Tuesday Terror! Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

Read after dark…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

In terms of horror writing, it could be said that Sheridan Le Fanu needs no introduction, but in fact the introduction in this new collection of his work adds a lot of interesting insight into his life and work. Aaron Worth, Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Boston University, discusses whether Le Fanu was really the originator of weird fiction, as a term as well as a sub-genre, as is sometimes claimed. This, of course, depends very much on how the term ‘weird fiction’ is defined, and Worth shows how it has changed over time, from something implying “a coherent, ordered cosmic system” to its currently popular meaning of “cosmic meaningless”. He also discusses the influence on Le Fanu’s work of his position as an Anglo-Irish Protestant of Huguenot descent living as part of a ruling class over a largely Catholic country.

J Sheridan Le Fanu

Personally I think of Le Fanu as Gothic rather than weird, but all these definitions are a bit vague round the edges and tend to meld into one another. However he is classified, there’s no doubt he wrote some great stories and influenced many of the writers who came after him. This collection contains twelve stories, three of them novella length, and an exceptionally fine bunch they are, including some of his best known such as Green Tea, Schalken the Painter and my own favourite vampire story, the wonderful Carmilla. Individually I gave six of them the full five stars, and the other six got either four or four and a half, so this ranks as one of the most highly rated horror collections I’ve reviewed. In most cases where more than one version of the story exists, Worth has gone back to the original and that seemed to me to work very well – there were a few of the stories I’d read before that I enjoyed more here, either because later changes had been stripped out or because the excellent notes provided extra information that enhanced my reading. I’ve said it before, but this is another example of how a well curated collection can become greater than the sum of its parts.

When so many of the stories are good, it’s hard to pick just a few to highlight, but these are ones I particularly enjoyed:

Borrhomeo the Astrologer – Set in Milan in 1630, a plague year. Borrhomeo is an alchemist, seeking the elixir of life and the potion that will turn lead into gold. The devil, disguised as a young man, turns up and tempts him by giving him enough of the elixir to allow him to live for a thousand years. But in return he must go out and spread the pestilence to all the churches and holy houses in the city. The moral of the story is – never trust the devil offering gifts! Borrhomeo’s fate may be well deserved but I’m not sure what the Court of Human Rights would have to say about it… 😱

Green Tea – The story of a clergyman who, through drinking too much green tea, begins to hallucinate – or is it real? – a monkey that goes everywhere with him. This is bad enough, but when the monkey begins to speak, cursing foully and blasphemously, the clergyman finds he can no longer pray. He contacts Dr Hesselius, a specialist in such matters of the mind, but will Hesselius be able to find a cure for his problem before it’s too late? There’s lots in this about Swedenborg – a Swedish theologian and philosopher whose rather strange ideas, Worth tells us, Le Fanu used more than once as an influence for his stories.

The Haunted House in Westminster – This story is probably better known as Mr Justice Harbottle from Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly collection, but here Worth has given us the original, and for me it works better in this format. The corrupt and cruel hanging judge deliberately hangs a man whose wife he has taken to be his housekeeper – a euphemism for mistress, of course. But the judge then receives a letter warning him he will be tried for this crime in a “Court of Appeals”. This is no ordinary part of the justice system though – one night the judge falls asleep and finds himself in a very strange and frightening court, waiting for judgement to be handed down… 😱

Carmilla – not the first vampire story, but one of the best and certainly one of the most influential on the vampire genre. This is novella length, which allows room for character development, but keeps it tighter and more focused than a full length novel would be (looking at you, Dracula!). When a young girl falls ill close to Laura’s isolated Gothic Austrian home, Laura’s father takes her in. Laura feels immediately drawn to her, having dreamt about her in childhood. But Carmilla has a secret… and sharp teeth! Full of mild lesbian eroticism and a wonderful mix of the Gothic and folklore traditions, this has some great horror imagery, such as the coffin half-filled with blood in which the vampire sleeps. Much better than Dracula’s dirt!

I have also previously highlighted two of the stories in Tuesday Terror! posts – Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter and Madam Crowl’s Ghost.

