Victor Gollancz added a ‘Publisher’s Note’ to his 1946 reissue of A Voyage to Arcturus, which throws an interesting light on how the Second World War changed the way David Lindsay’s first novel could have been perceived:
A Voyage to Arcturus was first published in 1920. The book was a plain flop — not even what an American publisher has called a flop d’estime; of the small edition that was printed, 596 copies were sold and 834 “remaindered”.
Someone or other must have picked up one of the remaindered copies in the middle thirties and talked. The book was constantly being recommended to me in the late thirties: second-hand copies were then being searched for, and to such effect that one of my friends, who has been trying since before the war to get a copy through several booksellers who go in for this kind of thing, is still without one.
David Lindsay, who died a few months ago, wrote several other novels; but none of them, except perhaps The Haunted Woman, have the quality of A Voyage to Arcturus or anything like it. This is a work of genius, if a minor one. For all that, a reissue of it in normal times would have served no very useful purpose. But at the moment the public will apparently buy anything labelled fiction, and there is a chance that of those who buy A Voyage to Arcturus a few may be glad that they have done so. For my own part, when I first read it in apparently less evil days I was frightened by its revelation of wickedness: when I re-read it this Christmas, I was consoled by its stoical faith in a spiritual truth “beyond good or evil”.
The book, I am told, now seems rather old-fashioned. It probably does. David Lindsay was certainly not in the front rank as a writer: but what a musician he might have been! I like to think of him achieving, at the moment of death, what he imagined for his characters in the opening pages of The Haunted Woman: climbing the great chords of Beethoven’s staircase, and so, in spite of Crystalman, home.
Boxing Day, 1945.