Algernon Blackwood: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Earning the nickname 'The Ghost Man,' Algernon Blackwood delighted in traveling and writing, two things he did well and often. In this lesson, you'll learn more about the author and his life.

The Willows

Imagine, if you will, traveling by canoe, only to encounter supernatural entities in nature all around you, lurking in the shadows, making you terrified and anxious, but never revealing themselves. Frightened? Good. That's just how author Algernon Blackwood would've had it.

Called ''the master of the supernatural'' by many of his fellow authors, Blackwood's tale The Willows, his most popular story, remains among the top pieces of early modern horror. Blackwood's quote from the work shows you how the natural feels unnatural to the men traveling by canoe: ''When common objects in this way be come charged with the suggestion of horror, they stimulate the imagination far more than things of unusual appearance; and these bushes, crowding huddled about us, assumed for me in the darkness a bizarre grotesquerie of appearance that lent to them somehow the aspect of purposeful and living creatures. Their very ordinariness, I felt, masked what was malignant and hostile to us.''

But who was Blackwood outside his popularity for writing frightening stories of the supernatural? Let's learn more about the author.

Who Was Algernon Blackwood?

Blackwood, born in 1869 in today's southeastern portion of London, grew up in a very religious family. His parents, the widowed Duchess of Manchester and her second husband, Sir Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, were strict Calvinists. Calvinists follow the religious teachings of John Calvin, who taught that God controls everything that happens.

Blackwood once recalled his sheltered upbringing: ''My unworldliness, even at 21, was abnormal. Not only had I never smoked tobacco nor touched alcohol of any description, but I had never yet set foot inside a theatre, or gone to a race course I had never seen, nor held a billiard cue, nor touched a card.''

By the age of 14, Blackwood had determined to be a doctor. Two years later, he found himself at a Moravian Brotherhood school in Germany, where he met students from all over, including one who introduced him to the Hindu religion. It piqued Blackwood's interest in things he had not been exposed to growing up in a strict Christian household. He attended post-secondary school at Wellington College and worked in Switzerland and Canada. Finally, he settled at the University of Edinburgh, but not to study medicine. That period of education did not last long before Blackwood was on to other pursuits.

A Varied Career

Blackwood returned to Canada where he worked at dairy farming and then at a hostelry (or inn), before living as a recluse for a time in the Canadian wilderness. When Blackwood re-emerged, he set off for New York City, where he worked as a reporter for the ''Evening Sun'' and, later, ''The New York Times.''

He was reportedly unhappy in New York, and was also robbed by a close friend. His employment at ''The New York Times'' provided a more financially stable situation for Blackwood, but apparently did not serve his purposes since he left the newspaper after a short time to serve as a private secretary for a banker. Of New York, he said: ''I seemed covered with sore and tender places into which New York rubbed salt and acid every hour of the day.''

Back to England

By 1899, Blackwood had returned to England, where he tried his hand again at dairy farming. He was, however, much more interested in traveling, which he did a lot of. This was the start of Blackwood's true writing career, in particular, his foray into writing about the supernatural. Blackwood had this to say about his preferred writing genre: ''My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness.''

He was first published in 1906. Over the next decade, he would produce more writings, many based on his various trips around Europe. His wanderlust, or desire to travel, contributed to - and allowed - his storied writing career to continue.

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