Sunday, January 29, 2023

Bernard MacLaverty Stories (4) - ongoing review

 

Bernard MacLaverty

PART FOUR – CONTINUED FROM HERE: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/27271-2/

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My previous reviews of this author’s BLANK PAGES are shown HERE

My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

When I read these collected stories my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below….

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3 responses to “*

  1. ON THE ROUNDABOUT

    “To tell the story.”

    I am sorry if that’s a plot spoiler for this vignette’s ending. Early Seventies in Belfast, and the narrator — driving at a roundabout with his wife beside him, and kids in the back — rescues a man from the violence of the UDA, not a Fenian man but a Presbyterian? Why do my eyes glaze over? I should know more than I do. I was an agnostic adult in the early Seventies watching the news from where I lived in England, but a story is a story and needs to be told, even if nobody now understands it. History is like being on a roundabout?

  2. THE TROJAN SOFA

    “In one dream I’m in school and nobody in the class knows what ‘onomatopoeia’ is except me. But I can’t put my hand up. I’m paralysed. Another dream is of me snoring. And jerking awake to stop me snoring.”

    This is a classic story. Is it already a classic story I happen not to have encountered before, i.e. a work that has already been deemed by others to be a classic? I shall check after I have written this review of it. A story about a skinny, precociously smart 11 year old boy and his experiences within sofas as a so-called righteous means of Catholics burgling Protestants. His pissing and sleeping arrangements within the sofa are larger than life, but wildly believable, as are his father and uncle who are part of the gang selling furniture then burgling the house where it is delivered, the boy in the middle of the night cutting himself out of the sofa and letting them in! There is so much more to take in about these laterally thought-out manoeuvres, particularly the manoeuvre here in question in what can only be deemed an unforgettable Swiftian masterpiece.

    “It’s that soap with the wee label that never goes away. Imperial Leather. The last thing to go is the wee label. How do they make it do that?”

  3. LEARNING TO DANCE 

    “When they had a boiled egg at home their mother spooned it from the shell into a cup and mashed the bits up with some butter so that the yellow and the white mixed evenly.”

    Not forgetting the elastic band in the white? And what we infer might have happened to the boys’ parents….This is the story of two brothers, around 10 and 12, who seem to be staying with their parents’ posh social friends, the lady a gaily, smartly dressed one who refers to the time as quarter to lemon, and her husband a Catholic doctor, I infer, who likes Agatha Crispy stories as well as medical books in his library, one of the latter containing a “person with a blackened hairy tongue thrust out. A bare woman with droopy chests covered in spots. Then babies stuck together…” – and one brother is hated by the other for his bodily noises, and they share a game of archery with the hosts in the garden, and when the latter leave the garden, one boy points his bow and arrow at the other…
    But the crucial scene is where one boy in his pyjamas dances with the lady on the bespoke sprung dance floor…the “gorgeous clothes” and rhapsodic religion of dance to the sound of showtime standards. Dancing outside the ‘iron lung.’
    And we gradually realise why the boys are staying here.
    I felt as if I had been immersed in some aura of perfumed cigarettes and banana flaws of innuedo. Moments that I shall cherish…

    “The doctor’s wife took a seat on a stool and leaned her elbows on the table staring at her guests. She looked long and hard at them then smiled. ‘I would just love two boys like you,’ she said. There was a sound of crunching toast and chewing.“
    The boy’s slow motion football…
    ‘Like you’re in syrup when you head the balloon – it’s slow motion – like in the pictures.’
    “…the radiogram was up and a record was revolving slowly – clicking in the overrun.”
    Not forgetting the childish talking in code that the husband and wife had learnt from the boy’s parents. “‘We speak it even though we don’t have any children,’ said the doctor’s wife.” The once sprung archery bows and bent arms now forgotten…

    “The doctor said grace and they all bowed their heads after the doctor’s wife bowed hers.”

