Robert W. Chambers

Robert William Chambers (May 26, 1865 – December 16, 1933) was an American artist and fiction writer, best known for his book of short stories entitled The King in Yellow, published in 1895.

Robert William Chambers
Robert William Chambers
BornMay 26, 1865
Brooklyn, New York, US
DiedDecember 16, 1933 (aged 68)
New York City
OccupationNovel and short story author
GenreArt Nouveau, decadent literature, fantasy, historical fiction, horror, romance, science fiction, supernatural
Notable worksThe King in Yellow

Robert W Chambers signature


He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to William P. Chambers (1827–1911), a corporate and bankruptcy lawyer, and Caroline Smith Boughton (1842–1913). His parents met when Caroline was twelve years old and William P. was interning with her father, Joseph Boughton, a prominent corporate lawyer. Eventually the two formed the law firm of Chambers and Boughton which continued to prosper even after Joseph's death in 1861. Robert's great-grandfather, William Chambers (birth unknown), a lieutenant in the British Royal Navy, was married to Amelia Saunders (1765–1822), the great grand daughter of Tobias Saunders, of Westerly, Rhode Island. The couple moved from Westerly, to Greenfield, Massachusetts and then to Galway, New York, where their son, also William Chamber (1798–1874), was born. The second William graduated from Union College at the age of 18, and then went to a college in Boston, where he studied to be a doctor. Upon graduating, he and his wife, Eliza P. Allen (1793–1880), a direct descendant of Roger Williams,[1] the founder of Providence, Rhode Island were among the first settlers of Broadalbin, New York. His brother was architect Walter Boughton Chambers.

Robert was first educated at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and then entered the Art Students' League at around the age of twenty, where the artist Charles Dana Gibson was his fellow student. Chambers studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and at Académie Julian, in Paris from 1886 to 1893, and his work was displayed at the Salon as early as 1889. On his return to New York, he succeeded in selling his illustrations to Life, Truth, and Vogue magazines. Then, for reasons unclear, he devoted his time to writing, producing his first novel, In the Quarter (written in 1887 in Munich). His most famous, and perhaps most meritorious, effort is The King in Yellow, a collection of Art Nouveau short stories published in 1895. This included several famous weird short stories which are connected by the theme of a fictitious drama of the same title, which drives those who read it insane.[2] E. F. Bleiler described The King in Yellow as one of the most important works of American supernatural fiction.[3] It was also strongly admired by H. P. Lovecraft and his circle.

Chambers returned to the weird genre in his later short story collections The Maker of Moons, The Mystery of Choice and The Tree of Heaven, but none earned him as much success as The King in Yellow. Some of Chambers's work contains elements of science fiction, such as In Search of the Unknown and Police!!!, about a zoologist who encounters monsters.[4]

Chambers later turned to writing romantic fiction to earn a living. According to some estimates, Chambers had one of the most successful literary careers of his period, his later novels selling well and a handful achieving best-seller status. Many of his works were also serialized in magazines.

His novel The Man They Hanged was about Captain Kidd, and argued that Kidd was not a pirate, and had been made a scapegoat by the British government.[1]

During World War I he wrote war adventure novels and war stories, some of which showed a strong return to his old weird style, such as "Marooned" in Barbarians (1917). After 1924 he devoted himself solely to writing historical fiction.

Chambers for several years made Broadalbin, New York, his summer home. Some of his novels touch upon colonial life in Broadalbin and Johnstown.

On July 12, 1898, he married Elsa (Elsie) Vaughn Moller (1872–1939). They had a son, Robert Edward Stuart Chambers (1899–1955) (who sometimes used the name Robert Husted Chambers).

Robert W. Chambers died on December 16, 1933, after having undergone intestinal surgery three days earlier.[1]

Criticism and legacy

H. P. Lovecraft said of Chambers in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith:

Chambers is like Rupert Hughes and a few other fallen Titans – equipped with the right brains and education but wholly out of the habit of using them."[5]

Despite Chambers' effective later abandonment of the weird supernatural tale, these early works are all that remained in print through most of the twentieth century, thanks to Lovecraft's inclusion of them in the critical study "Supernatural Horror in Literature".

Frederic Taber Cooper commented:

So much of Mr Chambers's work exasperates, because we feel that he might so easily have made it better."[6]

Critical studies of Chambers's horror and fantasy work include Lee Weinstein's essay in Supernatural Fiction Writers,[7] Brian Stableford's essay in the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost and Gothic Writers[8] and a chapter in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).

