AN ANNIVERSARY by Walter de La Mare

“Yes, Dr McLechlan. That’s it. Dr Mucklechkchlan.”

Whatever the intrinsic autonomous force of a passionate, temporary, real-time reading moment perhaps altering my objective critical abilities, this substantive work is surely, surely, the greatest apotheosis of a WDLM ghostly revenant story (here in a man’s, Aubrey’s, supremely evoked autumn of a garden with its water butt and weeping ash) and the greatest apotheosis, too, of an unbearably wild marital attrition between a man and a woman, between Aubrey and arguably hypochondriac and ‘cuckooing’ Emily, the latter with her hot water bottle somehow ironically to match his water butt, dredging up the jealousies and recrimination of a whole marriage in the most tortured fashion. There is no way I can do justice to this story’s power without reading it for oneself, laying oneself open to its guilt and horror. You see, the aforementioned revenant that Aubrey thinks he sees in his autumn garden at dusk is a man called the Reverend Fiske. Aubrey had believed him to be dead. Aubrey believes he was once faithless Emily’s beloved in preference to himself. That is a potted summary or a self-styled potterer called Aubrey, also with telling references to his midget star-gazing and ‘tapioca’ and ‘pot. brom.’!
Here below is some flavour of this work (eclectic quotations from it among many many others left unquoted): for those unable ever to read it, either from their fearful choice or lack of opportunity…

“Indeed, who would deny that it is chiefly the presence of one’s fellow-creatures that evokes one’s worst – though these may possibly be one’s rarest – characteristics! Alone, even by no means virtuous people may mean wholly well. Not so Aubrey. He despised what he called cant; and first and foremost he meant business. It was, too, in the solitude of his garden, particularly as dusk thickened, that he could best explore his little plans.”

“How many moments – minutes – had he been caught up in this idiotic trance?”

“A glimpse of himself, feeble and sweating on a sick-bed, swam into his view. How much he loathed repeated, parrot-like inquiries and that evening-tray laden with its tail-swallowed whiting, or insipid minced chicken, and miniature ‘light pudding’. Or tapioca!”

“He [Fiske] might have some day become an archdeacon; gaiters and laced-up chapeau. In spite of the buns and oranges, it needs strong, silent men. Another anniversary, Emily! You had a very soft spot for him…”

“‘It is not for a mere layman to butt in – though that’s what they lie in wait for.’
‘Tell me what’s the matter with you, then I’LL tell you!’” [My italics]

“And Fiskes will be Fiskes. ‘Fiskes’! – doesn’t that sound just awful? What kind of an animal, do you think, would a Fiske resemble?”

“No poor wretch, I suppose, forgets his torturers because they restored him to consciousness: only in order to begin again.”

“The sound of her voice was as toneless and drear as some black stagnant pool fringed with muttering rushes in the flats of a marsh where a lost bird is lamenting what never can be uttered or understood.”

“Her misery was a kind of dog-like joy to him. And why not?”

“‘Take what back?’ shouted Aubrey, as if the contempt and fury now writhing on his dead-alive face were also almost past endurance. ’Take what back? With your rubber water bottles and your furry slippers and your grizzlings and your grousings? Haven’t I a right to speak? Haven’t I a word to say? Take what back?’ He had this time – as if under the very blackness of the dry frozen forests – wolfishly yelled the question; and suddenly at sound of it had been seized with a sort of mental rigor. Good God! came the whisper – had his bodiless enemy actually planned and timed his visit for this?” [Not my italics]

“Aubrey wheeled about as abruptly as an animal that has detected in its nocturnal ravagings the snapping of a withered twig.”

“The very bridge of his nose seemed to sharpen as presently he stooped over the bed – at a ridiculous corporeal right angle – and his face assumed a stone-like pallor. Slowly, and with the utmost gingerliness, refusing even to touch her pillow, he pushed down his lips close to the ear of his human companion and called softly – “


My reviews of WDLM in alphabetical order:

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