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The Journey Home and Other Stories

by Malachi Whitaker

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'All the Fun of the Fair', Ernest Procter, 1927

PREFACE BY PHILIP HENSHER
AFTERWORD BY VALERIE WATERHOUSE
248pp
ISBN 9781910263143

 

Malachi Whitaker (whose real name was Marjorie but she preferred the zanier Malachi) was born in Yorkshire in 1895. She married, and after some time abroad came back to Yorkshire, where she lived for the rest of her life. She is very much a Yorkshire writer. As the novelist and critic Philip Hensher, author of the Preface, observes: ‘It is a Yorkshire woman’s voice, apparently direct, straight-faced in humour and tragedy, confident of its own reach and power. She needed the place she came from.’ 

In the late 1920s Malachi Whitaker began writing (or perhaps had always been writing and now began to publish) short stories. Jonathan Cape, the London publisher, brought out her first collection in 1929. Three more collections followed in 1930, 1932 and 1934. After that she wrote very little, and although she published a memoir, her output of short stories dwindled. Partly this was because she adopted two children, partly because the Whitaker family moved house so frequently, but mostly because, after an outpouring when she was in her thirties, Malachi Whitaker seems to have been written out. 

Yet she had been an extraordinary, indeed an important writer. Every one of the twenty stories we publish (five from each of the four volumes) is a gem, and it was of course very hard to choose twenty from a possible total of nearly eighty. Two selections of stories were published in the late 1940s and one in 1984 but nothing since then. We did not particularly try to ‘be different’ from the previous selections, but several of the stories have not in fact been reprinted since they appeared in the early 1930s. 

‘Like many of the best short story writers,’ writes Philip Hensher, ‘Malachi Whitaker is fascinated by the ordinary. Just as in Chekhov, the banal dissolves under her precise gaze, to be replaced by the unique, the freshly experienced. These things happen all the time: and yet these things have never happened before. Her stories explore, with an eager gleam, ordinary people in extraor- dinary situations. She loves embarrassment, that unstoppable response when things go wrong. 

'The short story was the perfect vehicle for Whitaker’s gifts, and for her particular subject. The world’s oddities are glimpsed in a flash, and we pass on, partly enlightened, amused or startled... She is a unique and daring writer, whose work richly rewards exploration and rediscovery. Under her intense, scrupulous gaze, the event that happens all the time and the event that is happening only once are, in the logic of art, strangely identical. 

'Malachi Whitkaer is not like other authors. Her career is exceedingly strange in its shape, and her work quite unlike anything else. She gathered no followers and was almost forgotten in her later, silent years. Reading her now, it is inexplicable how English letters failed to find a place for a writer of such verve, colour, range and power. She is one of the great English short story writers, and her work is slowly reaching some prominence.’

Endpapers taken from a 1933 textile design by Stanley Wilkinson, a student a Bradford School of Art who lived at Keighley.

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Categories: Family    Short Stories   
 

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