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, by then calling herself Margaret E. Neeley, matriculated at the University of California, Berkeley. She met a man named Raymond E. St. Clair there. In 1932 they were married. The new Margaret St. Clair graduated in 1934 with a master's degree in Greek classics. Two years later, the couple went on a trip to China. At the time they were still living in Berkeley. By 1940, the St. Clairs were in Contra Costa, California. They would remain in California the rest of their long lives.

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, I suppose, either a graduate student, a teacher, or perhaps a staff member at the university when they met. Unfortunately I don't have any further information on him except the date and place of his death, March 10, 1986, in Mendocino County, California. St. Clair was a statistician by trade. His occupation makes it all the more odd that he and Margaret St. Clair 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. As for nudism (another of her interests according to Wikipedia), I would guess that came from Margaret St. Clair's 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, Margaret published several novels, collections, and essays between 1946 and 1985. Her greatest output was in a shorter form. Between 1946 and 1981, Margaret St. Clair saw scores of short stories printed in science fiction magazines. Her stories for Weird Tales were ten in number, all published between 1950 and 1954. Three of her tales were adapted to television.

Science fiction encyclopedist John Clute characterized Margaret St. Clair as "elusive." Her elusive reply? "[I]t may be so." 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)

Writing as Idris Seabright, Margaret St. Clair appeared in The Magazine of Science Fiction in September 1956 with her story "Stawdust." Note the suggestion of magical practice in the 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 a cover by Ed Valigursky. This time note the classical costume of the woman and her superior position over the man.
Another Ace Double from almost a decade later, Message from the Eocene (1964). The 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.
Text and captions copyright 2013 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.

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  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

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  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.

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