CHARLOTTE MEW: Mark Stafford’s Wife
“Well, I can’t to anyone open every door; whoever owns the poor little house, there must be rooms of which, to the end, I keep the key.”
If only Kate did not give the key to the eponymous “lurking horror”, who looked over her shoulder: the celebrity ‘vivisectionist’ or ‘pathologist’ writer called Stafford, but a writer of what? Of books of fiction? … Looking over her shoulder like Death or like God? A Hamlet to her Ophelia, whether with her hair done up or let down, as depicted in a photographed tableau towards the smashed negative-plate that could only happen to early old day frozen stances ….
This would have been deemed a great classic ghost-horror novelette like May Sinclair’s ‘Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched’. It also outdoes even Daphne du Maurier’s darknesses of short fiction, but the Mew novelette would only have been deemed to possess such greatness if without its own ohm-resistor of style as if borrowed from a tentacular blend of the late works of Henry James and the most rarefied yet-to-be-written Elizabeth Bowen works. A unique style by Mew that I relished, but perhaps many wouldn’t.
This Mew work even prefigured Elizabeth Bowen’s conceit of a ‘shadowy third’ with its own ‘shadowy fourth’! Certainly Mew was one up on Bowen! But Mew as a word also defined as a noun meaning hiding-place.
But who is the shadowy fourth?
The unreliable narrator, a mature woman as Kate’s mentor?
Charlie Darch, a stolid man of ‘the glare’, whom she was engaged to marry before she married Stafford?
The eponymous hindsight monster Stafford himself? — but was he a monster at all, or did he write it all as fiction, as St. Quentin did in Bowen’s ‘Death of the Heart’?
But the shadowy fourth can not surely be Kate herself who sees herself as the one “over-shadowed”, or do I misremember that? — a woman who is at first a fay sprite, but later striding in ‘the glare’ of society, when often neglected by her husband Stafford.
As the narrator herself says — ‘a bewildering tangle.’ Full of stumblers. Indeed, was Mew herself hidden in plain sight ‘overshadowing’ them all? “…this uplifting darkness, that we are in the grip of – blind – blind stumblers –!”
Full context of this review: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/915-2/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/04/12/penguin-books-of-british-short-stories/