W. F. Harvey, 1885-1937


Biographical note

William Fryer Harvey was an English writer of short stories, most notably in the mystery and horror genres. Among his better-known stories are "August Heat" and "The Beast with Five Fingers", described by horror historian Les Daniels as "minor masterpieces".

Born into a wealthy Quaker family in Yorkshire, he attended the Quaker schools at Bootham in Yorkshire and at Leighton Park in Reading before going on to Balliol College, Oxford. He took a degree in medicine at Leeds. Ill health dogged him, however, and he devoted himself to personal projects such as his first book of short stories, Midnight House (1910).

In World War I he initially joined the Friends' Ambulance Unit, but later served as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and received the Albert Medal for Lifesaving. Lung damage received during the rescue leading to the award troubled him for the rest of his life, but he continued to write both short stories and his cheerful and good natured memoir We Were Seven.

Before the war he had shown interest in adult education, on the staff of the Working Men's College, Fircroft, Selly Oak, Birmingham. He returned to Fircroft in 1920, becoming Warden, but by 1925 ill-health forced his retirement. In 1928 he published a second collection of short stories, The Beast with Five Fingers, and in 1933 he published a third, Moods and Tenses. He lived in Switzerland with his wife for much of this time, but nostalgia for his home country caused his return to England; he died in Letchworth in 1937, at the age of 52.

The release of the film The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), directed by Robert Florey and starring Peter Lorre, inspired by what was perhaps his most famous and praised short story, caused a resurgence of interest in Harvey's work. In 1951 a posthumous fourth collection of his stories, The Arm of Mrs Egan and Other Stories, appeared, including a set of twelve stories left in manuscript at the time of his death, headed "Twelve Strange Cases".

In 2009 Wordsworth Editions printed an omnibus volume of Harvey's stories, titled The Beast with Five Fingers, in its Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series (ISBN 978-1-84022-179-4). The volume contains 45 stories and an introduction by David Stuart Davies.


  • Midnight House and other tales (1910)
  • The Misadventures of Athelstan Digby (1920)
  • A Conversation About God (1923), with William Fearon Halliday
  • The Beast with Five Fingers and other tales (1928)
  • Quaker Byways and other papers (1929)
  • Moods and Tenses: Tales (1933)
  • The Mysterious Mr. Badman (1934)
  • John Rutty of Dublin, Quaker Physician (1934), reprinted from The Friends' Quarterly Examiner
  • We Were Seven (1936)
  • Caprimulgus (1936)
  • Mr. Murray and the Boococks (1938)
  • Midnight Tales (1946)
  • The Arm of Mrs. Egan and other stories (1951)
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