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Women’s Weird: More Strange Stories by Women, 1891-1937 - ongoing review

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HANDHELD PRESS

Edited by Melissa Edmundson

My previous reviews of classic or older works: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

My other reviews of books edited by Melissa Edmundson: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/02/womens-weird-strange-stories-1890-1940/ and https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/12/27/the-outcast-and-the-rite-helen-de-guerry-simpson/

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

5 thoughts on “Women’s Weird: More Strange Stories by Women, 1891-1937

  1. Strangely in the light of the wording I happened to use yesterday above, the next story below, just now read, contains these words …. “They could not make head or tail of the context for some time, and then Mr Maxwell discovered that a leaf had been cut out.”

    The Blue Room
    by Lettice Galbraith (1897)

    “Something occurred then of which, since it has nothing to do with this story, I need only say that it wiped out for ever any idea of marriage on my part,…”

    Yet this young lady as narrator becomes by the end of the story an old woman called Mrs Marris, or am I confused? As much as she is confused by the word ‘incubate’ and ‘incubus’ in the different connections with poultry farming and witchcraft! That makes this otherwise effective but standard tale of haunted-room-for-guest-overflow bedroom-with-a-backstory in a large house intriguing and even more creepy! Not forgetting the lethal crease left by a body in bedcovers….”testing the ghost-theory” of Sprenger?

  2. FYI
    Johnny Mains’ anthologies of stories akin to Women’s Weird as reviewed by me in the past, as follows….

    A Suggestion of Ghosts – Supernatural Fiction by Women 1854-1900: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/03/a-suggestion-of-ghosts-supernatural-fiction-by-women-1854-1900/

    An Obscurity of Ghosts – Further Tales of the Supernatural by Women 1876–1903: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/05/25/an-obscurity-of-ghosts/

    Remember The Dead (male and female authors): https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/remember-the-dead/

    Our Lady of Hate – The Short Stories of Catherine Lord: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/12/16/our-lady-of-hate-the-short-stories-of-catherine-lord/

  3. “The voice of poultry usually means not only a hen-coop but a barn and a house,…”, but here means a gradual, delightfully inconclusive narrative incubation of thr open-ended mystery of…

    The Green Bowl
    by Sarah Orne Jewett (1901)

    “We were on our way home, as safe as dolls in a nursery when we had our little adventure and got the green bowl.”

    The ‘adventures’ of a lady and her young ‘companion’ lady with horse and carriage, this one she tells within the frame story to other ladies, an adventure, lost under ‘drowning rain’ and hearing that voice of poultry, but at last seeing a church steeple, that later she unaccountably calls a spire! And manifold horse sheds outside a church wherein which church they find basic shelter till found in the morning by a local woman who gives them the heavenly apotheosis of an idyllic breakfast and the story of her two green bowls, one she gives to our narrator as ‘companion’ reciprocalist of their fore-telling powers. A strong suspenseful tale that needs iconising. A narrator who at one point says, “The only trouble was that there was so little of me.” And you will never forget the description of the green bowl as looked at by the listening ladies within the frame story. But such a claim of never forgetting depends on my own fore-telling skills, or will only time tell? —

    “…and when we had been in the house an hour one felt as if it had been a week.”

Monday, January 16, 2023

Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women 1890-1940

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HANDHELD PRESS

Edited by Melissa Edmundson

My previous reviews of classic or older works: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

19 thoughts on “Women’s Weird: Strange Stories 1890 – 1940

  1. The Weird of the Walfords
    by Louisa Baldwin

    “Though my memory of the ancient bed was perfect, and every detail stamped on my mind, never could I call it up before my external vision, however earnestly I tried to do so.”

