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.
Women’s Weird: More Strange Stories by Women, 1891-1937
by Edith Stewart Drewry (1891)
I could not make head nor tail of this story’s plot.
A story no doubt remarkable in eliciting such a response from the likes of me!
Strangely in the light of the wording I happened to use yesterday above, the next story below, just now read, contains these words …. “They could not make head or tail of the context for some time, and then Mr Maxwell discovered that a leaf had been cut out.”
The Blue Room
by Lettice Galbraith (1897)
“Something occurred then of which, since it has nothing to do with this story, I need only say that it wiped out for ever any idea of marriage on my part,…”
Yet this young lady as narrator becomes by the end of the story an old woman called Mrs Marris, or am I confused? As much as she is confused by the word ‘incubate’ and ‘incubus’ in the different connections with poultry farming and witchcraft! That makes this otherwise effective but standard tale of haunted-room-for-guest-overflow bedroom-with-a-backstory in a large house intriguing and even more creepy! Not forgetting the lethal crease left by a body in bedcovers….”testing the ghost-theory” of Sprenger?
The poultry farming trope is echoed in the next story below…
A Green Bowl for the Blue Room?
Johnny Mains’ anthologies of stories akin to Women’s Weird as reviewed by me in the past, as follows….
A Suggestion of Ghosts – Supernatural Fiction by Women 1854-1900: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/a-suggestion-of-ghosts-supernatural-fiction-by-women-1854-1900/
An Obscurity of Ghosts – Further Tales of the Supernatural by Women 1876–1903: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/05/25/an-obscurity-of-ghosts/
Remember The Dead (male and female authors): https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/remember-the-dead/
Our Lady of Hate – The Short Stories of Catherine Lord: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/16/our-lady-of-hate-the-short-stories-of-catherine-lord/
“The voice of poultry usually means not only a hen-coop but a barn and a house,…”, but here means a gradual, delightfully inconclusive narrative incubation of thr open-ended mystery of…
The Green Bowl
by Sarah Orne Jewett (1901)
“We were on our way home, as safe as dolls in a nursery when we had our little adventure and got the green bowl.”
The ‘adventures’ of a lady and her young ‘companion’ lady with horse and carriage, this one she tells within the frame story to other ladies, an adventure, lost under ‘drowning rain’ and hearing that voice of poultry, but at last seeing a church steeple, that later she unaccountably calls a spire! And manifold horse sheds outside a church wherein which church they find basic shelter till found in the morning by a local woman who gives them the heavenly apotheosis of an idyllic breakfast and the story of her two green bowls, one she gives to our narrator as ‘companion’ reciprocalist of their fore-telling powers. A strong suspenseful tale that needs iconising. A narrator who at one point says, “The only trouble was that there was so little of me.” And you will never forget the description of the green bowl as looked at by the listening ladies within the frame story. But such a claim of never forgetting depends on my own fore-telling skills, or will only time tell? —
“…and when we had been in the house an hour one felt as if it had been a week…”
“The old pony plodded up yet another hill; we went clattering down its deep descent; and there, in the green bowl of a meadow sloping down from its woody fringes above, lay scattered the bellying booths, the gaudy wagons and cages of the circus. All but hidden in the trees above them, a crooked, tarnished weathercock glinted in the sunset afterglow.“ (my italics)
— from MEMOIRS OF A MIDGET by Walter de La Mare (my review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/02/memoirs-of-a-midget-by-walter-de-la-mare/)
The weathercock and the circus, and compare the ladies’ horse in ‘The Green Bowl’ “The horse was whinnying after us like a whole circus,…”
And the storyteller’s own ‘midget’ statement: “The only trouble was that there was so little of me.”
I have now since read the little bit on-line about the above story and I see it has been interpreted as a ‘Lesbian’ story. I can empathise with that interpretation and factored it in.
WDLM’s Midget lady also had such Sapphic yearnings as a major part of his novel.
