Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Tale of an Empty House

Fiction ~ short story [AKA: A Tale of an Empty House]
Published in Hutchinson's Magazine, June 1925
Collected in Spook Stories (1928)
5,170 words
(First read 23/08/2012) 

On his way to a golfing holiday with his pal Hugh Grainger, here bearing the very thin Bensonian disguise 'Jack Granger', our Unnamed Narrator stumbles across what sounds to me like an utterly ghastly place on the Norfolk coast.  He thinks it's wonderful, though, so invites Hugh-I-mean-Jack to come and join him there.  On a desolate spit of land stands an empty house, where our duo of chums are forced to shelter from a storm, and wherein Jack has an extremely close encounter with an invisible ghost-with-a-limp.  Apart from the climax, which is over in 18 lines, the whole thing is pretty yawny and, as happens all too often, the final sewing-up left me simply reeling with boredom.
It's available online here

A Tale of an Empty House concerns the unsuitable ambitions of the despicable 'day-labourer' Alfred Maldon, whose fate is to inherit the story’s abandoned and unwanted property as a clause of his damnation.
~James Mooney at “Tychy”, 25/07/2011. Quoted from here.


Friday, 17 August 2012


Fiction ~ short story
Published in Hutchinson's Magazine, May 1924
Collected in Spook Stories (1928)
6,570 words
(First read 17/08/2012) 

So-called automatic writing
Spinach is one of EFB's rare comic spook stories¹.  Or rather, it starts off promisingly as a comic story, degenerates into a humdrum spook story, and only comes alive again in the last paragraph.
Brother and sister Ludovic and Sylvia Byron are a couple of phoney mediums ... oh don't listen to me, here's Fred's opening paragraph, the best in the story:
Ludovic Byron and his sister Sylvia had adopted these pretty, though quite incredible, names because those for which their injudicious parents and godparents were responsible were not so suitable, though quite as incredible.  They rightly felt that there was a lack of spiritual suggestiveness in Thomas and Caroline Carrot which would be a decided handicap in their psychical careers, and would cool rather than kindle the faith of those inquirers who were so eager to have séances with the Byrons.
Spinach (not actually relevant)
EFB has great fun describing their methods and results, as he always does when poking fun at fake spiritists.  Anyway, one of their top customers, Mrs Sapson ('a large, emphatic widow'), arranges for them to go and spend a holiday at her recently vacated cottage near Rye².  There they discover that they have genuine mediumistic powers and are actually able to photograph the extremely 'fresh' ghost that besieges them, though one suspects he would have manifested himself to pretty much anyone who happened to be available.  I'll not give away the climax ~ just say that I found it only mildly amusing.
So: starts well, long saggy middle section, ends well.  It's available online here.

¹ For the others click on the 'comic spook' tag.
² Yes, actually named as such, for once.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Face

Fiction ~ short story
Published in Hutchinson's Magazine, February 1924; collected in Spook Stories (1928)
5,510 words
(First read 12/08/2012) 

The Face differs from the vast bulk of EFB's spook stories in two respects.  Firstly, the protagonist is a woman and, scarcely credible though it may seem, she's a perfectly ordinary, normal, level-headed, even admirable young woman.  Secondly, the story is left very much hanging at the end: if you put your mind to it, you could sit and puzzle over the mystery for a good three quarters of an hour.
Hester Ward seemingly has everything: good looks, dosh, excellent health, adorable husband and kiddies.  The only nasty black speck in the cold cream of her existence is that she's been having the one recurring and terrifying premonitory nightmare since she was a child and not only are the occurrences growing more frequent, the dream itself is becoming more threatening.  In her dream she encounters a hideous face on a lonely stretch of coast she's never visited in real life.
All Saints, Dunwich, Suffolk*
Her doctor, seconded by her husband, tells her she's overwrought and needs a break.  So they send her off ... to a lonely stretch of the East coast she's never visited before.  The rest is (0bviously) guessable.  At the end Hester proves to have spunk as well as all her other qualities ... but alas! it's too late.  I can pretty much guarantee that the ending will have you scratching your head and going, "Eh? huh? what? but how? ... who? ... why?" etc.
So ... so the main reason The Face stands out from the crowd is for what it doesn't contain rather than what it does.  It features no middle-aged betweeded, whisky-and-soda-supping, picquet-playing gents in search of ghosties; nor does the mystery end up gift-wrapped in a neat little box with a pink bow ~ it ends, instead, in unfathomable oblivion.  But, as so often, it's at least twice as long as it needed to be, and the dénouement can be seen standing out on the horizon from the middle of page 2.
It's available online here.