Wonderful stuff! Enough horror to satisfy those who like to shiver, but also great writing and lots to analyse for those who prefer to dig a little deeper, guided by an expert. Highly recommended!

After that the porpy has decided he’s going into hibernation! He thanks you for your company and will be back in autumn, rested and ready to quiver again!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Tuesday Terror! Madam Crowl’s Ghost by Sheridan Le Fanu

Deathly dialect…

Taken from the collection Green Tea and Other Weird Stories, this is one of several stories Le Fanu wrote in a Northumbrian dialect. I have no idea how authentic it is, but I love it – there’s a kind of softness and lilt to the words and phrasing that seems made for relating ghostly tales by the light of the fire. So here we go for this week’s…

Madam Crowl’s Ghost
by Sheridan Le Fanu

J Sheridan Le Fanu

I’m an ald woman now, and I was but thirteen, my last birthday, the night I came to Applewale House. My aunt was the housekeeper there…

Already anxious and homesick, the girl’s fears are increased by the teasing of two fellow passengers on the coach, on hearing where she was headed…

“Ho, then,” says one of them, “you’ll not be long there!”

And I looked at him as much as to say “Why not?” for I had spoken out when I told them where I was goin’, as if ’twas something clever I hed to say.

“Because,” says he, “and don’t you for your life tell no one, only watch her and see—she’s possessed by the devil, and more an half a ghost.”

The sight of the old house does nothing to cheer her up…

A great white-and-black house it is, wi’ great black beams across and right up it, and gables lookin’ out, as white as a sheet, to the moon, and the shadows o’ the trees, two or three up and down in front, you could count the leaves on them, and all the little diamond-shaped winda-panes, glimmering on the great hall winda, and great shutters, in the old fashion, hinged on the wall outside, boulted across all the rest o’ the windas in front…

The girl’s aunt and another woman share the task of looking after old Madam Crowl, whose mind is beginning to fail and she sometimes has periods of a kind of insanity. It’s a while before the girl gets to see the old lady, but one day her aunt has gone off to have a cup of tea while Madam Crowl is asleep, and tells the girl to listen out for any signs of her wakening. The girl can’t resist the temptation to take a quick peep at her ancient mistress on her bed…

There she was, dressed out. You never sid the like in they days. Satin and silk, and scarlet and green, and gold and pint lace; by Jen! ’twas a sight! A big powdered wig, half as high as herself, was a-top o’ her head, and, wow!—was ever such wrinkles?—and her old baggy throat all powdered white, and her cheeks rouged, and mouse-skin eyebrows, that Mrs. Wyvern used to stick on, and there she lay proud and stark, wi’ a pair o’ clocked silk hose on, and heels to her shoon as tall as nine-pins. Lawk! . . . Her wrinkled little hands was stretched down by her sides, and such long nails, all cut into points, I never sid in my days. Could it ever a bin the fashion for grit fowk to wear their fingernails so?

(Mouse-skin eyebrows?!?!? Aargh!!!)

Suddenly the old woman wakes…

And in an instant she opens her eyes and up she sits, and spins herself round, and down wi’ her, wi’ a clack on her two tall heels on the floor, facin’ me, ogglin’ in my face wi’ her two great glassy eyes, and a wicked simper wi’ her wrinkled lips, and lang fause teeth… Says she:

“Ye little limb! what for did ye say I killed the boy? I’ll tickle ye till ye’re stiff!”

(Illustration by Charles William Stewart
for the Folio Society)

Terrified, the girl flees to her aunt, who seems to find a disturbing meaning in the old woman’s words. But Madam Crowl’s remaining time is short, and soon she is in the throes of her last, uneasy illness…

She pined, and windered, and went off, torflin’, torflin’, quiet enough, till a day or two before her flittin’, and then she took to rabblin’, and sometimes skirlin’ in the bed, ye’d think a robber had a knife to her throat, and she used to work out o’ the bed, and not being strong enough, then, to walk or stand, she’d fall on the flure, wi’ her ald wizened hands stretched before her face, and skirlin’ still for mercy.

