Leonard Merrick (21 February 1864 – 7 August 1939) was an English novelist. Although largely forgotten today, he was widely admired by his peers; J. M. Barrie called Merrick the "novelist's novelist."
He was born as Leonard Miller in Belsize Park, London of Jewish parentage. After schooling at Brighton College, he studied to be a solicitor in Brighton and studied law at Heidelberg, but he was forced to travel to South Africa at the age of eighteen after his father suffered a serious financial loss. There he worked as an overseer in the Kimberley diamond mine and in a solicitors office. After surviving a near-fatal case of "camp fever," he returned to London in the late 1880s and worked as an actor and actor-manager under the stage name of Leonard Merrick. He legally changed his name to Leonard Merrick in 1892. He later worked his experiences in South Africa and in the theatre into numerous works of fiction. Merrick's novels include Mr Bazalgette's Agent (1888), a detective story; Violet Moses (1891), about a Jewish financier and his troubled wife; The Worldlings (1900), a psychological investigation of a crime; Conrad in Quest of His Youth (1903), the tale of a disillusioned man who, at thirty-seven, sets out to pick up the romantic threads of his younger life, it is "judged his most successful work" according to John Sutherland. George Orwell thought that this is because it is one of the few of his books which is not set against a background of poverty.
Merrick was well regarded by other writers of his era. In 1918 fifteen writers, including famous authors such as H. G. Wells, J. M. Barrie, G. K. Chesterton and William Dean Howells, collaborated with publisher E. P. Dutton to issue "The Works of Leonard Merrick" in fifteen volumes, which were published between 1918 and 1922. Each volume in the series was selected and prefaced by one of the writers. In 2009 a biography was issued titled Leonard Merrick: A Forgotten Novelist's Novelist by William Baker and Jeannettes Robert Shumaker. The title is taken in part from a quote by J. M. Barrie who called Merrick a "novelist's novelist." William Dean Howells wrote of Merrick "I can think of no recent fictionist of his nation who can quite match with Mr. Merrick in that excellence [of "shapeliness" or form in the novel]. This will seem great praise, possibly too great, to the few who have a sense of such excellence; but it will probably be without real meaning to most, though our public might well enjoy form if it could once be made to imagine it."
George Orwell, while describing Merrick as a "good bad writer", rather than a strictly good writer, admitted to a great admiration for his work; he particularly praised Cynthia (which was also a favourite of Chesterton's), the story of a struggling writer and his wife, and The Position of Peggy Harper, with its portrayal of the unromantic side of provincial theatre. In Orwell's view, nobody conveyed better than Merrick how dreary and dispiriting an actor's life can be. Graham Greene, another admirer, had recruited Orwell to write an introduction to any work by Merrick while Greene was publisher for Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1944. Orwell offered to write one for The Position of Peggy Harper, but it wasn't meant to be.
At least eleven of Merrick's stories have been adapted to screen, most in the 1920s, including Conrad in Quest of His Youth (1920) directed by William C. deMille. Later adaptions include a 1931 film The Magnificent Lie based on the story "Laurels and the Lady", and a 1952 TV episode called "Masquerade" for Lux Video Theatre based on the story "The Doll in the Pink Silk Dress".
Merrick died at the age of 75, in a London nursing home on 7 August 1939, just 12 days before the start of World War II.
- Mr Bazalgette's Agent (1888)
- Violet Moses (1891)
- The Man Who Was Good (1892)
- Cynthia (1896)
- One Man's View (1897)
- The Actor-Manager (1898)
- The Worldlings (1900)
- Conrad in Quest of His Youth (1903)
- The Quaint Companions (1903)
- The House of Lynch (1907)
- The Position of Peggy Harper (1911)
- When Love Flies Out the Window (1914)
Short story collectionsEdit
- This Stage of Fools (1896)
- Whispers About Women (1906)
- The Man Who Understood Women (1908)
- While Paris Laughed (1918)
- A Chair on the Boulevard (1919)
- To Tell You the Truth (1922)
- The Call from the Past and Other Stories (1924)
- Four Stories (1927)
- The Little Dog Laughed (1930)
- The Impostor, directed by George Abbott and Dell Henderson (1918, based on the play The Imposter)
- The Worldlings, directed by Eric Harrison (UK, 1920, based on the novel The Worldlings)
- Conrad in Quest of His Youth, directed by William C. deMille (1920, based on the novel Conrad in Quest of His Youth)
- Fool's Paradise, directed by Cecil B. DeMille (1921, based on the story Laurels and the Lady)
- A Daughter of Luxury, directed by Paul Powell (1922, based on the play The Imposter)
- The Darling of the Rich, directed by John G. Adolfi (1922, based on the play The Imposter)
- A Thief in Paradise, directed by George Fitzmaurice (1925, based on the novel The Worldlings)
- School for Wives, directed by Victor Halperin (1925, based on the novel The House of Lynch)
- The Magnificent Lie, directed by Berthold Viertel (1931, based on the story Laurels and the Lady)
- Maryland Library Notes, Volumes 2–9, Vol.9, No.1, Pg. 8
- "MERRICK, Leonard". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. p. 1212.
- John Sutherland "MERRICK, Leonard", in Companion to Victorian Fiction, London and Stanford: Longman & Stanford UP, 1989, p.430-31
- John Matthews Manly, Edith Rickert. Contemporary British literature: bibliographies and study outlines, pg.117.
- "LEONARD MERRICK COMES INTO HIS OWN", By Frederick Taber Cooper, Publishers Weekly, Volume 96, 1920.
- camp-fever .. obsolete term for typhus, although it can also mean any undiagnosed disease.
- As an example of Merrick's biographical African experiences, in his novel The Wordlings, a South-African mine overseer returns to England to make his fortune.
- Many of Merrick's works are about the stage which were influenced by his two years of work there as an actor and actor-manager. For example in Current Opinion, Volume 65, edited by Frank Crane, Edward Jewitt Wheeler, pg.116, "The stage figures so prominently in the novels of Leonard Merrick that most of his readers have imagined that he must have had lengthy experience in the profession. Such is not the case, Hayden Church writes in a letter to the American press. He was an actor for only two years. He was born stage-struck, and, at the age of 20, got the famous Augustus Harris to give him a chance in an English touring or "road" company. He was almost dismissed by the manager in charge, but another member of the company put in a good word for the youth. This was none other than Arthur Collins, now manager of the Drury Lane theater in London."
- "One Man's View", from Neglected Books, 19 July 2010
- William Baker and Jeannettes Robert Shumaker Leonard Merrick: A Forgotten Novelist's Novelist (2009)
- Introduction to "The Position of Peggy Harper", reprinted in the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol. 4 p. 52
- The Life of Graham Greene Vol. 2, 1939-1955 p. 190
- Leonard Merrick at IMDb
- The Publishers Weekly, Volume 136, Issue 1, pg. 462