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M. P. Shiel (Matthew Phipps Shiel) Biography

(1865–1947), (Matthew Phipps Shiel), Prince Zaleski, How the Old Woman Got Home

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland

British novelist, son of an Irish Methodist minister, born in Montserrat in the West Indies; on his fifteenth birthday he was crowned by his father as king of Redonda, a small neighbouring island. He was educated at Harrison College, Barbados, and King's College, London; he studied medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, but then turned to literature, publishing novels and short stories in a variety of genres, predominantly mystery, crime, and science fiction. His style, which has been compared to that of George Meredith, aimed at ‘an elaborate simplicity that can be called biblical’: it is extravagant, archaic, complex, and ornate. His best works are Prince Zaleski (1895), a collection of detective stories which show the influence of Edgar Allan Poe; the crime novels How the Old Woman Got Home (1927), Dr Krasinki's Secret (1929), and The Black Box (1930); and the science fiction fantasy The Purple Cloud (1901; revised 1929), one of the best of the ‘last man’ novels. The books written in collaboration with Louis Tracy, published under the pseudonym Gordon Holmes, are considerably weaker. He spent his last years writing a biography of Christ, which remained unfinished.

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