The potter William de Morgan, finding himself at the age of 65 without a studio, decided not to look for another but instead to change his trade and become a novelist. Not so long ago the lucky and the cunning were picking up de Morgan tiles for a song, but it is altogether otherwise with his novels. Almost nobody seems to have picked them up for at least half a century The best-known, or anyway the only one that ever gets mentioned, is Joseph Vance, the first of them, which was published in 1906; the best, or at any rate the most interesting, is Alice-for-Short, which followed, in spite of its great length, only a year later. De Morgan lived to be 88 and wrote seven novels, as well as two more which were completed by another hand and published posthumously. They were mostly long books, and the first four came out at annual intervals, for de Morgan seems to have found fiction very easy after all that arduous tiling. He was writing at a time when such masters as Henry James, Conrad and Ford were agonising a lot about modern technique, but although he seems to have found the business of technique quite interesting - or rather, although he made a few knowing nods in that direction - what he really liked was to get on with his solid and complicated stories. According to the Cambridge Bibliography nobody has had a go at de Morgan since 1926, and there is clearly a case for fishing the novels out of oblivion.
LRB 20 November 1980 | PDF Download