Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance by M.R. James

“He was a complete, thorough valentudinarian. That describes him to a T.”

Well, the ‘n’ before such a ‘t’ is part of a malapropism describing the previous owner of what is inherited? And what this utterly frightening story is about is surely “painting the whole calendar red,…” as Mr Humphreys himself predicted at the start when being introduced to this Inheritance, a surprise legacy from the uncle, whom he had never met, an Inheritance of a tall red-brick country house that looked like a town house (“It seemed also, owing to its height, to desiderate wings, but there were none”) with a fully stocked library to die for, and a temple in the grounds …and the garden’s deceptively threatening maze, of course, with  the supposed ‘celestial globe’ at its centre, this ball for dancing when it’s opened up at the end, being what of course was predicted by painting life red. But “…the golden bowl gradually ceasing to vibrate”, to echo another James (Henry). A Parable about a Parable, a wasp rising from a rotten apple likened to  a hole in paper that becomes a hole to the centre of the earth, where Dante’s ‘shaggy demons’ (or were they ‘devils’?) lurked. The tracing of a map of the maze that he had inherited and the moving shape of what must be a bush or an Irish Yew out of place enough to make the reader even more horrified  than what the maze did to the characters  within what is being desiderated, or painted in words and then read.

“…you’ve penetrated into the heart of the mystery unaided and unannealed, as the saying goes. […] …that if we overstepped the mark in any way there would be a—well, a pounce? No?”


My other reviews of M.R. James:

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