- By Ian Youngs
- Entertainment and Arts Correspondent
A 1930s novel acclaimed by George Orwell and WH Auden before being forgotten for decades is to be republished after a Manchester barman rediscovered it and solved the mystery of the author’s last wishes.
Jack Chadwick received an old copy of Jack Hilton’s semi-autobiographical Caliban Creeks in 2021.
After Hilton’s death in 1983, academics have been unsuccessful in finding out who inherited the rights to the book. But Chadwick succeeded by asking for information in pubs near the writer’s last home.
„Do you remember Jack Hilton?” He put up posters asking, which eventually led him to find a friend’s widow, who he didn’t know had inherited the author’s estate.
Chadwick launched a campaign to have the book reprinted, and it has now been signed by the UK’s largest publishing house, Penguin’s imprint Vintage.
Chadwick, 29, told BBC News, „I’m overwhelmed to bits, to use a perfect vernacular expression.”
„It feels like a victory not only for Jack, who fought so hard in his own time to get the recognition he deserved, but also for working-class people who face the same class extremes in the here and now.”
Hilton was a plasterer from Rochdale who based his work on his own experiences growing up in the slums, living in the workhouses after the First World War and experiencing unemployment and hardship after the Great Depression of the late 1920s.
Auden praised her „magnificent Moby Dick rhetoric”, while Orwell said Hilton’s voice was „very rare and correspondingly important” and declared her to have a „considerable literary gift”.
Orwell asked to come and stay with Hilton in Rochdale in order to write his own account of English working-class life. Hilton didn’t have a place, but recommended a friend in Wigan instead. This led Orwell to write his landmark The Road to Wigan Bear, published two years after Caliban Shrieks.
Chadwick said Hilton was „a great talent who came out of nowhere to expand the parameters of literary modernism”.
Vintage described Caliban Shrieks as „a masterpiece of modernist and working-class literature”. [which] „Speaks with as much anger and passion today as it did at its first rave release in 1935”.
Hilton went on to write more books, but it fell out of fashion after World War II, when a countess of a leading publishing house reportedly told her that „the proletarian novel is dead.”
Seven decades later, a tattered copy of the book caught Chadwick’s eye in Salford’s working-class movement library. He soon became engrossed in the book, and it and its author seemed largely forgotten.
The few scholars who knew Hilton have tried unsuccessfully to locate the owners of the rights to his works that required reprints of his books.
Hilton, who had no children, was presumed dead in Wiltshire. But Chadwick finds his death certificate and discovers that he actually went to Oldham and died.
Chadwick put up appeal posters in pubs near Hilton’s last known address. In one, before he finishes his pint, a woman approaches him and gives him the names of two of the writer’s best friends.
Friends also die, but Chadwick finds one’s widow and leaves a letter through her door.
By another stroke of luck, during further research, Hilton found a document that says he left his copyright and other possessions to the same friend, and when the friend died in 2021, they were passed on to his widow.
Unaware that she owned Hilton’s estate, the woman donated the rights to Chadwick on the condition that she do what she could to revive her work.
The book will be published by Vintage this coming March.
„Totalny pionier w sieci. Specjalista od piwa niezależny. Ewangelista popkultury. Miłośnik muzyki. Nieprzepraszający przedsiębiorca”.