Chambers' novel The Tracer of Lost Persons was adapted into a long-running (1937–54) old-time radio crime drama, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, by soap opera producers Frank and Anne Hummert.[9]

Chambers' The King in Yellow has inspired many modern authors, including Karl Edward Wagner, Joseph S. Pulver, Lin Carter, James Blish, Nic Pizzolato, Michael Cisco, Ann K. Schwader, Robert M. Price, Galad Elflandsson and Charles Stross.

In Search of the Unknown - Bookcover - Project Gutenberg eText 18668
Cover of the first edition of In Search of the Unknown.


Novels and story collections

Famous fantastic mysteries 194804
A reprint of Chambers's 1897 novelette "The Messenger" was cover-featured on the April 1948 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.
Famous fantastic mysteries 195105
Chambers's 1920 novel The Slayer of Souls was reprinted as the cover story on the May 1951 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.
  • In the Quarter (1894)
  • The King in Yellow (1895) – short stories
  • The Red Republic (1895)
  • The Maker of Moons (1896) – short stories
  • A King and A Few Dukes (1896)
  • With the Band (1896)
  • The Mystery of Choice (1897) – short stories
  • Lorraine (1898)
  • Ashes of Empire (1898)
  • The Haunts of Men (1898) – short stories
  • Outsiders (1899)
  • The Cambric Mask (1899)
  • The Conspirators (1899)
  • Cardigan (1901)
  • The Maid-at-Arms (1902)
  • The Maids of Paradise (1903)
  • In Search of the Unknown (1904)
  • A Young Man in a Hurry (1904) – short stories
  • The Reckoning (1905)
  • Iole (1905)
  • The Tracer of Lost Persons (1906)
  • The Fighting Chance (1906)
  • The Tree of Heaven (1907) – short stories
  • The Younger Set (1907)
  • Some Ladies in Haste (1908)
  • The Firing Line (1908)
  • Special Messenger (1909)
  • The Danger Mark (1909)
  • The Green Mouse (1910)
  • Ailsa Paige (1910)
  • The Common Law (1911)
  • The Adventures of a Modest Man (1911)
  • Blue-Bird Weather (1912)
  • The Streets of Ascalon (1912)
  • The Japonette (1912) – serialized in Cosmopolitan under the title The Turning Point
  • The Gay Rebellion (1913)
  • The Business of Life (1913)
  • Quick Action (1914)
  • The Hidden Children (1914)
  • Anne's Bridge (1914)
  • Between Friends (1914)
  • Who Goes There! (1915)
  • Athalie (1915)
  • Police!!! (1915) – short stories
  • The Girl Philippa (1916)
  • The Better Man (1916) – short stories
  • The Dark Star (1917)
  • The Barbarians (1917)
  • The Laughing Girl (1918)
  • The Restless Sex (1918)
  • The Moonlit Way (1919)
  • In Secret (1919)
  • The Crimson Tide (1919)
  • A Story of Primitive Love (1920)
  • The Slayer of Souls (1920)
  • The Little Red Foot (1920)
  • Eris (1922)
  • The Flaming Jewel (1922)
  • The Talkers (1923)
  • The Hi-Jackers (1923)
  • America; or, The Sacrifice (1924)
  • The Mystery Lady (1925)
  • Marie Halkett (1925 UK, 1937 US)
  • The Girl in Golden Rags (1925 UK, 1936 US)
  • The Man They Hanged (1926)
  • The Drums of Aulone (1927)
  • The Gold Chase (1927)
  • The Sun Hawk (1928)
  • The Rogue's Moon (1928)
  • The Happy Parrot (1929)
  • The Painted Minx (1930)
  • The Rake and the Hussy (1930)
  • War Paint and Rouge (1931)
  • Gitana (1931)
  • Whistling Cat (1932)
  • Whatever Love Is (1933)
  • Secret Service Operator 13 (1934) – short stories published in Cosmopolitan between 1930–1932
  • The Young Man's Girl (1934) – serialized in The Delineator, 1933
  • Love and the Lieutenant (1935) – serialized in The Woman's Home Companion, 1934
  • Beating Wings (1936) – serialized in McCall's, 1927
  • The Fifth Horseman (1937) – serialized in McCall's, 1930
  • Smoke of Battle (1938) – this novel was possibly finished by Rupert Hughes.

