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Archive for the ‘gothic’ Category

This story features a man, in love with a pure, sweet, normal girl, who finds himself tempted by an aggressive, evil, seductively beautiful, witty, worldly woman.

Just like The Stone Dragon.

And The Crimson Weaver.

Yes, this Gilchrist seems to have had something of a fixation. Was he surrounded by femme fatales who kept flinging themselves at him? It wasn’t like he was an international spy or anything like that; his main passion in life was topography.

The story itself is quite nice; it’s very short and doesn’t waste any time. It takes place in the early 18th century, and the main characters are a betrothed couple. The girl asks her fiance to undergo an ordeal to prove his love for her. He agrees, and she then orders him to spend a night in a house that is rumored to be haunted.

As you might expect, it turns out to be more than just a rumor.

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Notice: Don’t get your hopes up over the title, the eponymous stone dragon is a piece of garden decor. It probably is symbolic of something.

This story was, thankfully, much more readable than The Crimson Weaver. It takes place in the real world, so Gilchrist reins in the florid language, although he still manages to sound like an early Victorian despite writing at the turn of the century.

In the story, a wealthy Frenchwoman, living on a creepy, gothic, remote estate with two daughters, tries to bully her brother-in-law into arranging a marriage between his son and one of her daughters. The father refuses, and forbids his son from having any contact with the aunt. He goes against his father’s orders, though, and meets his two cousins; one anemic, passive and sweet, and the other active, independent, clever, brazen, and possessed of an aggressive beauty.

Luckily our hero chooses the right one for a wife; that is, the dull, lifeless one with no discernible personality.

The ending is sorta interesting. It’s a decent gothicky story. There is no supernatural element.

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This is a tale that might be told in many ways and from various points of view; it has to be gathered from here and there – a letter, a report, a diary, a casual reference. In its day the thing was more than a passing wonder, and it left a mark of abiding horror on the neighbourhood.

So begins Scoured Silk; an auspicious first paragraph if there ever was one. This is a horror story rather than a ghost story. Nothing in the least bit supernatural happens. But that’s fine, so long as it’s creepy.

It’s about a bachelor living in an old house in London. He moved there from the country with his young wife but she died soon after. 20 years later, he became engaged to a young lady, and the story begins 2 weeks before the wedding. The young bride-to-be is happy enough until she begins to notice the strange attitude her betrothed has toward his dead wife. I’m not going to say any more, because this is a fun, creepy story and deserves to be read. Bowen gets so much right here; the pacing is excellent, and you’re kept guessing right up to the denouement.

Spoilers

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Underneath the title of The Grey Chamber, it says “Anonymous” and “Translated from the French by Marjorie Bowen,” but I don’t doubt that Bowen was actually the author; this story does not read like any old French ghost story I’ve ever come across.

It’s a very nice little “haunted chamber” story. These stories are all basically the same; there is a guest room in an old mansion or castle that has a reputation for being haunted, and so it is never used. But one night, out of necessity or bravado, a guest passes the night there.

In The Grey Chamber, the lady of the house is away, and as there are no other rooms made up for guests,  the main character must be content with the Grey Chamber. This was, in long ago times, the bedroom of a beautiful young woman who had consecrated herself to God and was about to enter a convent. However, some villain, who had heard of her beauty, broke into her room and raped her. Since she was no longer a virgin, she was denied entrance to the convent, and in despair she killed herself. In the Grey Chamber, of course. And so, inevitably, the main character finds his sleep disturbed.

This story could have been pretty bland, since it plays so close to type, but in the end Bowen does some unconventional things to make the story quite memorable and actually somewhat disturbing. In some ways, the ending echoes a much superior story, the excellent Thurnley Abbey by Perceval Landon.

How? Spoilers after jump.

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This story had no ghosts at all, not one. Not even an is or isn’t it ghost.
Also it was very depressing, about a little girl who lives in a big old house with a cruel grandmother and her unkind servants. And the ending was miserable.

It was a pretty decent story as short fiction goes, but it was not my sort of thing at all.

Next, The Bishop of Hell!

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I never expected to find a quasi-Lovecraftian twist in a Marjorie Bowen story, but there it was, all wriggling and slimy and nameless.

In Florence Flannery, the eponymous Florence (I hesitate to call her a heroine, because she’s pretty awful) marries a wastrel because she thinks he’s richer than he is. He takes her home to his family seat, and she is aghast to find it decaying and her husband bankrupt. The two immediately regret marrying, and spend most of the story in varying states of sobriety, thinking about how much they hate each other and how absolutely dreadful it all is. These two are a little more pathetic than the pair of vampiric sea snakes in The Housekeeper, so I didn’t get as irritated with the story, but on the whole it was still pretty unpleasant, and I would have been frustrated if not for the timely eldritch intervention.

Spoilers after jump

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The Crown Derby Plate starts off cozily, with three elderly women sitting before the fire in the drawing room of the country house where they are spending Christmas. The conversation turns, as is its wont, to ghosts.
This story is unusual in that it is women who are telling stories; traditionally it’s the men, lingering over port, who bring out the old school tales or the curious thing that happened to Wigglesworth out in Rhodesia. When women tell ghost stories (in ghost stories), it is more typically in the form of written correspondence.
(As an aside, I deeply appreciated the word “ungetatable” on page 36.)
The atmosphere is very well done in this story; Bowen knows how to set a haunting, desolate scene, and contrast it sharply with a cozy hearth. The setting (but not the plot) is very reminiscent of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black.
In The Crown Derby Plate, an antique collector visiting friends hears about an old woman in the neighborhood who lives in a large, run-down, rumored haunted house who has a large collection of china. Hoping to complete her set of Crown Derby, the collector pays a visit to the house.
A few pages into this story, I realized that I had read it before, anthologized somewhere–and no wonder. It is solidly and absolutely a ghost story, and a very good one at that. After The Fair Hair of Ambrosine, I was afraid that the rest of Bowen’s stories would be vaguely supernatural thrillers, but this is an unsettling story of ghostly horror in the tradition of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu.

Spoilers after the jump
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