Portrait by Allan Warren
Dennis Yeats Wheatley|
8 January 1897
|Died||10 November 1977(aged 80)|
Dennis Yates Wheatley (8 January 1897 – 10 November 1977) was an English author whose prolific output of thrillers and occult novels made him one of the world's best-selling writers from the 1930s through the 1960s. His Gregory Sallust series was one of the main inspirations for Ian Fleming's James Bond stories.
Dennis Wheatley was born in South London to Albert David and Florence Elizabeth Harriet Wheatley (née Baker). He was the eldest of three children of a family who were the owners of Wheatley & Son of Mayfair, a wine business. He admitted to little aptitude for schooling and was expelled from Dulwich College for allegedly forming a Secret society ( this is mentioned in the writers introduction of The Devil Rides Out. Soon after his expulsion, Wheatley became a British Merchant Navy officer cadet on the training ship HMS Worcester.
Wheatley was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant into the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War and served in France with the City of London Brigade and the 36th (Ulster) Division. He was gassed in a chlorine attack at Passchendaele and invalided after service in Flanders, on the Ypres Salient, and in France at Cambrai and St. Quentin. In 1919 he assumed management of the family wine merchant business but in 1931, after a decline in business due to the Great Depression, he sold the firm and began writing.
During the Second World War, Wheatley was a member of the London Controlling Section, which secretly coordinated strategic military deception and cover plans. His literary talents gained him employment with planning staffs for the War Office. He wrote numerous papers for the War Office, including suggestions for dealing with a German invasion of Britain (recounted in his works Stranger than Fiction and The Deception Planners). The most famous of his submissions to the Joint Planning Staff of the war cabinet was on "Total War". He was given a commission directly into the JP Service as Wing Commander, RAFVR and took part in advance planning for the Normandy invasions. In 1946, Wheatley was awarded the U.S. Bronze Star for his part in the war effort.
His first novel published, The Forbidden Territory, was an immediate success when issued by Hutchinson in 1933, being reprinted seven times in seven weeks. The release the next year of his occult story, The Devil Rides Out—hailed by James Hilton as "the best thing of its kind since Dracula"—cemented his reputation as "The Prince of Thriller Writers."
Wheatley mainly wrote adventure novels, with many books in a series of linked works. Background themes included the French Revolution (the Roger Brook series), Satanism (the Duke de Richleau series), World War II (the Gregory Sallust series) and espionage (the Julian Day novels). Over time, each of his major series would include at least one book pitting the hero against some manifestation of the supernatural. He came to be considered an authority on this, satanism, the practice of exorcism, and black magic, to all of which he was hostile. During his study of the paranormal, though, he joined the Ghost Club.
His writing is very descriptive and in many works he manages to involve his characters with actual historical events while meeting real people. For example, in the Roger Brook series the main character involves himself with Napoleon and Joséphine whilst being a spy for Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Similarly, in the Gregory Sallust series, Sallust shares an evening meal with Hermann Göring.
During the 1930s, he conceived a series of mysteries, presented as case files, with testimonies, letters, and pieces of evidence such as hairs or pills. The reader had to inspect this evidence to solve the mystery before unsealing the last pages of the file, which gave the answer. Four of these 'Crime Dossiers' were published: Murder Off Miami, Who Killed Robert Prentice, The Malinsay Massacre, and Herewith The Clues!.
In the 1960s, Hutchinson was selling a million copies of his books per year, and most of his titles were kept available in hardcover. A few of his books were made into films by Hammer, of which the best known is The Devil Rides Out (book 1934, film 1968). Wheatley also wrote non-fiction works, including an account of the Russian Revolution, a life of King Charles II of England, and several autobiographical volumes.
He edited several collections of short stories, and from 1974 through 1977, he supervised a series of 45 paperback reprints for the British publisher Sphere with the heading "The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult", selecting the titles and writing short introductions for each book. These included both occult-themed novels by the likes of Bram Stoker and Aleister Crowley (with whom he once shared a lunch) and non-fiction works on magic, occultism, and divination by authors such as the Theosophist H. P. Blavatsky, the historian Maurice Magre, the magician Isaac Bonewits, and the palm-reader Cheiro.
Two weeks before his death in November 1977, Wheatley received conditional absolution from his old friend Cyril 'Bobby' Eastaugh, the Bishop of Peterborough. He was cremated at Tooting and his ashes interred at Brookwood Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Baker/Yeats family monument at West Norwood Cemetery.
His estate library was sold in a catalogue sale by Basil Blackwell's in 1979. It suggested a well-read individual with wide-ranging interests, particularly with respect to historical fiction and Europe.
His grandson Dominic Wheatley became one of the co-founders of the software house Domark, which published a number of titles in the 1980s and 1990s.