    To supplement my obsessions with Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘psychological furniture’ in her stories and novels, this is an older work dealing with “spectral illusions of domestic furniture.” The case being a giantesque ‘hearse’ of a bed with posts and columns that had borne births as well as deaths of a dynasty in a large ancestral house. A bed said to have slept Charles II, when staying there at a historical crosspoint. He would, wouldn’t he? And the house’s latest dynast brings his sweetheart here as he has a sense of duty to produce an heir, and he had locked the room wherein he had felt compulsion to destroy piecemeal this accursed bed with its “greedy maw”, except for some intricately carved boards a carpenter man helping him was allowed to take away. And eventually by chance that man makes a cradle from such boards later, by chance, purchased by the sweetheart wife who had earlier yearned to enter the room — and one can imagine the repercussions when they had a baby… Or can one? “Glutted with death” or gutted by fire to make the windows as red as our man’s sweetheart lady first saw the house? A significant haunted story, uniquely presaging not only Elizabeth Bowen fiction but also Alison Lurie’s Highboy reviewed only a few days ago HERE, simply because this work was known by some higher force (before I myself knew it), knowing, too, that I would read this story of carven-whence and hefty-within weird today! Its wood of ‘would’…

  2. From The Weird of the Walfords to the Wet Waste-on-the-Wolds in…

    Let Loose
    by Mary Cholmondeley

    This is a superbly scary pre-M.R. Jamesian story of Fresco hunting in the oppressively insular Wet Waste community of Yorkshire as cast upon by a morbid moon of astrological strengths. A man, for some reason, thinking it may be a fillip to his chances of marriage into a certain family, if he divulged to one of them this story of why he always wore high starched collars!…

    It would be remiss of me to help make such secrets more widespread here, nor why the Three Authentic Epistles of Ignatius are mentioned. But it is genuinely a story about intricately double-locked area of a church in the Wet Waste that has been unavailable down below for many years — and for good reason! Its piled-up skulls and shin-bones, too, and its toad-like sentinel.

    The saddest part of this story is what happens to our hero’s dog called Brian, and you will go far to read anything more devastating, so beware! I only mention this incident as I can’t help thinking Brian is an oblique metaphor for our human Brain and the skull that keeps it safe!
    Not forgetting W.F. Harvey’s hand! 

    I also can’t help thinking this remarkable story’s ‘Evil One’ whispered these words for a character to say as if it were his own… “My son, marry not in youth, for love, which truly in that season is a mighty power, turns away the heart from study, and young children break the back of ambition. Neither marry in middle life, when a woman is seen to be but a woman and her talk a weariness, so you will not be burdened with a wife in your old age.”
    Which brings me full circle to this story’s need of satirical divulgement?

  3. The Giant Wistaria
    by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

    This is crammed with the pareidolia of ghosts, indeed the frights of their reality, too, a Gilman story preceding in this book, I note, a story by Edith Nesbit whose own life story and her ‘Man-Size in Marble’, need to be factored into this Gilman, alongside the tentacular wistaria vine twisting and thickening throughout literature as WELL as, so evocatively across and within and around this story’s house of two historical eras, and the ancient mixed-up shames of illegitimate births and mixed-up pregnancies involving so-called normal lives and structures in whatever state they now happen to be. 

  4. The Shadow
    by Edith Nesbit

    “– but if I turned round, it seemed as if the thing drooped and melted into my shadow.”

    I can’t believe it is the first time I have read this truly horrific ghost story. Told to young ladies and thus to us by a previously reticent and stern housekeeper within a very strong ‘frame’ story of these young ladies staying at night after a country house ball. A ‘frame’ story so strong that one of the young ladies happens to feature in the story told! As reasonless and for-its-own-sake as the ‘frame’ storyteller claims, the told inner story features a newly married couple, to both of whom the housekeeper was a friend, and their new house and the wife’s giving of birth to a baby girl, events swaddled in the fear of a shadow haunting your own shadow, so strongly haunting that it actually becomes tangible in the room where you the reader read about it!
    For its own sake, did I say? Who framed us, I ask, if not our own precarious birth into babyhood, a chance in an infinite number of chances that darkness ever strives to prevent? Please factor this question into the previous story.