* * * * *

The version I’m linking to is slightly different to the one in the book but not significantly. The book doesn’t have the short introduction, so the narrator isn’t named. Although there are some unfamiliar words sprinkled throughout, it’s not hard to guess their meaning from the context, and of course the notes in the Oxford World’s Classics edition I was reading explain any that might be a bit too obscure.

The story is dark – a mix of human evil and supernatural horror, made scarier by being seen through the eyes of such a young narrator. The porpy quivered quite a bit at points, while I loved the language and the perfectly paced build up to a satisfyingly ghoulish conclusion.

It’s reasonably short – I think it only took me twenty minutes or so to read. If you’d like to read it, here’s a link.

(The porpy is becoming a big Le Fanu fan…)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 258…

Episode 258

A tiny drop in the TBR this week – down 1 to 197. Not the most impressive achievement, but baby steps, baby steps…

(I know, I’ve used that one before, but it’s too good to only use once!)

Here are a few more that will be slipping off soon…

Classic Reviewalong

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

One for the Classics Club. When this one came up on a recent People’s Choice poll it lost, but Alyson suggested we read it anyway and co-ordinate our reviews and comments on 26th October, and a few other people decided that sounded like fun. So a reminder to Alyson, Christine and Eva if you’re still interested, and an invitation to anyone else who fancies joining in. (Sadly, Sandra has had to pull out of this one.) I have read this before but so long ago I remember very little about it except that it didn’t blow me away to the same extent as The Great Gatsby

The Blurb says: Between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash the French Riviera was the stylish place for wealthy Americans to visit. Among the most fashionable are the Divers, Dick and Nicole who hold court at their villa. Into their circle comes Rosemary Hoyt, a film star, who is instantly attracted to them, but understands little of the dark secrets and hidden corruption that hold them together. As Dick draws closer to Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his marriage and sets both Nicole and himself on to a dangerous path where only the strongest can survive. In this exquisite, lyrical novel, Fitzgerald has poured much of the essence of his own life; he has also depicted the age of materialism, shattered idealism and broken dreams.

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Horror

Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

I have been the lucky recipient of a ton of anthologies and collections this year to feed my Tuesday Terror!, Transwarp Tuesday!, and even my long neglected Tuesday ‘Tec! short story slots. Here’s the first, courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics – a new collection just in time for spooky season. The porpy is thrilled! 

The Blurb says: Sheridan Le Fanu is one of the indispensable figures in the history of Gothic and horror fiction-the most important such writer in English, certainly, between Poe and M. R. James. While a number of his sensation and mystery novels were popular with mid-Victorian readers, it was in shorter forms that he truly excelled, and most showed himself an innovator in the field of uncanny fiction. Tales such as ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Green Tea’ prompted M. R. James to remark, ‘he succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer’.

This landmark critical edition includes the original versions of all five stories later collected in the superb In a Glass Darkly, along with seven equally chilling tales spanning the length of Le Fanu’s career, from ‘Schalken the Painter‘, a pioneering story of the walking dead, to ‘Laura Silver Bell’, a haunting exploration of the dark side of fairy lore.

Aaron Worth’s introduction discusses the paranoid, claustrophobic world of Le Fanu’s fiction as a counterpoint-one in its own way equally modern-to the cosmic horror tale as practiced by such writers as H. P. Lovecraft.

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Detectives

Bodies from the Library 3 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I loved Bodies from the Library 2 so have high hopes for this anthology…

The Blurb says: This new volume in the Bodies from the Library series features the work of 18 prolific authors who, like Christie and Crofts, saw their popularity soar during the Golden Age. Aside from novels, they all wrote short fiction – stories, serials and plays – and although most of them have been collected in books over the last 100 years, here are the ones that got away…

In this book you will encounter classic series detectives including Colonel Gore, Roger Sheringham, Hildegarde Withers and Henri Bencolin; Hercule Poirot solves ‘The Incident of the Dog’s Ball’; Roderick Alleyn returns to New Zealand in a recently discovered television drama by Ngaio Marsh; and Dorothy L. Sayers’ chilling ‘The House of the Poplars’ is published for the first time.