His work is fairly typical of his class and era, portraying a way of life and clubland ethos that gives an insight into the values of the time. His main characters are all supporters of Royalty, Empire and the class system, and many of his villains are villainous because they attack these ideas, although in The Golden Spaniard he pits his series protagonists against each other in the setting of the Spanish Civil War. His works are enjoyable thrillers, and his "Roger Brook" series books, in particular, offer the reader "history without tears" (Wheatley, in the introduction to The Man Who Killed the King). His historical analysis is affected by his politics, but is well informed. For example, Vendetta in Spain (pre-World War I adventure in that country) contains a discussion of political anarchism which is well researched, though unsympathetic. His strong attachment to personal liberty also informs much of his work. This, as well as a sympathetic attitude toward Jews (as shown in the 'Simon Aron' character introduced in Three Inquisitive People) caused him to criticise the Nazi system mercilessly, in those 'Gregory Sallust' thrillers set during World War II.
During the winter of 1947, Wheatley penned 'A Letter to Posterity' which he buried in an urn at his country home. The letter was intended to be discovered some time in the future (it was found in 1969 when that home was demolished for redevelopment of the property). In it, he predicted that the socialist reforms introduced by the post-war government would result inevitably in the abolition of the monarchy, the "pampering" of a "lazy" working class, and national bankruptcy. He advised both passive and active resistance to the resulting tyranny, including "ambushing and killing of unjust tyrannous officials."
Employers are now no longer allowed to run their businesses as they think best but have become the bond slaves of socialist state planning. The school leaving age has been put up to 16, and a 5 day working week has been instituted in the mines, the railways and many other industries... The doctrine of ensuring every child a good start in life and equal opportunities is fair and right, but the intelligent and the hardworking will always rise above the rest, and it is not a practical proposition that the few should be expected to devote their lives exclusively to making things easy for the majority. In time, such a system is bound to undermine the vigour of the race.
From 1972 to 1977 (the year of his death), 52 of Dennis Wheatley's novels were offered in a uniform hardcover set by Heron Books UK. (This was in addition to Hutchinson's own "Lymington" edition, published from 1961 to 1979.) Having brought each of his major fictional series to a close with the final Roger Brook novel, Wheatley then turned to his memoirs. These were announced as five volumes, but never completed, and were eventually published as three books, the (fourth) volume concerning the Second World War issued as a separate title. His availability and influence declined following his death, partly owing to difficulties of reprinting his works because of copyright problems.
In 1998 Justerini & Brooks celebrated their upcoming 250th anniversary by revising his last work about their house, 'The Eight Ages of Justerini's'(1965) and re-issuing it as 'The Nine Ages of Justerini's'. The revision by Susan Keevil brought the history up to date.
Wheatley's literary estate was acquired by media company Chorion in April 2008, and several titles were reissued in Wordsworth paperback editions. A new hardcover omnibus of Black Magic novels was released by Prion in 2011.
When Chorion encountered financial problems in 2012, the Rights House and PFD acquired four crime estates from them, including the Wheatley titles. PFD is hoping to broker new series for TV and radio, and a move to digital publishing.
In 2013, Bloomsbury Reader will publish 56 of his titles, starting from October; these will be available in both printed format and as ebooks.
List of works
All titles in this list (up to the end of the 'Short Story Collection' section) were made available in the 1970s 'Heron' hardback edition, except for the titles marked with an 'X'.
The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult
Selected influences on his work, each with a new introduction by Wheatley.