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Beware possible spoilers.
by Barbara Baynton (1902)
Another of those stories where someone struggles homeward after many years and finds their loved one, here a mother, either dead or dreaming — a near-sighted woman in the dark just off the train, her advanced letter of arrival seemingly ignored, and finding herself in the erstwhile homelands that a thunderstorm has now turned into a foreign territory of swollen river with its wild accoutrements acting as both godly help and fell hindrance to her passage homeward…
Yes, another story with such a pattern of a plot, but perhaps the most effective of them all, as we gradually gain a picture of the backstory, of mother-daughter bonds, and, with overflowing tank undiverted, who is dreaming whom? Or is it Death dreaming up us all?
The Hall Bedroom
by Mary E Wilkins Freeman (1905)
“, the gentle slope of the hills and the church spire in the background – but still it is well done. It gives me the impression of an artist…”
Whatever that description of a painting in a so-called hall bedroom really is, this story itself is a “vestibule” to nowhere or heaven, a narrowing channel to the ‘fifth dimension’, or whatever takes the reader’s fancy, full of fragrances and tastes, where effects precede causes… “It seemed as if the odour reached my mentality first.” The brain says rose, then the nose smells it.
A sort of archetypal haunted painting story, here in a boarding house on 240 Pleasant Street, and its hall bedroom with a haunting backstory.
“I seemed to be wading breast-high through flower-beds of Paradise,…” Eventually touching those denizens that a mere struck match makes vanish…
Whether dream or a new religion, I note there were once 240 pence in a pound, the mock pleasure of money, and that piece of paper with figures just accounts…
…’advance and retreat’ of bliss like life’s river? To heaven or nowhere.
“It was never cloying, though of such sharp sweetness that it fairly stung. It was the merging of a material sense into a spiritual one. I said to myself, ‘I have lived my life and always have I gone hungry until now.’”
PS I presume this American author was privy to the pervasive numerical nature of the British currency!
From above story: “The income was not enough to support me in any kind of comfort, and I saw that I must in some way earn money. […] …although that actually took my last penny, that is, the last penny of my ready money, and I was forced to draw on my principal to purchase my first supplies, a thing which I had resolved never on any account to do.“ (my italics)
“The struggle for money always injures the fine grain of a woman;…”
cf my review of WHAT WAS IT? by Fitz James O’Brien: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/07/26/fitz-james-obrien-what-was-it/
by Katherine Mansfield (1912)
“‘….the novelty never ceases. I feel each day is our first day together.’
‘Oh, it is the sense of “home” which is so precious to me – it is the wonderful sense of peace – of the rooms sanctified – of the quiet permanence – it is that which is so precious after –’”
This is quite a revelation for me. I genuinely believed that I had reviewed all this author’s collected stories here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/the-collected-stories-katherine-mansfield/, but this marvellous ghost story seems not to be among them!
In apotheotic synergy with Walter de la Mare (my reviews of all his stories here), this Mansfield story with Bloomsbury references tells of a girl or young lady in a rainstorm with soggy package of madeira cake who shelters in the porch of house that is to be let or sold. And somehow she is transported within as a future idyllic life in the house as herself with a husband or are they children role-playing their adult selves with teddies and their own pretend children? A house we now live in ourselves for a nonce. A life or lives left unlived! It is pure magic, general fiction as well as ghost story fiction at its very best, and thanks to this book for bringing it to my attention. The ‘quiet permanence’ that is ourselves…
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The Red Bungalow
by Bithia Mary Croker (1919)
“Standing aloof between the approaches was the house – large, red-tiled, and built back in the shape of the letter ‘T’…”
This is a stylish haunting story set in British Imperial India as helped along by the book’s generous amount of footnotes, a general feature of these Women’s Weird anthologies. Here, of a child-brooding British lady whose cousin brings his wife and delightful children to this part of India, and the lady already there is reluctant to see them move into the eponymous bungalow, but not only because she had grown fond of the children, because the place had been airbrushed till now discovered from some hinterland, but why? Yet it seemed too good to be true for the new family’s needs till whatever backstory curse embodied by the bungalow saw them go ‘home’, which meant to go back to Britain, I see. Whatever the message that was meant to give? The derelict stable area had ‘stray goats’. The actual stray ghost description seen by the children inside the bungalow, however, has left a mark on me and is a moment in such tales of terror to cherish, or to airbrush, too, till one is drawn back to read it again, as I think I might do so to see what else I find in its ‘bran pie’.
