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Francis Stevens

Gertrude Barrows Bennett (1883–1948) was the first major female writer of fantasy and science fiction in the United States, publishing her stories under the pseudonym Francis Stevens. Bennett wrote a number of highly acclaimed fantasies between 1917 and 1923 and has been called “the woman who invented dark fantasy.” Among her most famous books are Claimed (which H. P. Lovecraft called “One of the strangest and most compelling science fantasy novels you will ever read”) and the lost world novel The Citadel of Fear. Bennett also wrote an early dystopian novel, The Heads of Cerberus (1919). Gertrude Mabel Barrows was born in Minneapolis in 1883. She completed school through the eighth grade, then attended night school in hopes of becoming an illustrator. Instead, she began working as a stenographer. In 1909 Barrows married Stewart Bennett, a British journalist and explorer, and moved to Philadelphia. A year later her husband died while on an expedition. With a new-born daughter to raise, Bennett continued working as a stenographer. When her father died toward the end of World War I, Bennett assumed care for her invalid mother. During this time period Bennett began to write a number of short stories and novels, only stopping when her mother died in 1920. In the mid 1920s, she moved to California. Because Bennett was estranged from her daughter, for a number of years researchers believed Bennett died in 1939 (the date of her final letter to her daughter). However, new research, including her death certificate, shows that she died in 1948.

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The Heads of Cerberus: Philadelphia freedom… NOT!

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The Heads of Cerberus by Francis Stevens

Though little read and seldom discussed today, in the late teens and early 1920s, Minneapolis-born Francis Stevens was something of a cause célèbre among discriminating readers. “Francis Stevens” was the pen name of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, who published her first story in 1917 at the age of 33. Her career as a writer only lasted six years, during which time she produced six novels and three short stories, and she only took to writing in the first place after becoming a widow, as a means of supporting her young daughter and invalid mother. Her work initially appeared in pulp periodicals such as All-Story Weekly and The Argosy, readers of which believed the name “Francis Stevens” to be a pseudonym for the great Abraham Merritt, who indeed was... Read More

Claimed: 3 for 3

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Claimed by Francis Stevens

At the tail end of my review of Francis Stevens’ 1919 novel The Heads of Cerberus, I mentioned that the author was now a very solid 2 for 2 with me, having loved that book as well as 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, and that I had a feeling that once I took in her 1920 novel, Claimed, that she would be an even more solid 3 for 3. Well, as I predicted, such is indeed the case, now that I have finally read her most impressive third novel. While Citadel had dealt with the discovery of a lost Aztec city and battling gods (Quetzalcoatl and Nacoc-Yaotl), and the dystopian Cerberus with a totalitarian Philadelphia in an alternate-reality future, Claimed... Read More