From the beginning of his literary career, Machen espoused a mystical belief that the humdrum ordinary world hid a more mysterious and strange world beyond. His gothic and decadent works of the 1890s concluded that the lifting of this veil could lead to madness, sex, or death, and usually a combination of all three. Machen’s later works became somewhat less obviously full of gothic trappings, but for him investigations into mysteries invariably resulted in life-changing transformation and sacrifice. Machen loved the medieval world view because he felt it combined deep spirituality alongside a rambunctious earthiness.
Stephen King is quoted as saying that Arthur Machen’s horror story The Great God Pan is “maybe the best in the English language.” When it was published in 1894, it was criticized for it’s subject matter and sexual content. Not surprisingly, it sold well, and has become the story for which he is most famous.
Arthur Llewelyn Jones was born March 3rd, 1863, in Caerleon, Monmouthshire, Wales. His father, John Edward Jones, a vicar, took the maiden name of his wife, Machen, for inheritance purposes. Arthur, later in life, dropped the Jones-Machen hyphenation when he began his writing career. Machen’s family was relatively poor, which meant he could not attend university after his childhood education. Having failed the entrance exams to medical school in London, Machen worked as a jounalist, a publishing clerk, and a tutor, all the while writing and living in his own poverty, though some inheritances from Scottish relatives helped somewhat financially.
In 1884 Machen published The Anatomy of Tobacco, his second published work following the 1881 poem ”Eleusinia”. The Anatomy of Tobacco helped secure him work with George Redway, a publisher and bookseller. There, he worked as a magazine editor, among other things including a French translator. Machen married Amy Hogg in 1887. Through Amy, a music teacher, he met the writer A. E. Waite, who was also a noted occultist, and would be a considerable influence on Machen.
Following the success of The Great God Pan, Machen next published The Three Impostors in 1895. Thanks to Oscar Wilde and his then scandalous escapades, certain works of horror went unpublished, of which Machen was a victim. Machen continued to write, though, and these works wouldn’t be available on the shelves until years later. In addition to meager publishing, Machen’s wife died of cancer in 1899. His recovery from the loss was due in part to his close friend Waite who brought him into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (though he would only have a fleeting membership) and his change of career to actor. Travelling with the theater troupe allowed him to meet Dorothie Purefoy Hudleston, who would become his second wife in 1903.
He returned to journalism full time in 1910 only as a means to provide for his family. He had a return to publishing fame in 1914 and remained prominent with the public through the end of World War I thanks to “The Bowmen” and the ”Angels of Mons” legend. It wasn’t until 1921 that there was a major rediscovery of Arthur Machen as a serious writer. The Twenties also saw Machen finding an American audience. This new success peaked around 1926.
Until his death in 1947, Machen produced very little new work of his own, but found employment in and out of the publishing world as editor, essayist, and manuscript reader.
Free works available at Project Gutenberg