With a full-length novella by John Dickson Carr and an unpublished radio script by Cyril Hare, this diverse collection concludes with some early ‘flash fiction’ commissioned by Collins’ Crime Club in 1938. Each mini story had to feature an orange, resulting in six very different tales from Peter Cheyney, Ethel Lina White, David Hume, Nicholas Blake, John Rhode and – in his only foray into writing detective fiction – the publisher himself, William Collins.

* * * * *

Science Fiction

Born of the Sun edited by Mike Ashley

The British Library has been super generous with sci-fi and horror anthologies, so I’m looking forward to sharing the others with you soon. This is the first on my list, and I love the idea of travelling the solar system in this way…

The Blurb says: An original concept featuring a Golden Age science fiction for every planet in the Solar System, Born of the Sun includes never-before-republished material from the British Library collection – effectively exclusive by their rarity. This is the 7th of our weighty Science Fiction Classics anthologies, a set which wonderfully embodies the Golden Age of the genre.

Terror in the steamy jungles of Venus, encounters on the arid expanse of Jupiter; asteroids mysteriously bursting with vegetation whizz past and reveal worlds beyond imagination orbiting the giver of all known life – the Sun. Mike Ashley curates this literary tour through the space around this heavenly body, taking in the sights of Mercury, Venus, Mars, an alternate Earth, strange goings on on Saturn and tales from a bizarre civilization on Neptune. Pluto (still a planet in the Classic period of Science fiction) becomes the site for a desperate tale of isolation, and a nameless point at the limits of the Sun’s orbital space gives rise to a final poetic vision of this spot in the universe we call home…

Born of the Sun collects one story for each of the planets thought to be in our solar system during the Golden Age of Science fiction, from some of the greatest, and from some of the most obscure, authors of the genre. Featuring the genius works of Larry Niven, Poul Andersen, Clifford D Simak, Clare Winger Harris and many more.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Tuesday Terror! Schalken the Painter by Sheridan Le Fanu

Men! Tchah!

The evenings have grown long and dark, the porpy is awake from his summer hibernation and practising his quivering, the ghosts have donned their freshly laundered sheets – it’s time for terror! And what better way to start than with a classic tale from a master of horror, taken from this brand new collection, Green Tea and Other Weird Stories, issued by Oxford World’s Classics just in time to scare us all into fits this spooky season…

Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter
by Sheridan Le Fanu

J Sheridan Le Fanu

Our narrator is admiring a painting of a lovely young girl, painted years before by the Dutch painter, Schalken, and now owned by the narrator’s friend…

In its hand the figure bears a lamp, by whose light alone the form and face are illuminated; the features are marked by an arch smile, such as pretty women wear when engaged in successfully practicing some roguish trick;…

But there is another figure in the painting…

…in the background, and, excepting where the dim red light of an expiring fire serves to define the form, totally in the shade, stands the figure of a man equipped in the old fashion, with doublet and so forth, in an attitude of alarm, his hand being placed upon the hilt of his sword, which he appears to be in the act of drawing.

The painting’s owner tells the tale which is said to have inspired the painting – the tale of Rose, whom Schalken, when young, loved and lost.

Rose Velderkaust was very young, having, at the period of which we speak, not yet attained her seventeenth year, and, if tradition speaks truth, possessed all the soft dimpling charms of the fair, light-haired Flemish maidens.

“Young Girl with a Candle”
by Gottfried Schalken

Rose was the niece of the painter under whom Schalken was studying, Gerard Douw. She soon grew to love Schalken too, but he was poor and could not aspire to her hand until he had made his mark in his chosen career, so he set to at his studies with a good will, and the two young people were content to wait.