“– while I burrowed into the bran, and there interred the bodies of dolls and cats and horses, and all manner of pleasant surprises.”
Bran pie = Brain pie?
From ‘bran pie’ to the next story’s “brain fever”…
Outside the House
by Bessie Kyffin-Taylor (1920)
“He softly kicked the ball of wool on its way, with a sly wink at me, adding – ‘That’s how they get there, unless the Twins walk off with them in another direction, among the trees;…’”
On one level a ludicrously and disarmingly unbelievable plot, on another an effective echo of the First World War trenches and the precarious coal mine working conditions back home. “…the horror lay in the suffocating fog, and in the apparent wish to haul me into some abyss” and the no man’s land between trenches…A mix of real-time account by a defiant but shell-shocked, hell-shocked man with war-injured leg, allowed to visit the large house with what you will ever surely store away in your mind as the Low Lawn, a new archetype to conjure with, and someone else, a fellow soldier as friend, viewing this account in hindsight, as I do, at a shadowy third remove, with my own real-time review of the story he concocts, as truth or dream.
Why was the lame man allowed by his sweetheart to go to meet her family in this large house as her affianced but without her? The house where you had to go indoors at 5 pm into a sort of brief visit to Bonnyville scenario, imprisoned inside from the horrific visions outside, whatever ironmongery files upon a soft hasp can do. Visions that are seriously worthy of the greatest writers of the weird like Machen’s Angel of the Mons and William Hope Hodgson’s House on the Borderland. A very strong story in this way that, for me, has the best description of what I have long found to be gluey or treacly or foggy Zenoism as major themes in much weird literature such as Aickman and many others (see countless reviews on my websites)…”’Something’ retarded my every step! I found myself trying to put into words my inability to get along,…”
And a ‘fairyland of flowers’ inside the house in all the rooms including a domed garden with clock golf! To compensate for keeping the things outside outside! A mutant apotheosis of Elizabeth Bowen!
A brain fever that even makes Cartesian philosophy complicit!
“‘Dear child, I’m a man with a thinking machine. I can’t promise not to think,’ I said.”
Just been informed of this review:
The next story below is also the outside of a house invading within it.
by Marjorie Bowen (1924)
“‘You seem to spend a power of time by the pond,’ she replied. ‘What are you here for?’
‘I’m waiting for something,’ he said. ‘I’m putting in time, Mrs Shute.’”
This is a highly strange and, for me, meaningful, story of a carp pond and a coincidence of names by an author with her own near namesake Elizabeth Bowen, whose work I cherish. I now cherish, with a shudder, her near namesake’s words by reading this work today. A carp that is a man that is a tench, I guess, regarding all my past reviews of John Cowper Powys. The name of FF is scratched on a window in a seaside house to which another woman — a feisty London chorus girl with sluttish ways, also bearing FF as a name, now Mrs Shute — is brought in marriage by a Mr Shute, and she is disappointed by the downtrodden house and its grounds. And she is even more disappointed, to say the least, by the connection with another woman called FF with a backstory that straddles oceans, and a man called Daley or Paley who, having settled in the house’s grounds, more or less embodies that tench, here called carp. It was as if I, too, was destined one day to arrive at reading this story, and so it has been. Another coincidence or material synchronicity? But not before Mrs Shute (the FF who straddles 300 years) sells her sole riches in the form of a diamond to buy “a carpet wreathed with roses, a gaudy dressing-table and phials of perfume, opopanax, frangipane, musk, potent, searing, to dissipate, she said, the odours of must and mildew.” Toward a carpthartic ending…
I reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/12/27/the-outcast-and-the-rite-helen-de-guerry-simpson/#comment-26429, a few weeks ago, in a different book context, as follows…
by Helen Simpson (1925)
Now something even more special, if that were possible! An ‘imaginary friend’ story perhaps even outdoing the more boy-like Slopbasin Soilipsism stories of Walter de la Mare!
Viola starts, of course, here, as a child with her ‘imaginary friend’ she calls Binns, in all the magic of those times and of large houses and sewing rooms, and pareidoliac cosy fires, flames as flowers, and much else like that, and her sense of her head as a bare attic to fill, and getting her own back on her frustrating nurse by spitefully setting Binns to make the scissors start walking on their round-headed handles towards the nurse! A magical kinetic power? Or something even more rarefied? The passages describing these scissors are second to none.