  5. I reviewed the next story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/the-ghost-stories-of-edith-wharton/, as follows….

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    KERFOL by Edith Wharton 

    “I had an idea that their distance from me was as nothing to my remoteness from them.”

    A lonely house in Brittany, and a visit to see whether he wants to buy it cut price; the protagonist is creepily out-stared by a group of dogs, and no sign of human habitation. Worth reading for this scene alone.
    His reportage of the reportage that he subsequently reads about — involving a court case concerning the house’s history, a happy marriage gradually turned a broken one, plus a gruesome death, with dogs involved — is for me a bit of a kerfuffle, melodramatic with non-human ghosts….
    The last word of this story is “Pascal”, but is that Pascal’s Wager – or Pascal’s Wagger?

    ============================================

    “If she had had a child she would not have been unhappy; but the days were long, and it rained too much.” — Edith Wharton (KERFOL)

  6. Unseen – Unfeared (1919)
    by Francis Stevens 

    This is, again, something special, something most dirtying of the spirit, suspenseful and self-suspended. Yet with blame and shame accruing the more I did read into it, as the narrator, within a sort of reconciling frame story of detection and drugs, is meant to expunge such feelings but did little to assuage me. A shabby area, full of the “ill-to-do” and late night shops, and dark turnings and, eventually, a sort of museum with a membrane that is a sort of prophecy of an inter-net dirtying us all, I guess. It is really evil, and one wonders who are the most evil — those trying to help the narrator as me, or the one (some sort of Mad Scientist with photographic plates?) who showed me that the Gestalt I have been seeking now for several years is indeed the “Thing” still emerging from man’s natural hatred and evil. Or is this a catharsis for betterment, a tunnel one needs to travel in order to expunge it? Or simply, as the story puts it, an obsession with non-existent evil? Whatever the case, this work is quite a discovery. 

    Just a few of the ingredients that still pepper my mind… after a reading that one must think hard about undertaking in the first place! —

    “..I wished that he might never speak again. I was desperately, contemptibly in dread of the thing he might say next.”

    “…a livid, ghastly chamber, filled with – overcrawled by – what?”

    “– man has made these! By his evil thoughts, by his selfish panics, by his lusts and his interminable, never-ending hate he has made them, and they are everywhere!”

    “Our gropings toward divinity were a sham, a writhing sunward of slime-covered beasts who claimed sunlight as their heritage, but in their hearts preferred the foul and easy depths.”

    “I could abolish my monster-creating self.”

    “…your colour photography and your pretty green golliwogs all nicely explained for you,..”

    “– doubt is sometimes better than certainty,…”

  7. Pingback: Unseen – Unfeared (1919) by Francis Stevens  | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books Edit

  8. Hodge (1921)
    by Elinor Mordaunt

    “: in this case the boy’s name expressed him as little as the slow, luscious, sweet ‘Summerzetshire’ expressed Hemerton, its mud and marshes.”

    This boy’s name Hector Fane (remixed as ‘technofear’?), a boy stocky, round-shouldered, with Hector’s Rector as his and Rhoda’s father in a place called Hemerton, a place as strange as Hector was to normal humans, Hemerton strange otherwise to the rest of Somerset then. Marshy, grey… The young siblings — not so much an ‘imaginary friend’ as a missing link they uncover in a hidden part of such marshes, an ‘it’, then ‘he’, that they uncover from the marshes, a stone-throwing version of Hector….
    I can’t help recalling that Hector sometimes shares Rhoda’s bed for comfort. Now this missing link wants to do so, too? Even after Hector comes back from boarding school, Hector hides his ‘belief’ in the missing link they call Hodge, and what transpires is a lesson for us all about humanity now. A 2001 Space Odyssey in the making? Now made. These moments below are what I shall take away from yet another remarkable discovery by this book for me, this one as the literary missing-link in my seeking gestalt… You babblers do listen, for once!

    “…‘Do you remember?’ in speaking of paths that they had never traversed.”