But one evening, while Schalken had stayed late to continue his work after all the other pupils had left, he was disturbed by the arrival of a sinister stranger, half-hidden in the gloom of the room…

There was an air of gravity and importance about the garb of this person, and something indescribably odd, I might say awful, in the perfect, stone-like movelessness of the figure, that effectually checked the testy comment which had at once risen to the lips of the irritated artist.

The stranger asked Schalken to arrange for Douw to meet him there the following night. This Douw duly did, and the stranger revealed his name, Wilken Vanderhausen, and his purpose…

“You visited the town of Rotterdam some four months ago, and then I saw in the church of St. Lawrence your niece, Rose Velderkaust. I desire to marry her, and if I satisfy you as to the fact that I am very wealthy, more wealthy than any husband you could dream of for her, I expect that you will forward my views to the utmost of your authority.”

Blieck Church of St. Lawrence in Rotterdam

Now, Douw knew nothing about this man and was repelled by his appearance and manner, but when the stranger handed him a box full of pure gold ingots, he immediately decided Vanderhausen would make a perfect husband for his beloved niece, for, as he explained to the appalled Rose…

“Rose, my girl, it is very true he has not thy pretty face, but I know him to be wealthy and liberal; and were he ten times more ugly” – (“which is inconceivable,” observed Rose) – these two virtues would be sufficient” continued her uncle “to counterbalance all his deformity, and if not of power sufficient actually to alter the shape of his features, at least of efficacy enough to prevent one thinking them amiss.”

…and what are women, after all, if not chattels to be sold to the highest bidder? And so within the week, Rose is married off to Vanderhausen, and whisked away by him to Rotterdam. Weeks pass, and no word is heard of the newlyweds, and a worried Douw can find no trace of them at the address Vanderhausen had given them. But one dark night, a frantic knocking is heard at the door, and Rose is admitted, in a state of profound terror. She begs her uncle to bring her a minister of God…

“Oh that the holy man were here,” she said; “he can deliver me: the dead and the living can never be one: God has forbidden it… Do not, do not leave me for a moment,” said she; “I am lost for ever if you do…”

* * * * *

The odd thing is that I’ve read this story before and thought it was okay, but this time I loved it! This is apparently the original version of the story from 1839, whereas it’s usually a later revised version that shows up in collections. I haven’t directly compared them and it’s quite a while since I read the later version, but it seems to me that this version fills in more of the blanks, and gives it more depth. Le Fanu uses the real Schalken’s painting style, of showing figures in dark rooms lit only by a single candle or lamp, to great effect, with most of the scenes in the story being full of shadowy corners and menacing gloom.

Although Schalken gets the billing in the title, it’s really Douw, as a man who equates money with worth, and poor Rose, the victim in different ways of each of the three men in her life, who are the stars. Douw is a decent man by the standards of his time, behaving merely as his society expects, and Schalken is a weak one, putting up no fight for his love. They both fail Rose, leaving her with no protection against the horror of Vanderhausen. When the story reaches its climax, they have a last chance to save her, but will they? You’ll have to read it to find out…

It’s nicely creepy without being terrifying, very well written as you’d expect from Le Fanu, lots to analyse if you’re that way inclined, and the porpy and I found it a great way to kick off our annual spookfest! The revised version is available online, but I couldn’t find this original version.

The porpy has had his hair done ready for the new season.

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

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NB For the benefit of new readers since it’s the porpy’s first appearance for the season, the fretful porpentine reference comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

So the Fretful Porpentine rating is for the scariness factor, whereas the Overall rating is for the story’s quality.

Tuesday Terror! The White Cat of Drumgunniol by J Sheridan Le Fanu

Who’s afraid of the big, bad cat?

 

Since it is Reading Ireland Month, it seems only appropriate that we should have a bit of Irish horror before the nights lighten and the porpentine goes into hibernation. And any story with “White Cat” in the title already chills me to the marrow – my Tommy may have the occasional black blobby bit, but I suspect that’s just to lull people into a false sense of security. But he’d never harm me… would he?

2014-01-08 00.02.09

Anyway. Let’s find out what his doppelganger is up to in this week’s…

 

Tuesday Terror

The White Cat of Drumgunniol
by J Sheridan Le Fanu

.

