Discovery! Letter from May Sinclair to John Lane, 31 December 1917.


Dec: 31: 1917

Dear Mr. Lane

My best thanks for W. Van de Weer’s book – wh. interested me very much. A little too much topography, perhaps, for the human drama. It’s essentially a short story & oughtn’t to have been stretched & padded into a novel. Still, it’s clever & I had to finish it.

With kindest regards to you & Mrs. Lane & best wishes for 1918.


May Sinclair

The letter belongs to Emily Fennell, who owns a collection of Sinclair first editions. Emily found the letter tucked inside her copy of Sinclair’s book length poem The Dark Night, which she had bought from a second hand seller on abebooks. She said ‘[I] don’t even think I noticed the letter until some time later.  I don’t think I would have selected that particular copy because of the letter or signed aspect (nice as they are) but simply because it was the only one available’.

The original listing mentions the letter but doesn’t make any great fanfare about its presence tucked inside the book:

Limited to 150 copies Signed and numbered by the author. With an ALS from Sinclair to London publisher John Lane laid in.

It is unclear how intimately Sinclair knew John Lane. Theophilus Boll places her at a party Lane gave in 1914 to launch Wyndham Lewis’s Blast! (‘May Sinclair enjoyed herself hugely with Ivor Brown at the dinner that John Lane gave on July 15, 1914, at the Dieudonné Restaurant in Ryder Street, St. James, to set off the Blast!’).1 Ivor Brown said of this ‘I don’t know how far M.S. was impressed, but at that period she liked to go about and be in the midst of literary goings-on’.2 If Sinclair and Lane were both integral and enthusiastic participants in the London literary ‘scene’ then it’s possible they saw each other regularly.

Sinclair also wrote an introduction for Lane’s publication of The Closed Door by the illustrator Jean de Bosschère in September 1917 in which she praised the poet and illustrator’s ‘Sharpness, precision, purity, the cold clearness of crystal, hardness attained by concentration, by sheer pressure of spiritual intensity’.3 Bosschère later illustrated Uncanny Stories for its publication in 1923.emperor-in-the-dock-2

The writer Sinclair refers to as ‘W. Van de Weer’ is probably Willem de Veer, whose novels An Emperor in the Dock (1915) and Revoke (1917) had been published by John Lane: The Bodley Head. He also wrote a series of epistolary articles for The New Age titled ‘Holland and the World War.’ Ads for two of his novels (Battle Royal and The Emperor in the Dock) appear respectively in the first and second Blast. It’s unclear which of these novels Sinclair is referring to, but it is likely to be Revoke, published in 1917.

The New Age in 1921 also published a ‘pastiche’ poem by de Veer about an author whose ghost reflects on his lack of success after his death:

Thanks are due to Joanna Bek and Tyler Babbie for their research expertise and their help in tracing the identity and literary outputs of de Veer!

[edit: 03/11/16. Philippa Martindale suggests that Sinclair adds the ‘Van’ in de Weer’s name because she is mixing up two authors: Willem de Veer and Lenore Van de Veer, who she refers to in two letters, one dated 1 December 1915 and one dated 8 June 1918. Thanks are also due to Philippa for her help with the transcription of the letter].


1 Theophilus Boll, Miss May Sinclair: Novelist (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973), p. 106.

2 Ibid., p. 158.

3 Jean de Bosschère, The Closed Door (London: John Lane, 1917), p. 6.