Mr. H. de Vere Stacpoole

The Times 13th April 1951

Romance of the South Seas

Mr. H. de Vere Stapoole, a romantic novelist of an older generation who long enjoyed a household reputation as the author of The Blue Lagoon, died in hospital at Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight, yesterday a few days after his eighty-eighth birthday.

Islands in tropical seas, the stars in Southern skies, coral strands, forests of palm, with love and adventure encompassing all – such are the elements of tried and familiar magic of which the majority of Stacpoole’s 50 or so volumes of fiction are composed. Setting aside the mere romantic formula that he perfected, the chief virtue of his novels lies, perhaps, in the reflected light and colour of his tropical seascapes and landfalls; his descriptions, which commonly owed something to Pacific travel, often communicate a genuine delight and wonder.

Born in 1863, Henry de Vere Stacpoole was the son of the Rev. William Church Stacpoole, D.D., of Kingstown, County Dublin, and Charlotte Augusta Mountjoy, who was also of Irish origin though born in Canada. All his life Stacpoole was to remain typical of the polite and highly individualized society which in the Victorian era resided along the southern shore of Dublin Bay. Of the Ireland which came later and which largely submerged the other he knew little and seemingly cared less. As a child he travelled a great deal with his mother, was then sent to school at Malvern, and went on to pursue medical studies first at St. George’s Hospital and then at St. Mary’s. After having qualified he was in general practice for some years.

Irked by the discipline, intent on indulging his love of travel, Stacpoole took to writing and was soon enabled to abandon medicine. Of his early novels the one he himself liked best was The Doctor, a portrait of the old type of practitioner; in much later years he was indeed inclined to think it was the best book he had ever written. It missed the success he looked for, however, as also did his tentative excursions into high farce, but reward for his labours came with the three novels with tropical or exotic settings published between 1907 and 1909. The scene of the first, The Crimson Azaleas, was Japan; that of the third, The Pools of Silence, was the Congo forest. In between came The Blue Lagoon. Told with an engaging and persuasive charm and with an all but Gauginesque feeling for tropical colour, the story of the unfolding of life and love for two children dwelling alone amid Pacific enchantments won many hearts.

Even had he wished to do so, which there is no need to assume, the author of The Blue Lagoon would scarcely have been permitted by an enraptured public to forsake so beglamoured a scene. The tropical background of The Ship of Coral (1911), The Pearl Fishers (1915), and The Reef of Stars (1916) continued to enchant a large body of readers. Even after he had exhausted his power of springing fresh surprises from his favourite setting, he could, up to a point, still attract. He could even choose a different setting, as in Goblin Market (1927) – the island in this instance was only just across the Solent – in which he invested a sentimental story with something of real tenderness.

He had, indeed, a natural sensitiveness of feeling as well as the easy and flowing humour of his Irish blood. Both showed in the informal autobiography, Men and Mice, which he published in 1942, when he was nearly 80, and its successor, More Men and Mice (1945). Stacpoole – a big, handsome man of fine physique – had a house in the Isle of Wight – Cliff Dene at Bonchurch – where Swinburne had spent part of his boyhood. In 1934 he presented the pond at Bonchurch, a noted haunt of rare birds, to Ventnor as a memorial to his first wife, who had died in that year. She was Margaret, a daughter of the late William Robson, of Tynemouth. In 1938 he married her sister, Florence.