Tuesday Terror! Mr Justice Harbottle by J Sheridan Le Fanu

in a glass darkly“Make mad the guilty…”

It’s been many years since I last read Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly collection, and I really didn’t remember much about it. However, last year I read a critical edition of Carmilla, which is one of the stories in the collection, and enjoyed his writing style a good deal, though I can’t say I found it particularly scary. A look at the introduction to the collection reminded me that the overall premise is that each story is taken from the case histories of one Dr Martin Hesselius, a doctor who explains seemingly psychic phenomena in terms of mental illness…but Le Fanu leaves the reader less certain that the tales can be so easily explained away. The introduction also suggests that Mr Justice Harbottle is one of the more dramatic of the tales, so it seemed a good choice for…

Tuesday Terror!

Judge Harbottle is known as a hanging judge and is suspected of using his position and domineering personality to rig trials to get a guilty verdict, while his personal life is one of debauchery and drunkenness. As the story begins, he is about to preside over the trial of Lewis Pyneweck on charges of forging a bill of exchange. Just before the trial, the Judge receives a mysterious visitor who informs him that a secret society, calling themselves the High Court of Appeal, will be watching the trial and in particular the Judge himself to see that he behaves fairly. But he has a personal reason to despatch Pyneweck by the way of the gibbet, since some years ago the Judge seduced Pyneweck’s wife and took her child and her to live with him.

But as the trial progresses and after its outcome, the Judge begins to be haunted by visions of some of the people he has unfairly hanged and during one vision finds himself being tried by the High Court of Appeal, presided over by a judge who looks and acts like a monstrous version of Harbottle himself.  Are these visions real – have the people wronged by the judge returned to exact vengeance? Or is the judge suffering delusions brought on by guilt and debauchery?

Illustration by  Finn Campbell-Notman
Illustration by Finn Campbell-Notman

The story is very well written – long enough to allow for some good characterisation, particularly of the Judge himself, but short enough so that the pacing never slows too much. There were a couple of moments that took me by surprise and, while my eyes didn’t start from their spheres exactly, they certainly widened a little. The ending was effective, although not altogether unpredictable. Definitely a story worth reading which, while it didn’t leave me with nightmares, nor did it give me any desire to giggle, and it’s certainly left me keen to read more of the collection.

Fretful porpentine rating:  😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Next week on Tuesday Terror! – Susan Hill

19 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Mr Justice Harbottle by J Sheridan Le Fanu

  1. Glad you are enjoying Le Fanu. I like his era of horror – the authors don’t feel the need either to gross their readers out or to dot every “I” or cross every “t”. Can I suggest Lord Dunsany for a whiss of Celtic terror -some time around 2020, I presume.

    • So far, I can’t say any of the stories I’ve read have scared me, but I haven’t given up hope.

      Yes, and I did find it quite scary! At least I did when I saw it in the cinema – it never had the same effect on TV.

      • When you find one, tell the professor. I’ve never been a fan of horror, though.

        Interesting! I’ve seen parts of the old and new one. The professor just doesn’t usually like that sort of thing. But the music (to the first) is just fabulous.

        • I will. Nor me, but some of the classics are worth reading just for the quality of the writing. And I live in hope of finding a modern writer who lives up to those standards…and anyway I’ve got to fill that Tuesday slot with something! 😉

          Is it? I don’t remember…must watch it again sometime.

          • Well I’m sure the new S&S would be perfect for Tuesday Terror.

            Oh no, don’t watch it again. Too scary. The music is too. You know, the guy who wrote the music, Goldsmith, also wrote the music to Star Trek the movie. I believe they use his theme in TNG–which the professor has been watching, by the way.

            • I don’t think the book is as scary as my review. You may have to avert your eyes when I post it 😯

              Youtubed it – it is scary. But I think we need a PL horror story complete with soundtrack by Sepperl…

              Have you?? (Oh, I do hope that’s not what’s made you unwell… 😉 ) What do you think of it? I promise I won’t pout if you hate it…

            • Now I can’t wait!

              For Halloween. It’s in pre-production.

              Yes, I have! (Not at all. It’s kept the professor company throughout the sickness.) I actually have enjoyed it immensely. I like Worf (hope I spelled that right!), but my favorite is the guy with the sunglasses.

            • Yay!! I can’t wait either! Scary soundtrack?

              And yay again! As you’ll have gathered I love it, but thought it might be a bit dated for you. I love Worf, and Geordie is a great character, but my true loves are Jean-Luc Picard and Data. Patrick Stewart is such a great actor – stage and screen.

            • Yes! I’m working with Sepperl on that.

              Not at all dated. The professor watches lots of things that are dated… Geordie! That’s the fella’s name. I couldn’t figure it out!

              (I was sorely tempted to lie and say something negative just so I could hear you pout…)

            • Wowawee! I shall be ready to draw the curtains and listen by candlelight…

              I know you do – that’s why it is so difficult to pin down the Professor’s agelessness!

              Dear C-W-W should know by now that, when I pout, I tend to do it silently… 😉

  2. I read Carmilla as part of a seminar on Freud and the uncanny at university. To me, these types of books aren’t scary in the traditional sense. It has more to do with leaving the reader wondering about the mysterious connections that lie below the surface of human interaction. Connections that give the reader chills.

    • Certainly I find psychological stories much scarier than ghosties and ghoulies – the more possible something is, the more frightening. May explain my serial killer fetish – purely fictional ones, I hasten to add. The lit-crit of Carmilla was a fascinating book – I actually enjoyed the various critiques more than the story, I think. I think I’d have enjoyed that seminar…

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