Children's books

  • Outdoorland (1902) Illustrated by Reginald Bathurst Birch
  • Orchard-Land (1903) Illustrated by Reginald Bathurst Birch
  • River-Land (1904) Illustrated by Elizabeth S. Green
  • Forest-Land (1905) Illustrated by Emily Benson Knipe
  • Mountain-Land (1906) Illustrated by Frederick Richardson & Walter King Stone
  • Garden-Land (1907) Illustrated by Harrison Cady

Reprint collections

Anthologies containing reprinted work by Robert W. Chambers



  1. ^ a b c "Robert Chambers, Novelist, Is Dead". New York Times. 17 December 1933. p. 36.
  2. ^ Brian Stableford, "The King in Yellow" in Frank N. Magill, ed. Survey of Modern Fantasy Literature, Vol 2. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, Inc., 1983. ISBN 0893564508 (pp. 844–847).
  3. ^ Quoted in "Chambers, Robert W(illiam)" by T. E. D. Klein, in Jack Sullivan. The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, Penguin/Viking, New York. 1986 ISBN 0670809020 (p. 74-6).
  4. ^ Bleiler, Everett Franklin and Bleiler, Richard. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent State University Press, 1990. ISBN 0873384164. p. 129-132.
  5. ^ Lovecraft, Selected Letters vol. 2, ed. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei (Arkham House, 1968), p. 148.
  6. ^ Cooper, Some American Story Tellers (Henry Holt, 1911), p.81. Quoted in Joshi, The Evolution of the Weird Tale, p.18.
  7. ^ Lee Weinstein, "Robert W. Chambers in, E. F. Bleiler, ed. Supernatural Fiction Writers. New York: Scribner's, 1985. (pp.739–746). ISBN 0-684-17808-7
  8. ^ Brian Stableford, "Chambers, Robert W(illiam)" in David Pringle, ed., St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers (London: St. James Press, 1998) ISBN 1558622063 (pp. 130–2).
  9. ^ Cox, Jim (May 2004). Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons: A Complete History and Episode Log of Radio's Most Durable Detective. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1738-2.


  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 74–75.

External links

A Time Out of War

A Time Out of War is a 1954 American short war film directed by Denis Sanders and starring Corey Allen and Barry Atwater. In 1955, it won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel) at the 27th Academy Awards, first prize at the Venice Film Festival Live Action Short Film category, and a BAFTA Special Award, among others.Denis Sanders was in UCLA film school whilst his brother was a UCLA undergraduate. For Denis's thesis, he searched for an American Civil War short story that was in the public domain to adapt into a film. He chose Pickets, an 1897 story by Robert W. Chambers. The film depicts a one-hour truce agreed to by Union and Confederate soldiers who are on opposite sides of a river.Critic Bosley Crowther called it "a keen and eloquent little picture".The prestige of the film led Terry to be hired by Charles Laughton as the second unit director of The Night of the Hunter (1955). Both brothers were then hired to write the screenplay for The Naked and the Dead, which led to film careers for both men.The Academy Film Archive preserved A Time Out of War in 2007 and it was added to the National Film Registry.

America (1924 film)

America, also called Love and Sacrifice, is a 1924 silent historical war romance film. It describes the heroic story of the events during the American Revolutionary War, in which filmmaker D. W. Griffith created a film adaptation of Robert W. Chambers’ novel The Reckoning. The plot mainly centers itself on the battles of the New York State, with romance spliced into the individual movie scenes.

Between Friends (1924 film)

Between Friends is a 1924 American silent melodrama film based on the eponymous novel by Robert W. Chambers. The film was directed by J. Stuart Blackton and produced by Albert E. Smith. It stars Lou Tellegen, Anna Q. Nilsson, and Norman Kerry. The feature was distributed by Vitagraph Studios, which was founded by Blackton and Smith in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York. The film is lost.


Carcosa is a fictional city in the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1886). In Bierce's story, the ancient and mysterious city is barely described, and is viewed only in hindsight (after its destruction) by a character who once lived there. Its name may be derived from the medieval city of Carcassonne in southern France, whose Latin name was "Carcaso".

American writers Robert W. Chambers and H.P. Lovecraft borrowed the term Carcosa for their stories, inspiring generations of authors to similarly use Carcosa in their own works.

Cardigan (film)

Cardigan is a lost 1922 American silent Revolutionary War historical drama film directed by John W. Noble and starring William Collier, Jr. It was adapted for the screen by Robert William Chambers from his own 1901 novel Cardigan.

Even as Eve

Even as Eve is a 1920 American silent drama film by A. H. Fischer Features and distributed by Associated First National Pictures. Produced by B. A. Rolfe, the film was directed by Rolfe and Chester De Vonde, with Arthur A. Cadwell and Conrad Wells (as A. Fried) as cinematographers. It was filmed at the former Thanhouser Company studios in New Rochelle, New York. Some exterior scenes were filmed in the New York Adirondack Mountains and on a Long Island estate. It was based on the short story "The Shining Band" by Robert W. Chambers, and adapted by Charles Logue.


