Having spent quite a few years reading and re-reading (and re-reading… and re-reading…) the works of William Le Queux, I think I’m quite adept at recognizing his style. However, in the midst of recent research into receptions of Le Queux’s works (i.e., trying to find reviews of his books), I must confess to bafflement when I came across the following letter to the editor, printed in the Western Mail on May 23rd, 1882.
SIR—, A rumour has been prevalent during the past week to the effect that the tradesmen of Cardiff will keep their shops open on Whit-Monday. I ask—Why this innovation? Does it stand to reason that people will come to Cardiff on a Bank holiday to purchase goods? I am inclined to think they will come for the purpose of seeing the agricultural show more especially. Why should shop assistants, who work many more consecutive hours than the common labourer, be deprived of a holiday which is universal throughout the kingdom? I hope that employers who read this will think over the matter, and, coming to a favourable conclusion, will be ready to sign an agreement to close. I am, &c., W.T. LE QUEUX, Hon. Sec. Cardiff Early Closing Association.
‘Letters to the Editor’, The Western Mail, May 23, 1882, p. 4.
Not quite the breathless style we’re accustomed to, I know. (No bombs, no bullets, no spies, and only the merest hint of intrigue. Pshaw!) Then again, we shouldn’t expect the fully developed Le Queux style from the 17 year old of May 1882, as he was clearly still struggling to find his authorial feet for quite some time after this. Even before The Graphic described his first novel Guilty Bonds (1891) as evidence that ‘the average novelist is scarcely to be regarded as an authority’ on the subject of Nihilism, his theatrical production ‘Tootsie’s Lovers’ (staged at the Beach’s Theatre in Brentford in 1886) was dismissed by The Era’s special correspondent as ‘not a very brilliant affair’.
(The above quotes are taken from The Graphic, August 22nd, 1891, p.221 and The Era, April 24th, 1886, p. 14, respectively.)
Sadly, for our purposes, ‘Tootsie’s Lovers’ was neither a spy thriller nor an invasion scare novel. Rather, this was a ‘new burlesque’ featuring the eponymous Tootsie, along with her lovers the Lord Bob, the Honourable Billy and the Duke of Snook. Interestingly, this last seems to echo Le Queux’s later alliterative agents: Duckworth Drew, Jack Jardine, et al. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but I digress…
Returning to the Welsh connection, nothing I’ve ever read about Le Queux mentions an interest in early closing or the plight of the shop-working masses, let alone him or his father having lived in Cardiff. On balance, I think this is more likely to be his father (hereafter Le Queux Sr). Listed on Le Queux Jr’s birth-certificate (1864), and Le Queux Sr’s death certificate (1890) as a ‘draper’s assistant’, it seems plausible that in the aftermath of the 1881 census (which placed the Le Queux family in London) Le Queux Sr moved to Cardiff for a time. (Welsh people need curtains too… right?) In that context, office-holding in a local association would be understandable.
I suppose this might have been Le Queux Jr. As far as I know, Le Queux Sr was known as ‘William Lequeux’, while the above letter is signed ‘W.T. LE QUEUX’. (Admittedly, Le Queux Sr was also called ‘William Tufnell’, so the initials match.) If his father was a member of the association then Le Queux Jr, with his aspiration to lead a life of letters, might have acted as honorary secretary, keeping the minutes and penning it’s letters. It may be even simpler than this: Le Queux Jr himself might have been a member. He was certainly old enough to be working, and could joined his father in the drapery trade by this time. Alternately, there might have been other Le Queuxs, related or unrelated, living in Wales. (The Le Quws?). Regardless, almost everything else we ‘know’ about Le Queux’s early life is based on his own notoriously unreliable assertions, so why not? At the very least, it’s possible.
Tantalizingly, if it really was Le Queux Jr, this could give the lie to his claims to have studied art in Paris in the early 1880s. Even if it was his father, how surprising would it be to discover that Le Queux, a man so concerned to carve out an urbane, cultured and above all cosmopolitan public image, kept his family’s provincial, petit-bourgeois background to himself?
My only other thought is that this could have been a Teutonic impersonator, stoking the fires of social conflict amongst the toiling Welsh masses and besmirching the family honour, requiring a climactic tussle atop the Devil’s Appendix. Before going to press, however, I thought it best to put it to the experts…