J Sheridan Le Fanu (source: wikipedia)
J Sheridan Le Fanu

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The story is told to the narrator by Daniel Donovan, a teacher, a simple, honest man with a “dreamy mind”. Dan tells first of an experience he had as a boy, while sitting reading by the little lough on the property, a deep pool. He saw approach a woman wearing an out-dated long grey dress…

When she came near I could see that her feet were bare, and that she seemed to be looking steadfastly upon some remote object for guidance. Her route would have crossed me—had the tarn not interposed—about ten or twelve yards below the point at which I was sitting. But instead of arresting her course at the margin of the lough, as I had expected, she went on without seeming conscious of its existence, and I saw her, as plainly as I see you, sir, walk across the surface of the water, and pass, without seeming to see me…

Dan still finds the memory of that day terrifying as he connects it in his mind with a curse that has afflicted his family for over eighty years. He explains by telling of one day long ago, when his father, having attended the local market, returned late in the evening. His face drawn and pale, he sat by the fire, unable to face the meal his wife had prepared. She berated him for having eaten elsewhere, until eventually he told her what had happened on the way home…

‘There’s something happened that leaves me that I can’t ate a mouthful, and I’ll not be dark with you, Molly, for, maybe, it ain’t very long I have to be here, an’ I’ll tell you what it was. It’s what I’ve seen, the white cat…pushin’ out o’ the long grass at the side o’ the path, an’ it walked across it, in front of me, an’ then back again, before me, the same way, an’ sometimes at one side, an’ then at the other, lookin’ at me wid them shinin’ eyes; and I consayted I heard it growlin’ as it kep’ beside me—as close as ever you see—till I kem up to the doore, here, an’ knocked an’ called, as ye heerd me.’

Mother and son were both horrified, for they knew the meaning of the appearance of the white cat. And sure enough, within a month, the father had taken a fever and died.

lady in white

Dan then tells the story of why the family seems to live under this curse. It all dates back to the time when his grand-uncle, Connor Donovan, betrayed Ellen, a young woman to whom he had made promises, by marrying another woman for money. Poor Ellen died of a broken heart (pre-feminism, obviously). Connor continued on his selfish rather cruel way, until one evening…

As he approached the ‘gap’ he saw, or thought he saw, with a slow motion, gliding along the ground toward the same point, and now and then with a soft bound, a white object, which he described as being no bigger than his hat, but what it was he could not see, as it moved along the hedge and disappeared at the point to which he was himself tending…

‘Twas not long after this that Connor met his death. But as he lay in his coffin, it became clear the white cat had not finished with him yet…

* * * * *

This is a good little story, though not overly scary. Le Fanu builds up the atmosphere with some beautifully Gothic descriptive writing…

I have looked round on the peculiar landscape; the roofless, ivied tower, that two hundred years before had afforded a refuge from raid and rapparee, and which still occupies its old place in the angle of the haggard; the bush-grown ‘liss,’ that scarcely a hundred and fifty steps away records the labours of a bygone race; the dark and towering outline of old Keeper in the background; and the lonely range of furze and heath-clad hills that form a nearer barrier, with many a line of grey rock and clump of dwarf oak or birch. The pervading sense of loneliness made it a scene not unsuited for a wild and unearthly story.

And his use of dialect within the speech adds interest without making it difficult to follow, even if a few of the words are unfamiliar. It’s a straightforward tale, told as if true, and although the narrator (who I assume is Le Fanu himself) hints that the surroundings are such as may turn a man’s mind towards superstition and fancy, he describes Dan in such a way as to make him seem a level-headed and truthful man. So it’s very much left up to the reader to decide…

If you’d like to read it, here’s a link…

Now if you’ll excuse me, Tommy wants his tummy tickled, and I think I’d best obey…

2010-11-23 20.57.23

 

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

begorrathon 2016

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This post is part of Reading Ireland Month 2016 – #begorrathon16 – being jointly hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at Raging Fluff.

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