“To Burford it was that Commons Speaker, Lenthall, retired: there he built his beautiful home, now almost a ruin, and there he died and was buried.”
I was not disappointed by the many classic M.R. Jamesian frissons that this story invoked and they felt, to me, perfectly formed as a gestalt that will remain haunting.
And there was a feeling, too, that — as I have gradually been discovering while continuing to re-read MRJ’s works (here reading this one for the first time) and as I apply my gestalt-real-time reviewing process to them — literally preternatural forces become even more powerful, such as the connections that somehow MRJ provides into the future, some of which are beyond anything he could have intended … and the more we connect with him in this way, even more forces will surely accrue.
Here I could not help but smile at the place name of Burford being related to a Commons Speaker, with its rough Bercow assonance, and for those who have ever seen cattle fords! And used three times in this work is the word ‘erection’ for the ugly monument to Speaker Lenthall in the St Mary’s Church, that the young bumptious even rude Harry Cave wishes to demolish as part of the Gothic revival, (and I was interested by what I read in this work and then researched for myself about Pugin et al.)
But I believe the women in this story are the stars of it, women who favour a different approach of preservation, one being Harry’s sister Mary who has the same name as this church which is local to Burford — and the other is the only Lenthall relative left alive, a feisty lady who is around 90 years old and beautifully characterised by this story, including her male-like voice and her rather thick white eyebrows later somehow resonating with a “white window blind” as part of the horrors summoned to punish Harry for commencing the monument’s destruction… and those horrors which I will not detail here are indeed wonderfully conjured up.
And finally I will mention this work’s explicit reference to “female taste”…and the sentiment expressed of — ”Surely there may be beautiful things made in more styles than one.”
This story was first published earlier this year in GHOSTS & SCHOLARS #42
My other reviews of M.R. James: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/my-ongoing-reviews-of-m-r-james-stories/
My previous reviews of John Linwood Grant: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/john-linwood-grant/