Friday, 20 July 2012

Mr Tilly's Séance

Fiction ~ short story
First published December 1922¹
Collected in Visible and Invisible (1923)
5,875 words
(First read 20/07/2012) 

Mr Tilly's Séance, which is firmly in the comic vein, stands out among the massed ranks of E. F. Benson's spook stories in being² the only one that tells a tale from the point-of-view of the ghost.  Mr Teddy Tilly is a gentleman of indeterminate age, obviously a seasoned bachelor, a tad prissy and tetchy.  On the way to a séance one day he slips under an oncoming steamroller and is comprehensively killed.  Having (as it were) gained his bearings 'on the other side' he decides to go ahead and attend the séance, which is
presided over by his favourite medium, a lady pleased to go by the preposterous name of Mrs Cumberbatch³.  Like all EFB's other mediums, Mrs C isn't just a fraud: she's a fraud who turns out genuinely to have 'the gift'⁴.  He makes contact ~ or whatever it's called ~ but finds to his horror that her mind is something like a swimming-pool full of mud: any message he may want to pass on has to be filtered through her ... and comes out sounding like all her usual fraudulent mediumistic guff.
I'm sure Fred set out to make mock of mediums ... but couldn't quite bring himself to go all the way.  Still, it's a fun story.  It's available online here.

¹ I'm not sure where this first saw the light of day ~ possibly in the American Munsey's Magazine.
² As far as I can remember / As far as I know.
³ Really you couldn't make names like this up, could you?
⁴ Because, in the immortal words of whoever-it-was-who-said-it, Benson wanted to believe.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

At the Farmhouse

Fiction ~ short story
Published in  Hutchinson's Magazine, March 1923
Collected in Visible and Invisible (1923)
6,770 words
(First read 15/07/2012) 

Available online here.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Outcast

Fiction ~ short story
First published in Hutchinson's Magazine, April 1922
Collected in Visible and Invisible (1923)
6,625 words
(First read 11/07/2012) 

Tony and Madge are a comfortable middle-aged couple living in the town of Tarleton¹.  Into the house next-door to them moves a youngish widow named Bertha Chase, who comes with a bit of 'history' to her: her late husband was a fortune-hunter who committed suicide.  The house next-door is reputedly haunted, but it turns out the ghosts are merely of red herrings.  Where was I?  Ah yes, so Madge does her neighbourly duty and finds Mrs Chase 'charming and witty and good-looking and friendly' but with a very large but attached:
But behind all her agreeableness and charm and good looks I suddenly felt there was something else which I detested and dreaded. [...] I felt a horror ~ nothing vivid, nothing close [...] but somewhere in the background.
Anyway, the long and the short of it: with the expert diagnosis of Lord Charles Alington (Madge's brother), Mrs C is revealed to be Benson Type 3, all charm and wonderfulness on the outside, but on the inside irredeemably and irremediably evil.  There ensues a lot of ridiculous hokum which I won't bother to describe, but it all turns out fine in the end.
A story which manages to be both very daft and very dull (it's massively overlong) at the same time.  It's available online here.

¹ It's extremely unlike EFB to set a story in an actual place, least of all one in Lancashire, so I'm assuming he didn't bother to check on this occasion.  Besides, EFB's 'Tarleton' is on the coast; the real one isn't.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Thing in the Hall

Fiction ~ short story
First published in The Room in the Tower and Other Stories, 1912
4,685 words
(First read 05/07/2012) 

I'm rather in two minds about The Thing in the Hall.  In one way it's very routine Benson London spook: two gentlemanfriends live next door to one another; one is a maverick who conjures up an 'elemental' in his living-cum-dining-room ~ the 'hall' of the title; the elemental ends up killing him; the friend (who's a hypnotherapist and the narrator of the piece) looks on first with skepticism, then with horror.  Then again, for a change there isn't masses of signposting of what's going to happen in the end, though we know from early on that things are going to end nastily ~ especially when the maverick casually invokes the name of Satan.  But then again when the critter does reveal itself the effect is rather like one of those $200M CGI-laden Hollywood epics that ends in yet another humdrum fistfight between the white hat and the black: it turns out to be pretty much a carbon copy of the one in 'And No Bird Sings ...' (1926), kind of a cross between an overgrown slug and a walrus, with no plan other than to vampirize folk.
So, it sort of works.  It's available online here.

I'd appreciate it if anyone could enlighten me as to what this bolded part might mean.  This comes at a point where our two chaps, having (as it were) lost touch with their spook, have called in a professional medium to see if he can 'find' it.  The pro is successful but ends up being attacked by the creature; afterwards
There on the floor lay the medium, Louis [that's the maverick] was kneeling by him with a face of wet paper, but there was nothing else there.
Does it just mean he's turned white? or does it mean he's been crying?
You'll not be surprised to hear that though the medium survives the attack
I never saw him again.  A week after that he died of blood-poisoning.
Such are the dangers of being a minor ~ or even a major ~ character in an E. F. Benson yarn.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Outside the Door

Fiction ~ short story
First published in London Magazine, January 1910
Collected in The Room in the Tower (1912)
3,055 words
(First read 03/07/2012) 

Outside the Door is more interesting for containing a clear(ish) exposition of a favourite 'spook' idea of EFB's than as an actual ghost story.  The idea is that just as violent human emotions ~ most notably fear ~ can affect the body, so too can they affect the physical fabric of surrounding objects, so that the objects become somehow permanently 'imbued' with those emotions: hence a lot of ghostly manifestations are merely 'echoes' of past events.  (Well, something like that, anyway.)  Benson then goes on to illustrate his theory with a woefully humdrum haunting which wouldn't so much as disconcert a highly-strung nun.
You can judge for yourself by reading it online here.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Final Edition

Non-fiction ~ memoirs
Published 1940
Approx. 83,000 words
(First read 02/07/2012)