Dracula, [Vol.1], Bram Stoker. Sphere, 1974
The Werewolf Of Paris, [Vol.2], Guy Endore. Sphere, 1974
Moonchild, [Vol.3], Aleister Crowley. Sphere, 1974
Studies In Occultism, [Vol.4], Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Sphere, 1974
Carnacki The Ghost-Finder, [Vol.5], William Hope Hodgson. Sphere, 1974
The Sorcery Club, [Vol.6], Elliott O'Donnell. Sphere, 1974
Harry Price: The Biography Of A Ghost Hunter, [Vol.7], Paul Tabori. Sphere, 1974
The Witch Of Prague, [Vol.8], F. Marion Crawford. Sphere, 1974
Uncanny Tales 1, [Vol.9], selected by Dennis Wheatley. Sphere, 1974
The Prisoner In The Opal, [Vol.10], A.E.W. Mason. Sphere, 1974
The Devil's Mistress, [Vol.11], John William Brodie-lnnes. Sphere, 1974
You And Your Hand, [Vol.12], Cheiro – new edition revised by Louise Owen. Sphere, 1974
Black Magic: A Tale Of The Rise And Fall Of The Antichrist, [Vol.13], Marjorie Bowen. Sphere, 1974
Real Magic, [Vol.14], Philip Bonewits. Sphere, 1974
Faust, Parts 1 and 2, [Vol.15], Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, translated by Bayard Taylor. Sphere, 1974
Uncanny Tales 2, [Vol.16], selected by Dennis Wheatley. Sphere, 1974
The Gap In The Curtain, [Vol.17], John Buchan. Sphere, 1974
The Interpretation Of Dreams, [Vol.18], Zolar. Sphere, 1974
Voodoo, [Vol.19], Alfred Métraux, translated from the French by Hugo Charteris. Second English Edition with new introduction by Sidney W. Mintz. Sphere, 1974
The Necromancers, [Vol.20], Robert Hugh Benson. Sphere, 1974
Satanism And Witches: Essays And Stories, [Vol.21], selected by Dennis Wheatley. Sphere, 1974
The Winged Pharaoh, [Vol.22], Joan Grant. Sphere, 1974
Down There, [Vol.23], J.K. Huysmans translated from the French by Keene Wallace. Sphere, 1974
The Monk, [Vol.24], Matthew Lewis. Sphere, 1974
Horror At Fontenay, [Vol.25], Alexandre Dumas, translated and adapted by Alan Hull Walton. Sphere, 1975
The Hell-Fire Club: The Story Of The Amorous Knights Of Wycombe, [Vol.26], Donald McCormick. Sphere, 1975
The Mighty Atom, [Vol.27], Marie Corelli. Sphere, 1975
The Affair Of The Poisons, [Vol.28], Frances Mossiker. Sphere, 1975
The Witch And The Priest, [Vol.29], Hilda Lewis. Sphere, 1975
Death By Enchantment. An Examination Of Ancient And Modern Witchcraft, [Vol.30], Julian Franklyn. Sphere, 1975
Fortune Telling By Cards, [Vol.31], Ida B. Prangley. Sphere, 1975
Dark Ways To Death, [Vol.32], Peter Saxon. Sphere, 1975
The Ghost Pirates, [Vol.33], William Hope Hodgson. Sphere, 1975
The Phantom Of The Opera, [Vol.34], Gaston Leroux. Sphere, 1975
The Greater Trumps, [Vol.35], Charles Williams. Sphere, 1975
The Return Of The Magi, [Vol.36], Maurice Magre, translated from the French by Reginald Merton. Sphere, 1975
Uncanny Tales 3, [Vol.37], selected by Dennis Wheatley. Sphere, 1975
The King Is A Witch, [Vol.38], Evelyn Eaton. Sphere, 1976
Frankenstein, [Vol.39], Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Sphere, 1976
The Curse Of The Wise Woman, [Vol.40], Baron Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany. Sphere, 1976
Brood Of The Witch Queen, [Vol.41], Sax Rohmer. Sphere, 1976
Brazilian Magic: Is It The Answer? [Vol.42], Pedro McGregor, in association with T. Stratton Smith. Sphere, 1976
Darker Than You Think, [Vol.43], Jack Williamson. Sphere, 1976
War In Heaven, [Vol.44], Charles Williams. Sphere, 1976
Morwyn: The Vengeance Of God, [Vol.45], John Cowper Powys. Sphere, 1977
- Forbidden Territory (November 1934)
- Secret of Stamboul; US title The Spy in White (adaptation of The Eunuch of Stamboul; October 1936)
- The Devil Rides Out; US title The Devil's Bride (July 1968)
- The Lost Continent (adaptation of Uncharted Seas; July 1968)
- To the Devil a Daughter (March 1976)
- The Haunted Airman (adaptation of The Haunting of Toby Jugg; October 2006)
- Baker, Phil, The Devil is a Gentleman: the Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley, Sawtry, UK: Dedalus. 2009. ISBN 978-1-903517-75-8
- Stranger than fiction | Express Yourself | Express.co.uk
- "Mr Dennis Wheatley". The Times. London. 12 November 1977. p. 16.
- Crash Online: Issue Ten: November 1984
- "Dennis Wheatley: A Letter to Posterity". BBC Four. 2005. Archived from the original on 8 January 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20060108181510/http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/dennis-wheatley.shtml. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- "A Letter to Posterity". DennisWheatley. http://www.denniswheatley.info/sams_books/lettertoposterity.htm. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- Dennis Wheatley – Prince Of Thriller Writers – To Return
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dennis Wheatley.|
- Dennis Wheatley Website
- Discussion of The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult
- Article on Dennis Wheatley
- Wheatley's 1939 game 'Blockade'
- Dennis Wheatley at the Internet Movie Database
- Dennis Wheatley at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
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