Over the years I have given the literary output of Dion Fortune a goodly share of my time. I have read about three-quarters of her occult non-fiction and all of her occult fiction. In most cases I have read a book (e.g. The Mystical Qabalah, Psychic Self-Defense, The Sea Priestess, Moon Magic) several times. I have gone over The Cosmic Doctrine with a nit comb. I have read The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage (and you won’t find many who will admit to that). I even went out on my little moped, on a grey Sunday many, many moons ago, to look for the decommissioned church that Vivienne/Lilith le Fay used as her temple in Moon Magic.
I knew nothing of Dion Fortune’s non-occult fiction, published as V.M. Steele, until Richard Brustowicz kindly sent me a copy of The Yellow Shadow. It is a romantic melodrama featuring a cloistered ingénue and a rich Chinese businessman. It follows many of the conventions of this kind of fiction (for details, look no further than Jane Austen). I would guess it was targeted at female readers. With the exception of Jane Austen, Helen Fielding and Posy Simmons I would not normally read this sort of thing (unless there was a haunting, a secret tunnel, a monster out of space and time, or the revenant of a cursed Egyptian pharaoh. Please … don’t say anything).
I enjoyed it. It is well paced, there is plenty of incident, and it gains an exotic appeal by introducing innocent shop-girls and typists to the mysteries of Chinese culture. There was a market for this kind of thing – Sax Rohmer (another writer on the fringes of the Golden Dawn) had been hugely successful over two decades with his Fu Manchu thrillers, and a series of films about this infamous villain were popular through the 20s and 30s. Chinese and Japanese influence pervades both Art Nouveau and Art Deco. I can only gasp at the bravado necessary to write a novel about the clash of east and west set in a trading enclave in China, but I can speculate that in an era long before international travel and television, a few well-used stereotypes would have been sufficient to set the tone for the reader. I had hoped that “inscrutable” would not appear, but it did, and I forgave her for it.
There are some puzzling clues that hint at something deeper. The heroine is called “Stella Morris” (seriously), her Chinese nickname hints at a marine deity, and she is gifted some exceptionally rare pearls (and the astute reader with immediately connect this with The Sea Priestess). Richard Brustowicz sees more in this than I do, and he has written an excellent essay to accompany each of the novels.
See Roses from the Ashes by Richard Brustowicz.