Or is Binns real in some peculiar sense? As she grows older we feel her associative emotions when in France with its strange songs — and even when aged 17 and a man only she seems to know as James woos her, or does she woo him? And she has these daydreams or real sightings by magic of what he is doing when he is not with her. She somehow resents his absences and she calls him back and perhaps it is only myself who thinks his full name may be James Binns even though he is unaware of his own magical existence. I somehow doubt it, but a part of me does wonder…
Her laughter at the end — does she now relate his presence in her room to the shadow that she herself casts of Binns upon its wall? Whatever the case, I cannot do justice to this substantive work, and I am spoilt for choice in quoting from it, so I shall quote nothing.
The House Party at Smoky Island
by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1935)
This is a story that any review of it will inevitably SPOIL, I guess. But here I precariously go… without even a single mention of the white parrot….The fact that I was there, too, among the listed company invited to a social gathering on Smoky Island, at the house thereon, and the nature of the narrator’s knowledge of the various guests about most of whom you receive penned thumbnails. In particular a certain couple as ‘item’ who hold the ominous limelight of the ‘frame’ story, yes, a massive frame story when compared to the ghost story-telling night’s stories that they tell each other, stories about which we receive, again, penned thumbnails. A gamut of a period. The portrait of an era. And thus I particularly felt an affinity with the ‘Bright Young Things’, who, amidst the ghost story-telling, “sat cross-legged on the floor with arms around one another quite indiscriminately as far as sex was concerned … except one languid, sophisticated creature in orange velvet and long amber ear-rings, who sat on a low stool with a lapful of silken housekeeper’s cat, giving everyone an excellent view of the bones in her spine.” That is where I shall leave it, its guestalt complete.
The Black Stone Statue
by Mary Elizabeth Counselman (1937)
“But I was thinking as a sculptor. What do I care for roads or buildings? Sculpture is my whole life!”
This is a singular weird tale of the old school, in many ways ever-prophetic, and needed to be read today in our own times, and duly so, I have been brought to read it by forces unknown to me. A boarding-house ‘frame story’ whereby its now told backstory crystallises and is told to the sculptor as narrator by a third party. This being its inner story of witnessing a part of the Brazilian jungle after a plane crash, the part of the jungle that has turned into an impossibly hard black petrified stone or rock. And a humming blob creature who created such petrification now somehow smuggled back to civilisation and the lust for art-and-its-fame versus the more practical applications of such substance for mankind, and here deploying the lust for what can be the prelude to harnessing a new AI Frankenstein monster of art? Yet, the doubt remains at the end that out of such a monster will become a genuine genius of expression?
“The black stone statue which, ironically, I chose to call Fear of the Unknown, is not a product of my skill.”
The gestalt of literature that is yearned for and with its own autonomous life?
by Stella Gibbons (1937)
“My heart was like stone.”
From the petrifying and humming monster in the previous story above, to a new humming, often a roaring, from bees around rosebushes at a ruined tower in the bay, or some other entity that scared the Cornish community whereto our heroine — with heart of stone against her parents for trying to exorcise her love for a sweetheart — had been exiled for curative purposes. To her Aunt, and a little niece who had been made aware by the village idiot of the source of the humming or roaring… and our heroine defies sense and enters the realm of the Tower, not believing, perhaps, that Time may otherwise have healed her ‘deathless wound’?
A Beauty-and-the-Beast type story that is at times sublimely visionary. A Blakean cartharsis to expunge the ‘carptharsis’ in a different story above.
And there are three telling ‘elbow’ moments in this story, too, as if one day it knew I would read it! Even flowers in the sea…
“…and saw with unseeing, unhappy eyes the conservatories and hothouses of the sea, green fronds and purple and red, swaying below me in innocent beauty.”
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Flowers of the Sea, depicting the story by Reggie Oliver that I helped first publish in 2011 with that title, a writer whose aunt was Stella Gibbons.
By the way, one of the best elbows ever on this book’s cover!