    “‘The mastodon! That’s nothing – nothing! But the sabre-toothed tiger – I tell you I saw it. What are you grinning at now? – in our Forest – ours, mind you! – I saw it!’”

    Their forest.

    “‘Nothing more than a fold out of the old world, squeezed up to the surface’;”

    “– we’ve lost it; I know we’ve lost it – after all these years! After thousands and thousands and thousands of years of remembering!’ […] Rhoda drew him into her bed, comforted him as best she could, very sleepy, and unperturbed – for, of course, they would find it.”

    “Silhouetted against the sea and sky, white in contrast to its darkness, it had the aloofness of incredible age; drawn apart, almost sanctified by its immeasurable remoteness, its detachment from all that meant life to the men and women of the twentieth century: the web of fancied necessities, trivial possessions, absorptions.”

    “Terrified of ridicule, incredulity, he hugged his secret, as that strange man-beast hugged his – the highest and lowest – the most primitive and the most cultured – forever uncommunicative; those in the midway the babblers.”

    “With a sense of appalling weariness he seemed to see the centuries which had passed sweep by him, wave upon wave, era upon era, each so superficially different, and yet so tragically, so stupidly alike: man driven like a dry leaf before the wind of destiny; man the soul-burdened brute.”

    “‘It’. Hector held to that: the pronoun was altogether reassuring now – something to hold to, hard as a bone in his brain.”

    Rector as Boner?

    A technofear now transcended and harnessed?

  9. Pingback: Hodge by Elinor Mordaunt | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books Edit

  10. My earlier review of the next story was as part of Robert Aickman’s FONTANA GHOST ANTHOLOGIES here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/05/12/27614/, as follows…

    =====================================

    WHERE THEIR FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED by May Sinclair
    “Her mind had no past and no future, no sharp-edged coherent memories, and no idea of anything to be done next.”
    From elder flowers to electric dynamos, this is probably the most powerful ghost story ever written. No exaggeration. It tells of Harriott, who effectively becomes a recurrent widow without ever getting married. A story of unrequited love with one or more men and forbidden sex with another man who was married with children, so not a completely celibate audit trail for her, but certainly in an apotheosised resonance with this book so far…and she fails to confess in “solemn holiness” the forbidden aspects of her love life when upon her death bed. The religious lockdown from the Clarimonde syndrome onward into an eternal timeless stalking by that forbidden lover through an attritional Null-Immortalis (wherein each man morphs into another of the men), a brand of “Immortality” for which I had this ready name, one that is intensely shocking and nightmarish to all sinners who read this story, their guilts never to be shaken off because vibrations of them last into shadows of infinity that ever stalk us. That fateful cracking of fate in Sorworth is now forever and yours! And threaded through all these experiences are the earthly hotels and houses (“grey columns”, “great grey-carpeted staircase”, “grey house pricked up”, “high, grey garden”) where they happened. Those dynamos, you ask? Well, think about it… when comparing the forbidden lover’s essence at the end, the sight of “his long bulk stood before her” and feeling the “vibrations of its power”, yes, compare that with an earlier almost ludicrously salacious concept of Harriott wanting to be shown his “great dynamos”… however innocent the root.

    ***

    I have now looked at my earlier review of this story in 2009 here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/192/ where I also reviewed several other of her stories in a May Sinclair book collection:-

    Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched 
    For me, definitely always one of the five great ghost stories of all time.
A real sense of terrifying religious angst – and a negative symbiosis between dead people who knew each other when alive ….now in a vicious circle of erstwhile life’s places as a sort of eternal Hell.
    My questions are: Would the protagonist have escaped this eventuality had she confessed to the priest her sins about Owen Wade? Or would she have ended up in the same predicament simply as a punishment? Why should a simple confession be able to absolve the (perceived) unforgiveable? Why did she find it difficult to confess – ‘knowing’, as she did as part of her own beliefs, that a confession may allow her to escape eternal punishment? (29.3.09)