* Benson may well have been thinking of this church when he wrote The Face.  The last bits of All Saints, Dunwich fell into the sea in 1919 or 1922, depending on who you ask.
For a 'pre-visit' to Dunwich see The Dust-cloud (1906).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


Fiction ~ short story
Published in Hutchinson's Magazine, July 1924
Collected in Spook Stories (1928)
5,590 words
(First read 08/08/2012) 

Reconciliation is EFB's hommage to his favourite novel, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.  Luckily for us he doesn't set it in the wastes of Northern England¹ but in an unspecified location in the South, possibly Hampshire or Dorset, though it could equally well be Cornwall or Kent.
Hugh Verrall's family have owned Garth Place since the time of Queen Anne², when his ancestor and namesake took it in payment of gambling debts from the previous owner, a wastrel named Francis Garth.  The latter died in penury shortly thereafter and proceeded to haunt the place for some time but, at the time our story happens, the hauntings have been in abeyance for some while³.  Now then, when our Unnamed Narrator comes to stay, the ghost makes a reappearance and hangs around right up until the time⁴ when, for unrelated reasons, Hugh is forced to sell the house ... and sells it to a direct descendant of the original Francis Garth.  Obviously the ending is a happy one.
Verdict: Far more interesting as a take on Wuthering Heights than as a ghost story ~ U.N. (as lily-livered as ever) seems to be the only person actually afraid of the spook, which does nothing more significant than ... well, hang around a lot ~, Reconciliation is a pleasant if somewhat long-winded read.  It's available online here.

¹ Unlike, for example, Corstophine (also 1924). 
² Which is to say circa 1700.
³ For some mysterious reason Benson, usually the stickler for precise time periods, is very reticent on the numbers here.
⁴ Sorry, I'm making a gash of this but the time frame is a pain to describe: U.N. starts in the present, recalls his first visit to Garth Place, during which he was told the Garth/Verrall story that happened 200 years previously, then returns to the visit, and finally back to the present.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Roderick's Story

Fiction ~ short story
First published in Hutchinson's Magazine, May 1923
Collected in Visible and Invisible, October 1923
5,690 words
(First read 04/08/2012) 

Lamb House, Rye, in EFB's day
I have only one good thing to say about Roderick's Story but I'll say all the others first.  In it EFB displays all his worst habits as a writer: the 'plot' is absurd, risible, ludicrous; the 'characters' are nothing more than pawns to be shunted this way and that, stricken with mysterious but oh so convenient diseases, and/or prematurely culled; the dénouement is signposted well in advance; the 'emotions', including a sizeable dollop of Victorian sentiment, are stereotyped, phoned in from Sentiments'Я'us; the whole is a clumsy, garbled mess.
I'll not trouble you with the storyline (you'd think I was making it up anyway) but here are one or two of Roderick's most salient features: (i) a minute description of Lamb House (not named thus or at all) in Rye (named Tilling) which belongs to Unknown and Featureless Narrator ~ more of him soon; (ii) a case of such extreme stiff-upper-lip that it's actually tipped over into insanity; (iii) a typical Bensonian love-hate triangle: a woman suffers nobly while her horrid husband lives and ~ for reasons known only to EFB ~ continues to suffer after his death; (iv) two handsome lads (18, 19) dying in the European War; (v) a certain amount of uncertain thinking re spiritism; (vi) some golf ~ as if we weren't already miserable enough!; and (vii) I repeat: a plot so preposterous that I can't think of adequate terms to describe it.
Anyway, the one good thing I mentioned earlier is this: Our Unknown Narrator has asked his pal Roderick to read and comment on some of his (U.N.'s) ghost stories for a forthcoming volume.  Quote Roddy:
"[...] you will make a book that not only is inartistic, all shadows and no light, but a false book.  [...] You play godfather to your stories, you see: you tell them in the first person, [...] and that, though it need not be supposed that those experiences were actually yours, yet gives a sort of guarantee that you believe the borderland of which you write to be entirely terrible." [etc.]
Now that I come to look at it again, Roderick's thought is about as clear as U.N.'s ~ or E F Benson's ~ thinking on spiritism and revenants, so even the thing I thought was good isn't.
It's available online here.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

In the Tube

Fiction ~ short story
Published December 1922
5,720 words
(First read 02/08/2012)