Hastur (The Unspeakable One, The King in Yellow, Him Who Is Not to be Named, Assatur, Xastur, H'aaztre, or Kaiwan) is an entity of the Cthulhu Mythos. Hastur first appeared in Ambrose Bierce's short story "Haïta the Shepherd" (1893) as a benign god of shepherds. Hastur is briefly mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness; previously, Robert W. Chambers had used the name in his own stories to represent both a person and a place associated with the names of several stars, including Aldebaran.

History of the Necronomicon

"History of the Necronomicon" is a short text written by H. P. Lovecraft in 1927, and published in 1938. It describes the origins of the fictional book of the same name: the occult grimoire Necronomicon, which as become a now-famous element of some of his stories. The short text purports to be non-fiction, adding to the appearance of 'pseudo-authenticity' which Lovecraft valued in building his Cthulhu Mythos oeuvre. Accordingly, it supposes the history of the Necronomicon as the inspiration for Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow, which concerns a book that overthrows the minds of those who read it

Operator 13

Operator 13 is a 1934 American romance film directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Marion Davies, Gary Cooper, and Jean Parker. Based on stories written by Robert W. Chambers, the film is about a Union spy who impersonates a black maid in the early days of the Civil War, but complications arise when she falls in love with a Confederate officer. George J. Folsey received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.

The Black Secret

The Black Secret is a 1919 American adventure film serial directed by George B. Seitz. The film was recorded in both Fort Lee, New Jersey, as well as in the nearby Hudson Palisades. Recording took place during a time when many of the early 20th century film studios in America's first motion picture industry were based there. The film is currently considered to be lost.

The Common Law (1923 film)

The Common Law is a lost 1923 silent film drama directed by George Archainbaud and starring Corinne Griffith and Conway Tearle. It was produced and released by Selznick Pictures Corporation.It was later remade as the talkie The Common Law (1931), starring Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea.

The Common Law (film)

The Common Law is a 1931 American pre-Code romantic drama film, directed by Paul L. Stein and produced by Charles R. Rogers. Based on Robert W. Chambers' 1911 novel of the same name, this was the third time the book was made into a film, and the first during the talking film era. The sexual drama stars Constance Bennett and Joel McCrea in the title roles. It was received well both at the box office and by film critics, becoming one of RKO's most financially successful films of the year.

The Danger Mark

The Danger Mark is a lost 1918 American silent drama film directed by Hugh Ford and starring Elsie Ferguson. It was produced by Famous Players-Lasky, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It is based on a play by Robert W. Chambers. Prior to the film's release, the play was published in "serial form and later issued as a book."

The Dark Star (1919 film)

The Dark Star is a lost 1919 silent film adventure directed by Allan Dwan and starring Marion Davies. It was based on a novel by Robert W. Chambers. It was produced by Cosmopolitan Productions and released through Paramount Pictures.

The Demoiselle d'Ys

"The Demoiselle d'Ys" is a ghost story by American writer Robert W. Chambers, published in his short story collection The King in Yellow (1895). Set in France, the story presages the theme of H. G. Wells's The Door in the Wall, published in 1906.

The name Jeanne d'Ys is a homophone for the word jaundice and continues the symbolism of The King in Yellow.

The Firing Line

The Firing Line is a lost 1919 silent film drama directed by Charles Maigne and starring Irene Castle. It was based on a novel by Robert W. Chambers and produced by Famous Players-Lasky. Paramount Pictures distributed the film.

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow is a book of short stories by American writer Robert W. Chambers, first published by F. Tennyson Neely in 1895. The book is named after a play with the same title which recurs as a motif through some of the stories. The first half of the book features highly esteemed weird stories, and the book has been described by critics such as E. F. Bleiler, S. T. Joshi and T. E. D. Klein as a classic in the field of the supernatural. There are ten stories, the first four of which ("The Repairer of Reputations", "The Mask", "In the Court of the Dragon", and "The Yellow Sign") mention The King in Yellow, a forbidden play which induces despair or madness in those who read it. "The Yellow Sign" inspired a film of the same name released in 2001.

The British first edition was published by Chatto & Windus in 1895 (316 pages).

The Restless Sex

The Restless Sex is a 1920 American silent drama film starring Marion Davies, and Ralph Kellard. It was directed by Leon D'Usseau and Robert Z. Leonard and written by Frances Marion. The film is based upon the 1918 novel of the same name by Robert W. Chambers and was distributed by Paramount Pictures under the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation name.

A copy of The Restless Sex is housed at the Library of Congress and Gosfilmofond.

The Turning Point (1920 film)

The Turning Point is a 1920 American drama film directed by J.A. Barry, written by Robert W. Chambers, and starring Katherine MacDonald, Leota Lorraine, Nigel Barrie, William V. Mong, Bartine Burkett and William Clifford. It was released on February 2, 1920, by First National Exhibitors' Circuit.

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