  11. The Haunted Saucepan
    by Margery Lawrence

    “I drew a sigh of enjoyment as I stretched out my legs before the fire and sipped the excellent coffee at my elbow. Strutt had found me a woman of sorts to do the cooking – marvellous fellow Strutt! – and certainly she could cook, though the glimpse I had caught of her through the kitchen door as I went into the dining-room proved her a dour and in truth most ill-favoured looking old lady, with a chenille net, a thing I had thought as dead as the Dodo, holding up her back hair. I rang for some more coffee, and as usual, Strutt was at my elbow almost as my finger left the bell-push.”

    …a double-elbowed sense of calm and contentment in a house at the start, if also a telegraphing of the off-putting glimpse of Mrs Barker! – prior to what it says above about this story on its tin – a haunted saucepan! “….one of the few cases of genuine ‘queerness’. Something really uncanny, I mean.”
    The days of valets who rub down their masters, and static servants who embody a house, and if it were not for the trite denouement of the haunting over-explained in the last few pages and if one removes those last few pages, this is a genuinely scary work. Scary, despite the saucepan’s ludicrous rakish tip of its lid and and its recurrent bubbling, and poor Ben the collie dog used as potential spear-carrier to test out its poisons. What makes it scary is – “the grandfather clock seemed to hide a long lean thing that peered furtively at us with narrow horrible eyes … […] The exquisite caution of the sound made…” My italics. Pause on pause on pause as what I have often called the essential ‘gluey Zenoism’ of ghost stories. “…entered – paused – and walked towards the stove.” Ever halfway between the door and what the ghost intends to do, till the mighty fruition of frissons… each time the promise of a “new evil”…”Oh, it was beyond words vile and awful, that sound – and to know, as now we did know, that Something – Someone – did actually, sans human light, gas or anything of that sort, set a-boiling in that horrible little saucepan some devil’s brew of some sort,…” Who owns a slow pot today? Many of us, I guess.
    But what does it all mean? And the deadpan culmination of something ever, pause upon pause, approaching the point of happening, without it truly happening, especially if you ignore the last few pages! … “– began with ‘p’ but she couldn’t say the word…”

  12. Pingback: The Haunted Saucepan by Margery Lawrence | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books Edit

  13. The Twelve Apostles
    by Eleanor Scott

    “Have you never noticed that in country churchyards there are no graves on the north side of the church?”

    This is MR-Jamesian galore! Slugs and snails, and holy water stoups. Almost a puzzle to go with a nursery rhyme based on Tudor history, Mary Queen of Eleanor Scott, not a snip nor snail, but sugar and spice, helped by some of the many footnotes in this excellent book. An American man insisting that whatever Elizabethan house he purchased should include a ghost. Little did he know! And there is much to fathom out here, many passages in book and house to thread, and its compass points, images and icons of the eponymous Apostles or Saints, knitted with genuine slimy scenes of horror. Even an ambiguous reference to the then current Colour Question in America, eugenics or freedom? And a Dürer-like sketch that is not coloured at all, I guess… “He could hardly take his eyes from the fascinating, fascinated gaze of the picture.” And arguably even a prophecy of my gestalt real-time reviewing it today! — with all my manic desire to anagrammatise etc.! If not to misquote!

    “‘I believe the misquotations are intentional.’ […] ‘But it strikes me, sir, that any text that’s copied in full is wrong and that’s the clue.’ […] They puzzled over this for some time, replacing letters by figures, rearranging the letters to form anagrams, seeking for some principle to guide them to the clue.”

