THE DEVIL’S CHIMNEY
[AUTHOR’S] INTRODUCTION 
For me, a good short story, however subjective its manner,
should reflect something of the human condition at the time of writing.
Although the implications are not always direct, this
present collection, written around 1952, is hopefully (if this does not
sound too pretentious) drawn from the collective unconscious of our time.*
Only two of the stories were accepted for publication, these appearing
in the magazine World Review and here reproduced in the Appendix.
The Funeral was adapted from a chapter in the novel Nelly and
Esli, whereas Mystery is a short story in its own right.
Other stories were under consideration when the magazine, without warning,
discontinued publication in 1953.
* Even a story with a Victorian setting can reflect this.
THE DEVIL’S CHIMNEY is a collection of 26 short
stories, plus an Appendix with two stories that were published in WORLD
REVIEW (as mentioned in Cox’s introduction above). It was issued
in an edition of 5 copies in the Gogmagog Photocopy Library in 1985.
When Cox says the stories
are ‘hopefully ... drawn from the collective unconscious of our time,’
he gives us a significant edge to our understanding of the odd plot structures
and dark themes. In his usual insightful manner Alan Tucker has written,
‘THE DEVIL’S CHIMNEY (1952) at the time the stories were written would
have been termed macabre, rather inadequately. The matter-of-fact
narrative style is in the English tradition of Maugham and the detective
writers. [...] The observation in all the stories is surreal. Each
has what at first seems to be a trick ending: the undeniable truth
which was not expected at all in such stories as ‘Tree Trap’ [not included
in the current selection]. We are used to the idea of the museum
of the mind. In this book particularly the writer observes and describes
the attic of the mind, itemizing the unliterary everyday clutter of unnerving
consequence in his formal slightly stilted style: the alienation of the
night.’ (GOGMAGOG 51)
The stories work well
as dreams. Their internal rationality - wholly irrational by our
conscious standards - instantly makes strange sense, as something familiar
yet often denied by ourselves. Anyone who has analyzed a dream will
recognize how contradictions in a given dream are what give it meaning.
The seeming randomness is no longer random, but a different type of order.
However disturbing, these stories - especially taken together as a whole
- are an often fascinating document of mid-century fears and repressions.
Four stories have been
chosen which seem to stand well enough on their own, and which show the
various facets of style and themes in the collection (see also the section
of pieces from WORLD REVIEW which includes 'The Funeral'). ‘Firewood’
and ‘Table’ are especially interesting, as they seem to provide glancing
insight into Cox’s aesthetics and ideas about culture and art.
Be sure to view the paintings ‘The Last Dance’ (1948) and ‘My Aunt’s Table’
(1981) in conjunction with the story ‘Table’ for some interesting cross
references between world and image. -BH/03