for the date and place of his death, March 10, 1986, in Mendocino County, California. (1)

In 1934, Margaret St. Clair graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a master's degree in Greek classics. Two years later, she and her husband went on a trip to China. At the time the young couple were still living in Berkeley. By 1940, the St. Clairs were in Contra Costa County, California. They would remain in California for the rest of their long lives. Again according to Wikipedia, they lived in El Sobrante and Point Arena later in life.

Raymond E. St. Clair was, as mentioned above, an economist and statistician by trade. His occupation makes it all the more odd that he and his wife were involved in witchcraft and were associated with British Wiccans Gerald Gardner and Raymond Buckland. The St. Clairs were also readers of Robert Graves and Dion Fortune. I can speculate that in her reading, Margaret St. Clair, a student of Greek classics, came upon Graves' theorizing on the existence of a White Goddess in ancient Europe and Middle East. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948) may also have led her to a certain brand of feminism, although her birth during the Progressive Era, in Kansas, a hotbed of Progressivism, moreover, her upbringing by her widowed mother, must have been a more powerful influence upon her. (Her mother demonstrated her independence in 1908 by attaining her driver's license while living in Hutchinson, Kansas.) As for nudism, another of Margaret St. Clair's interests according to Wikipedia, I would guess that that came from her involvement in Wicca. It's worth remembering that her parents were married on Halloween--Samhain in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year--and that her father was born on Lammas (Aug. 1). Wikipedia has one more note on the personal lives of the St. Clairs: that they "decided to remain childless." How or why they came upon that decision is anybody's guess.

Margaret St. Clair's first published science fiction was a short story called "Rocket To Limbo," published in Fantastic Adventures in November 1946. Writing under her own name or under the pseudonyms Idris Seabright and Wilton Hazzard, she published several novels, collections of short stories, and essays from 1946 to 1985. Margaret St. Clair is best known for her short stories. From 1946 to 1981, she had scores of stories in that form published in science fiction pulps, digests, and other magazines. Her stories for Weird Tales were ten in number, all published from 1950 to 1954. Her last, "Brenda," from March 1954, came in the last year of the magazine's run. Three of her tales, including "Brenda," have been adapted to television. Margaret St. Clair also wrote mystery and detective stories. Her story "The Perfectionist" was adapted to a play called "A Dash of Bitters," first performed in 1954.

Some events attended by Margaret St. Clair:

  • March 1953, Alameda Branch Library, Alameda, California--Panelist for a discussion called "What Is Science Fiction?" put on by Reginald Bretnor. Other panelists were Phyllis Sterling Smith, William Brown, and Rosalie Moore.
  • June 24-26, 1953, Orchard Meadow Hall, Mills College, Oakland, California--On the faculty of the second annual Mills College Writers' Conference. Her subject was science fiction. Other science fiction guests included Phyllis Sterling Smith and Anthony Boucher.
  • September 3-6, 1954, Sir Francis Drake Hotel, San Francisco, California--Guest at the Twelfth Annual Science-Fiction Convention along with Anthony Boucher, Poul Anderson, Philip K. Dick, and others.
  • June 30-July 1, 1956, Hotel Leamington, Oakland, California--Guest at the Ninth Annual West Coast Science Fiction Conference--Westercon--where she shared a bill with Miriam Allen de Ford. Others guests included Richard Matheson, Richard Barbour Johnson, and toastmaster Anthony Boucher. 

Science fiction encyclopedist John Clute characterized Margaret St. Clair as "elusive." Her elusive reply? "[I]t may be so." That elusiveness helps to explain why her biography is almost certainly still incomplete at this late date.

Margaret St. Clair died on November 22, 1995, in Santa Rosa, California. She was eighty-four years old.

For Weird Tales
"The Family" (Jan. 1950)
"The Corn Dance" (Mar. 1950)
"The Last Three Ships" (May 1950)
"Mrs. Haek" (July 1950)
"The Invisible Reweaver" (Nov. 1950)
"Professor Kate" (Jan. 1951)
"The Little Red Owl" (July 1951)
"The Bird" (Nov. 1951)
"Island of the Hands" (Sept. 1952)
"Brenda" (Mar. 1954)

Further Reading
See the Wikipedia entry on Margaret St. Clair for further information. Her papers are at Rivera Library, University of California, Riverside. You can read a description by clicking here.

Note
(1) I wonder now whether there was any connection between Eric St. Clair and Jack Parsons, who was both a physicist and an occultist involved in black magic. Anthony Boucher, a friend and admirer of Margaret St. Clair, wrote about Parsons and the science fiction scene in southern California in an oblique way in his mystery novel Rocket to the Morgue, published in 1942. Although several science fiction writers appear in the novel as thinly disguised characters, I don't know that Margaret St. Clair or her husband is included in its pages.

Writing as Idris Seabright, Margaret St. Clair was published in The Magazine of Science Fiction in September 1956 with her story "Stawdust" [sic]. Note the suggestion of magical practice in the star--albeit a six-pointed star--drawn on the floor. The cover art was by Frank Kelly Freas.
The Green Queen, one half of an Ace Double from 1956 with cover art by Ed Valigursky. This time note the classical costume of the woman and the inferior position of the man.
Another Ace Double from almost a decade later, Message from the Eocene (1964). The cover artist was Jack Gaughan.
Finally, an Ace Double from 1960, The Games of Neith, with cover art once again by Ed Valigursky. The figure of the woman suggests the birth of Aphrodite.

Revised October 3, 2017
Text and captions copyright 2013, 2017 Terence E. Hanley

3 comments:

  1. This is interesting timing, as I'm doing some work researching St. Clair myself for a column I write. Out of curiosity, what biographies are you referring to? I haven't come across any.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Andrew,

    "Biographies" I guess is a pretty generous word. I was referring to information I found on Wikipedia, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and the Internet Movie Database. There is also a link on one of those sites to an article by Charles S. Clifton from 1997. I checked my books on science fiction. Margaret St. Clair earned scant mention in some of them and no mention at all in others. I don't know if anyone has ever written a lengthy biography of her. It sounds like she was elusive and probably by design.

    Good luck with your research.

    TH

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've found scant few writings by her on the SF genre. She was never satisfied with her novels. Even the best of them read like extended short stories. The short story was her strong point and I would go so far as to say she was one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th Century. And she wrote in many other mediums: I have a men's magazine from the early 60's with a story by her.

    ReplyDelete