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SATAN'S CIRCUS by Lady Eleanor Smith, with an Introduction by Christopher Roden. Ashcroft, BC, Canada; Ash-Tree Press; 2004. 1st edition hardcover. Fine in fine dj.

ISBN: 1-55310-074-3; xxviii + 225pp

Published 5 November 2004; Limited to 500 copies Jacket painting by Paul Lowe

Eleanor Smith (1902–45) led a life which reads as if it might have come from one of her own novels. Daughter of the First Earl of Birkenhead, she was a reluctant aristocrat who enthusiastically embraced the idea that gipsy blood ran in her veins; and she spent much of her adult life travelling Europe, drinking in gipsy lore, and learning the Romani language and customs. Eleanor was also a great admirer of the circus—its traditions and its characters—absorbing the drama that went on behind the colourful façade; and she adored the theatre and, in particular, the ballet.

Her first novel, Red Wagon, was published in 1930, and by the time of her tragically early death in 1945 eleven novels, a collection of interlinked stories, and her only collection of short fiction had appeared under the Eleanor Smith byline. The short fiction collection, Satan's Circus, reflects Eleanor's love for gipsies, the circus, and the theatre, the title story being based on a story she had been told while working with a circus. Reflecting her eventful life, another of the stories, 'Mrs Raeburn's Waxwork', draws on the experience Eleanor gained when, on a bet, she and friend hid for part of a night in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's. 'Candlelight' features a fortune-telling gipsy girl, who changes the lives of a group of friends in quite devastating fashion; while 'Tamar' is a further story of gipsies, in which a wild gipsy girl tries to outsmart the devil.

This new Ash-Tree Press edition of Satan's Circus includes all of the stories from the first American edition, which added one story to the original British publication ('Whittington's Cat'). Two further, uncollected stories—'The Little Mermaid', a re-telling of Andersen's fairy tale, and the haunting 'No Ships Pass'—make this the first time that all of Eleanor Smith's supernatural fiction has been gathered in a single volume. Christopher Roden's introduction provides a detailed look at the life and works of Lady Eleanor Smith, nowadays an unjustly neglected writer whose elegant and atmospheric tales will haunt the reader long after the book is closed.

CONTENTS: Introduction by Christopher Roden; Satan's Circus; Mrs Raeburn's Waxwork; Candlelight; Portrait of a Strong Man; The Brothers; The Hurdy-Gurdy; Sweet Spanish Ladies; One o'clock; Lyceum; Whittington's Cat; Tamar; The Little Mermaid; No Ships Pass.