- By Ian Young
- Entertainment & arts reporter
A 1930s novel that was praised by George Orwell and W. W. Auden before being forgotten for decades will be republished after a Manchester bartender rediscovers it and solves the mystery of his wishes. final wish of the author.
Jack Chadwick stumbled across an old copy of Jack Hilton’s semi-autobiographical book Caliban Shrieks in 2021.
Academia had previously failed to find an heir to the rights to the book after Hilton’s death in 1983. But Chadwick succeeded in soliciting information at pubs near the family’s last home. literature.
He stuck up posters asking “Do you remember Jack Hilton?”, which eventually led him to track down a friend’s widow, who had no idea that she had inherited the author’s fortune. .
Chadwick then launched a campaign to get the book back in print and it is now signed by Vintage, a subsidiary of Penguin, the UK’s largest publishing house.
Chadwick, 29, told BBC News: “To use a proper Northern expression, it was difficult for me to understand.
“It’s like a victory not just for Jack, who has struggled so much in his own time to get the recognition he deserves, but for the working-class people in here and now, facing the limitations of the same class.”
Hilton is a plasterer from Rochdale who wrote this vibrant and groundbreaking book based on her own experiences growing up in the slums, living in hospices after World War I, suffered unemployment and hardship following the Great Depression in the late 1920s.
Auden praised his “wonderful Moby Dick eloquence”, while Orwell said that Hilton’s voice was “incredibly rare and correspondingly important” and claimed he had a “remarkable literary gift”. tell”.
Orwell even asked to stay with Hilton in Rochdale to write his own account of working-class British life. Hilton ran out of rooms, but recommended a friend in Wigan instead. That led Orwell to write his landmark work Road to Wigan Pier, published two years after Caliban Shrieks.
Chadwick said Hilton was “a writer of great talent who came out of nowhere to extend the parameters of literary modernism”.
Vintage has described Caliban Shrieks as “a masterpiece of both modern and working-class literature, [which] continues to speak as furiously and impulsively today as it did in its first publication of rave in 1935”.
Hilton went on to write several more books, but became obsolete and out of print after World War II, when a countess at a leading publishing house is said to have told him that “proletarian novels dead”.
Seven decades later, a tattered copy of the book caught Chadwick’s eye at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. He was quickly hooked by the book and intrigued by the fact that it and its author seem to have been largely forgotten.
Several scholars aware of Hilton have tried unsuccessfully to track down the owners of the rights to his work, who will be asked to reprint his books.
Hilton, who had no children, is believed to have died in Wiltshire. But Chadwick tracked down his death certificate and discovered that he had indeed moved in and died in Oldham.
Chadwick posted placards in pubs near the Hilton’s last address. On one occasion, before he drained his glass of wine, a woman approached him and told him the names of two of the writer’s best friends.
Friends had also passed away, but Chadwick found one’s widow and sent a letter through her door.
By another stroke of luck, during further research, he found a document stating that Hilton had left the copyrights along with all his other assets to the same friend and they had been transferred. for his widow when that friend dies in 2021.
The woman, who didn’t know she owned the Hilton property, offered Chadwick the rights on the condition that he did his best to breathe life back into his work.
The book will be published by Vintage next March.