A fearless faith in fiction — Employing, since 2008, a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, ROBERT aiCKMAN and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
THE HOUSE AGENT
“. . . Fatty said he used to be a little limb . . .”
An engaging story told by an engaging soul who likes pubs with good lunches. A feistily characterised upper class couple — in an era in our idyllic England when electricity and gas have started to be imported into houses and a few people driving around in, of all things, motor cars — looking choosily for the opitimum settlement in Ringway, a town-cum-village near, but not on, the coast in Sussex. The local agent’s father, by the way, reads Swedenborg as a hobby. And this father and son are sitting on a haunted property, otherwise optimal for our couple, a property that somehow has its own autonomous agency that creates anew a murder upon a ringway… actually, found this bit chilling.
The wallpaper with giant roses you will never forget … yellow with age, arguably? Not made clear in this unique text released for the first time, I gather, ironic, or obliquely didactic, though, if so… as she seems a woman in charge, not abashed… conniving, even, you see “…she still believed it was worthwhile pleasing a husband who continued to be very much in love with her.” Still, wondering about Summers in Sussex.
“Rather shy, very romantic, and exceedingly given to reading Ouida’s novels in private, she was ready to fall instantly in love with any new face,…”
That was not a description of the young Governess herself but of her teenage charge Frieda upon meeting this new Governess. A series of told stories within told stories, also including a demonstrably voluble Eastbourne lady with whom I found myself falling in love, but not for envisaged romantic purposes! A lady who could not cope with others’ sickness. These fidgety yet stylish narrations reveal much about the mœurs of 1890 society, a servant’s elbow-grease included, as the background to the Governess being haunted by a tangled previous love life and a certain watery wetness that followed the revenging ghost around. And with Eastbourne featured, Beachy Head naturally rears its head in the Gestalt plot, too! And later mention of “a stream of foulest blasphemy.” Just as an aside, I scratched my head over a couple witnessing something intrinsic to the plot, a couple who “when returning late from a summer Cinderella met on the outskirts of Eastborune a tall man with a lady on his arm…” Summers strange for Cinderellas, I wonder. And the spelling of the place is sic, I have just discovered. A necessary rune.
A TOY THEATRE
“Fair and soft and clinging, she was.”
No doubt a significant work in the ghost story tradition of haunted contraptions, and it has all the feisty flair of style one imagines should always be attached to this envisaged author, with strong references to objects and people of his time’s mœurs, mœurs so different from our own, and long may each time’s mœurs be discrete from each other, if not duly discreetly veiled perhaps when there is talk of black men laughing after smothering white young ladies. This at first is a hearty tale of a gentleman of high stock invited by friends to the Welsh marches in a house and area with quaintness, scenic vistas, garden games, carpet-dances and dusty shops where in one there is a well-characterised old woman who has much theatrical memorabilia to sell including the eponymous tableau within its toy-like scene-set. Its later performance is genuinely chilling. Any “Touchy kittle cattle actors”, notwithstanding. Some very striking, idiosyncratic descriptions in this work as part of its entrancing style. Just noticed an unwonted “want” in the text that should have been a “wont” when describing the local man with a cart who might have transported the eponymous contraption for our lordly protagonist, a protagonist who is duly abashed by his purchase later in the day, or night. Mdm. Battle and Northanger mentions, too.
“Next followed evocations of demons, cantrips and spells, and three sections entitled respectively ‘the way of Cain’, ‘the error of Balaam,’ and ‘the gainsaying of Core’.”
The main protagonist is an intellectual agnostic (neither gnostic nor not-gnostic?) gentleman and collector “of books, and books, and books again.” One day his favourite bookseller, a Merritt, sells him for five guineas what turns out to be a rare but excessively evil book with, inter alios, “crapulous obscenity”. With the moral of never reading aloud what is written on a “blank page”, he is haunted by a man disguised as a valet at whom the usually level-headed main protagonist finds himself genuinely “chilled with deadly paralyzing terror” and he is only helped out of such terror during a visit to a Cathedral Town’s Canon and an equally visiting Dominican friar. I wonder with what irony the author saw how “common worship and the beauty of an ordered liturgy” could help against such ‘evil’. After all this author created that evil in his book and no doubt found any such terror “old-womanish”, an expression he uses somewhere in this text. As for me, though, I somewhat shared such terror in reading it. And my own Core Mythos came to mind. The “cobbled winds”, notwithstanding.
“If I am not well enough to get up, I’m not well enough to eat any breakfast.”
ROMEO AND JULIET
“There was that tale of a schoolgirl in Berlin with whom he was said to have been on very intimate terms, and who poisoned herself in rather a horrible way. She had left a letter (so it was rumoured) accusing him of the most brutal cruelty, but has the world time to listen to the stuff hysterical girls write?”
With dottles of pipe tobacco and at least one laddish gossoon, this story has lethal Shakespearean echoes of the Toy Theatre, but here we have an Italian version of a Proustian writer enfolded in all the traditions of Venice and opera, with descriptive flowers, and Venetian mœurs and operatic references galore, and told to us in the cosy atmosphere of firelight, we learn of a beautiful girl turning 15, her supreme voice cursed by a paternal wish for her to sing professionally for at least three years, and by sort of romantic duels of love, the Irish sweetheart versus the predatory rival (the latter mentioned in quote above). The two preternatural outcomes within theirs proscenium frames, although expected, are deliciously told, without fear of – or favour from – political correctness or irony. And rounded off with a holily resplendent echo of churchly mœurs roughly equivalent to those in the previous story.
Robert Dormer, Earl of Caenarvon
By Sir Anthony van Dyck
THE MAN ON THE STAIRS
“And that’s how half the harm’s done. Begin by listening to these yarns — oh, very many of them very clever and even plausible, I grant you — and end up believing the whole bunch.”
At first blush, a yarn of various vying gentlemen, a yarn that involves a small Bridge party at the house that the sceptical host has recently proudly purchased, and another man who claims the house is haunted excessively malevolently by the eponymous subject of a painting that the house contains, and yet another man — who wants to take advantage of a £100 bet made about the existence of this ghost — and whose actor friend (cf the various actorly devices earlier in this book) is disguised as a valet-chauffeur (cf the earlier ghost in this book as disguised valet) and he plans to act this ghost on the stairs, so the bet can be won. The outcome is predictable, but nevertheless is even more chilling, the painting being by a “Vandyke”, sic, a painting of a man called Dormer with curls and pearl drops who once made a mistress of his own sister and later cut her throat, a discussion ”under weigh”, sic, a cloak of murrey velvet, two great demi-wyverns, a man’s chest compared to a pouter-pigeon, and old Scratch, of course. And I somehow started to believe it all, for real, having suffered — in current political times as I read this story — my own equivalent “aftermath of the war, crowd neurasthenia”, as words themselves have wars, too, and broken meanings. Stories mean what they mean to whoever reads them cold.
I shall now read for the first time this book’s ‘Introduction’ by Daniel Corrick, ‘A Note on the Texts’ and ‘Preface by the Author’. To wonder whether it is a new preface by Summers, one written specially for this edition of his stories, is a frisson certainly to cherish as long as possible. Before whatever Winters set in.
My further review of Montague Summers: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/and-other-fictions-by-montague-summers/