Great works of literature may endure, but lesser ones can vanish into obscurity with an indecent haste. In the case of many books - from the Victorian "Penny Dreadfuls" to the cheap thrillers of the 1930s, their disappearance is no loss to the reading public. However, there are a number of once-bestselling writers whose books still have something to offer today's readers.
Here are our top three:
1. Sir Philip Gibbs
Gibbs' life spanned a period of huge social and political upheaval.
Born in the same year that George Eliot published Daniel Deronda, Gibbs died a few months before the Beatles had their first No.1 hit. In his time, he was one of the most famous journalists in Britain and today, he is chiefly remembered for his work as an official war correspondent - a position that earned him a knighthood.
During the First World War, Gibbs was an eye-witness to the horrors of trench warfare, but the heavy-handed censorship of the authorities prevented him from conveying his true feelings about what he believed to be a tragic waste of human life. In 1920, free from the restrictions of the military censor, Gibbs published The Realities of War - a blistering attack on military incompetence and the futility of modern warfare.
Although Gibbs' reputation rests on his books about World War One, he also wrote 43 novels and whilst none of them are masterpieces, many are compelling, well-written stories that have a lot to say about the social and political changes that were taking place. Like other journalists who wrote novels - from George Orwell to Robert Harris - Gibbs is a natural storyteller and his wealth of experience adds candour to the narrative. Street of Adventure - an early novel about Fleet Street - used to be required reading for anyone who was thinking of going into journalism. Our favourite is Blood Relations, a wonderful epic of love and war. First and foremost, Blood Relations is an anti-war novel, but Gibbs never lets this get in the way of telling a good story and instead of preaching, allows his harrowing depictions of life at the Front to make his point for him. One other remarkable quality of this novel is its even-handedness in the way Gibbs helps us to view the First World War through German eyes as well as British. This novel is crying out to be adapted into a film.
Sir Philip was, by all accounts, a thorough gentleman as well as a great journalist, and we think it's time that the best of his output was reprinted.
2. Elizabeth Goudge
Born Elizabeth de Beauchamp in 1900, Goudge was one of the bestselling British writers of the mid-20th century and she is one of the most popular authors amongst our customers at World of Rare Books. Her bestselling book was Green Dolphin Country which was published in 1942, but her novels about the Eliots of Damerosehay - The Bird in the Tree, The Herb of Grace and The Heart of the Family - are also very popular with readers.
According to an obituary in The Times, in everything Goudge wrote "there was a quality of charity and faithfulness in the depiction of people and places. Fragile in appearance but strong in spirit, she seemed at one in the peace and simplicity of her setting. Few novelists have had comparable knowlegde and faith in the goodness of human nature. Like Jane Austen, she let 'other pens dwell on guilt and misery'"
3. Ethel Mannin
Born in the same year as Elizabeth Goudge, Ethel Mannin was a very different sort of woman. A prolific novelist and travel writer, her affairs with W.B.Yeats and Bertrand Russell made her something of a success de scandal. She began her career in journalism and, it has been observed, would have benefited from learning her craft before embarking on a career as a novelist. As it was, Mannin was "to some extent, the victim of her own precocity and facility. She wrote too much and was insufficiently critical of her work."
In spite of this, Mannin's books are still worth reading, as she lived an extraordinary life and was vocal in her support for a number of causes, including the women's movement, anarchism, the Spanish Civil War and the anti-Fascist movement. As a travel writer, Mannin was attracted to any country that was, in her view, the underdog and in the aftermath of the Suez crisis, wrote many works that were sympathetic to the Arab cause.
Ethel Mannin's books have little value in the secondhand book market, but her works have a great cultural value as she was at the centre of some of the most important radical movements of the last century.