    My previous review of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/12/07/unfinished-business-a-ghost-story-anthology/#comment-26145

  14. I reviewed the next story in 2011, here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/the-weird-3/, as follows, in its then context:-

    =====================================

    The Book – Margaret Irwin

    A remarkably haunting story I’ve not encountered before – about a bookshelf and the protagonist’s lack of confidence in the gaps between the books, and one ever-written book that seems to be a curse to his way of life, relevant to his finances and arguably to the current world economic storm and finally to his own sanity and to his view (and thus to the well-being) of his family and pets.  This seems to be the natural story to follow (or pursue) the previous story and its Necronomicon – and similarly to follow my own side issues there regarding other non-books like e-ones! And a roaming non-hand like that earlier tell-tale five-fingered ‘skull’. Although I did study Latin once (47+ years ago), it is now, for me, just more arcane code, but luckily here translated, including: “…dissection of 783 children”. Plus this very strange expression from the story itself (not originally in Latin), one so utterly a mental tussle I dare not even try construe or parse its tense declension: “…she could not stop being what she had never been“.  And I wonder if this is Margaret Irwin’s uncharacteristically strangest story?  

  15. Couching at the Door
    by D K Broster

    “…Art has nothing whatever to do with what is called ‘morality’; happily we know that at last!”

    This is an intensely creepy work, evolving from a piece of fluff or “nothing now but a drenched smear swirling round the nymphs of Thetis!” to, I infer, a feather boa worn by the two ladies in Prague and Paris whom the writer (Augustine Marchant now at the more innocently countrified Abbot’s Medding) once met now being reconfigured in his so-called poetic work that his neighbours know little about, and then to a gigantic cobra, all three visions of such frightful realities threaded through with various images of the Garden of Eden, and, from a different point of view, we gain a glimpse of the same story as seen by the young callow illustrator who is to do the book’s artwork for Augustine’s writing and who is somehow palmed off by Augustine with this frightful furry familiar! Leaving Augustine free of it?
    A work of hiding one’s art, guilt at one’s art, even absolving oneself of whatever dark creativity one does… and even writing such stuff myself and now reading, then openly reviewing this story being equivalent to my own guilty secret, but now no longer a secret as it is thus palmed off on you?!
    There are some wondrous passages describing the horrific ‘familiar’, but by calling them ‘wondrous’, what is it do we do? The warmth of our snuggling up to the familiar in bed just being one thing here deployed.
    I discern, to help his own self-exorcism, the older man’s grooming of the illustrator was effectively set in motion by an elbow trigger: “In the shaded rosy candle-light, his elbows on the table among trails of flowers he, who was not even a neophyte, listened like a man learning for the first time of some spell of spring which will make him more than mortal.” And each reader of this work will wrestle with their own vision of how this prose is couched. And maybe there will rear false aunt sallies to hide the actual nature of the serpent embedded in its tale? “For his own art was of infinitely more importance than the subservient, the parasitic art of an illustrator.”

  16. I reviewed the final story (and other Butts stories) here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/08/21/the-complete-stories-mary-butts/#comment-25296, as follows…

    ======================================

    WITH AND WITHOUT BUTTONS by Mary Butts

    “He hesitated. There was something very direct and somehow comforting in the way he was taking it, piece by piece as it happened, not as what he would think it ought to mean.”

    This is quite a find for me! Prose-textured and haunted with more than a hint of Aickman’s disarming strangeness and of Elizabeth Bowen’s psychological garments in earlier 20th century English abodes and, dare I say, of the ‘Only Connect’ ethos in my collaborative story collection with my father Gordon Lewis that was published last century — and this first Butts story to be read in relatively random order by me tells of two sisters living in one of the two houses butting on to each other that were once a single house, with almost a shared loft/attic give or take a door in the wall now built up there between. And the sisters try to tease or hoax the man next door called Trenchard to ridicule more than just his superstition, by randomly planting kid gloves with and without buttons, and by concocting seemingly random on the hoof fibs, but somehow with a preternatural truth (as does gestalt real-time reviewing itself) of a haunted woman from the past, a tease that gets out of hand when kid gloves start planting themselves etc, complete with pungent smells! This story is so much better than I have just tried, over-personally, to do justice to in this short review. No ifs or buttons, it has excited me to read more Butts in the future.

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