Invisible Ink 9: Stacy Aumonier

Reading & Writing


There’s something twinkling and Christmassy and resolutely English about Stacy Aumonier. His ‘Extremely Entertaining Short Stories’ feel as if they should be read aloud by a roaring fire. Why is he so little known?

He was born near Regent’s Park into a family of craftsmen and artists in 1877, and reached 51 before dying of tuberculosis. During this time he wrote many short stories which should rightly be regarded as classics – but it didn’t happen. Worse, his work has vanished completely, and even collections of tales get his dates wrong. Yet John Galsworthy and Alfred Hitchcock were admirers of his page-turning style, his way with suspense, his wit, humanity and lightness of touch. He was described as ‘never heavy, never boring, never really trivial.’

The more I heard about Aumonier, the more I began to suspect I was the subject of a hoax. Did he really come from an entire family of sculptors? What was his Tutankhamun connection? Could he actually have married a concert pianist called Gertrude Peppercorn? He certainly wrote a novel about a wartime family, ‘The Querrils’, and a book called ‘Odd Fish’, about the eccentric residents of a London street. He sat for rather a lot of paintings in the National Portrait Gallery, which usually show him in dressed for dinner. He wrote enough suspense to draw the attention of Hitchcock, who filmed television versions of some of his stories.

Beyond this, the trail disappears. And yet his reputation doggedly persists.

Phaeton, who most recently revived his tales, say ‘the more we probed into his background, the more we liked him.’ In the 1920s, he became unrivalled as a short story writer.

In one of his most famous tales, ‘Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty’, the shy, untraveled heroine winds up underneath a dead stranger’s bed in a French hotel room. In ‘A Source Of Irritation’, an elderly farmer is kidnapped by an enemy pilot who crashes in his field. In ‘Where Was Wych Street?’ an argument in a pub escalates into a full-blown siege.

Aumonier wrote about idiosyncratic people being pushed to conform and bucking their fate, and like O Henry and Saki, was capable of condensing a life into a few pages. When he was fatally diagnosed, he wrote ‘The Thrill Of Being Ill’, in which he says ‘You become subtly aware of the change in attitude in the manner of certain people…you have become dramatically a centre of interest.’ It takes a certain courage to continue finding pleasures at such a time.

Here’s one of his epithets for you: ‘One lives everything down in time.’ He’s worth seeking out.

7 comments on “Invisible Ink 9: Stacy Aumonier”

  1. Jo W says:

    He sounds a fascinating read. I have added his name to my list of books to find.

  2. Wayne Mook says:

    Another one to add to the list, cheers Admin. Oddly enough I picked up the complete works of JM Barrie not long ago(Kindle, it’s makes a search of your books easier.) and he mentions Aumonier in ‘The Greenwood Hat’ and ‘Where was Wych Street?’ in particular. He even states “one of the best, as Mr Galsworthy has pointed out, of all writers of short stories.” So he was certainly well known in his day. Although Barrie was accused of exaggeration especially in this book.

    Did a search on Gutenberg, the only thing on there is that he is in THE BEST BRITISH SHORT STORIES OF 1922 EDITED BY EDWARD J. O’BRIEN AND JOHN COURNOS, the book is dedicated to him and ‘Where Was Wych Street?’ is the tale that appears, said to have first appeared in The Strand Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post in 1921 & 1922.

    He is new to me as, Jo says another for the list.


  3. Wayne Mook says:

    Adim – was looking something up and came across a film based on your short story The Master Builder called Through the Eyes of a Killer, it is a TV movie. In short, have you seen it? and is it worth tracking down.


  4. admin says:

    I have a copy – it stars Tippi Hedren – but I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch it!

  5. Davem says:

    Many thanks for this, just downloaded the book

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Will have to look for this gentleman. Is it possible that Where was Wych Street was the inspiration for the Abbot & Costello routine Who’s on First?

  7. Wayne Mook says:

    Cheers Admin.

    I will have a look for reviews and such before tracking this down.


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