Thursday, April 29, 2010

"La Grande Breteche." Balzac.

Review: A jealous husband detects the presence of a man in his wife’s closet, says so, and she denies it. He threatens to open the door of the closet. She says that if he does all will be over between them. He proceeds to have the closet walled up. When she protests, he reminds her that had had sworn on the crucifix that no one was there. As has been true in most of the great French short stories, there is a lengthy preparation before reaching the heart of the story.

Great French Short Stories. Ed. Germaine Brée. New York: Dell Publishing Col, Inc. 1969.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Dead Man's Combe." Charles Nodier.

Review: A kind of ghost story. The story of a story. A saintly man had come to the Combe to become a hermit. Rumored to be a wealthy man who felt that being a part of the court would keep him from saving his soul. He built up the location, including a monastery and soon had the reputation of being a saint.

But there were evil personages and one night the saint was murdered because of a rumor about the existence of his treasure. In dying the saint had torn a thick tuft of black hair from the murderer’s head.

And now a wealthy personage is listening to the story of how the Combe got its name, with comments from a little man, a red-haired dwarf. The wealthy man became increasingly uncomfortable. No one has ever learned the identity of the saint’s murderer. The wealthy man wants to leave as the story is being told, but is prevented from doing so by the dwarf who holds his arm firmly in his grasp. When he is finally able to leave, his hat blows off in the wind, revealing a bald patch where thick black hair should have been.

The next day, the mangled body of a lifeless man is found. So that is how the place became known as Dead Man’s Combe.

Great French Short Stories. Ed. Germaine Brée. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1969.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"This Is Not a Story." Denis Diderot.

Review: First a tale of faithful man and his faithless lover. Then a tale of a faithless woman and a faithful man. Which is worse at being faithless? Men or women? An argument that will go on and on forever. And what happens when the woman is both faithful and faithless by turns. This is not a story because it is true.

Great French Short Stories. Ed. Germaine Brée. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1969.

Monday, April 26, 2010

"The Princess of Montpensier." Marie Madeleine, Comtesse De La Fayette.

Review: Courtly intrigues in France in the 16th century. The best summary is in the last paragraph. “She could not resist the sorrow of having lost the esteem of her husband, the heart of her lover, and the most perfect [male] friend one could ever have. She died several days later, in the prime of life, one of the most beautiful princesses in the world. And she doubtless would have been one of the happiest if virtue and prudence had guided all her actions.”

Misunderstandings are at the root of the tragedy in this love triangle. The wife is faithful, but tempted, the suitor is seductive but well-intentioned and his confidents was also the best friend to the wife.

Great French Short Stories. Ed. Germaine Brée. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1969.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"The Chaste Lover." Anonymous.

Review: Middle-aged man has finally decides to marry. But after a time of domesticity, decides to resume his life as a merchant in foreign climes. Recognizing that his wife will have natural desires, he cautions her only to be as chaste as possible while he is gone, but says if she must have a lover it should be only one and a wise one.

He leaves. She is tormented by temptation. She selects a young clerk to be her lover as directed by her husband. What a wonderful idea, says the clerk when invited to be her lover. But there is one problem, he says. He made a promise to our Lord when he feared for his life that he would fast by going without food for for a year without committing a sin. The time for his fast is almost up, but he invites the lady to help him with the fast. He can double the days if she will fast too and she agrees.

Well, she fasts for days, grows weak, loses her desire, and thus, thanks to the wise clerk, remains chaste for her husband.

Great French Short Stories. Ed. Germaine Brée. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1969.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"I.D." Joyce Carol Oates.

“I.D.” Joyce Carol Oates

One-minute review: Seems like a chapter from a novel. Teen-age girl, whose face has been messed up by a fall down the stairs awhile ago, three surgeries to her eye socket ago, has been summoned out of class in high school by two police officers, one a male and another a female.

She is taken to the morgue and asked to “I.D.” a woman’s corpse as her mother. The woman has been beaten to shapelessness. But a coat, and a driver’s license in a torn handbag seem to indicate that they were her mother’s possessions.

In a complete state of denial, she refuses to identify the body as her mother and is returned to school. She rejoins her friends.

That’s it!

Comment: The reader is inside the mind of a troubled teen-ager, troubled by her looks, troubled her parents’ relationships. That’s all I can tell you. It’s a vivid re-creation of her mental state. RayS.

The New Yorker (March 29, 2010), 80-88.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Supper at Elsinore." Isak Dinesen.

Review. This story is really an impressionistic look at Denmark. You can feel the cold in you. Three beautiful children, one of whom is a boy, Morton. Because the boy is so beautiful, his sisters cannot get married because they can find no one as handsome he is.

However, on the eve of his marriage, he jilts his bride and lives the life of a pirate. He has many brides. But his sisters will not marry no matter, how many suitors they have. They are fascinated by their brother’s good looks. Finally Morton is hanged as a pirate.

But Morton comes back and they have a “Supper at Elsinore.” They reminisce until the clock strikes 12. That’s all there is. The story is 50 pages long, beautifully written. There is just not much substance to it other than the description of Denmark. Reminds of the poems of Keats.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., 1944.

Note: That’s the end of the famous ghost stories.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"The Return of Andrew Bentley." August W. Derleth and Mark Schorer.

Review: Uncle Amos calls on the narrator to guard his burial vault in the event of his death which then occurs two days later, of an over-dose of medications, probably suicide. Uncle Amos fears the return of evil Andrew Bentley from the dead for the purpose of taking Uncle Amos’s body from the vault in order to install evil Bentley’s even-more-evil “familiar” in Uncle Amos’s body, thus allowing the familiar to roam the world by day and by night in the body of Uncle Amos.

Uncle Amos had stabbed the evil Bentley to death, and now, short of a religious exorcism, Uncle Amos, in a letter from beyond the grave says that Bentley’s bones must be burned in order to rid the world of the familiar that Bentley has conjured to life.

The parish priest arrives with a cross that keeps Bentley and the familiar at bay while the narrator burns Bentley’s bones, including a piece of Bentley’s finger that the narrator had wrested from Bentley when he was trying to open Uncle Amos’s burial vault.

The world is now rid of Bentley and Bentley’s familiar and Uncle Amos can rest in peace.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library, Random House, Inc., 1944.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"August Heat." W F Harvey.

Review: A work-a-day artist has a sudden inspiration in the August heat. He draws a fat man in the docket at a trial. He is absorbed in his drawing and then leaves to seek a cooler spot. Comes upon a fat man, a carver of gravestones. He is just finishing an inscription. The person and date on the graves stone are identical to the artist. The artist brings out of his pocket the picture he had drawn—the picture of the gravestone inscriber; he is the fat man the artist  has drawn, the one who is in the docket on trial. They can think of no reason for the fat man’s being in the docket or for the inscription on the gravestone. The fat man has never been in a court room in his life.

The heat is insufferable. They agree to spend the night. They await the midnight hour. The heat is insufferable.

The reader can project that the fat man in the docket is about to kill the artist whose gravestone dates are set in stone.

Famous Ghost Stores. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library, Random House, inc., 1944.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"The Considerate Hosts." Thorp McClusky.

Review: A rain-soaked night. Midnight. Marvin can barely see through the rain on the windshield. The bridge is out. He has to take a detour. The road is muddy with water in the tire tracks. Marvin’s car goes dead. He sees a house, goes up to it. A man and woman answer the door. They are very polite. They allow Marvin to try to use an antiquated phone that doesn’t work.

The couple says that they are ghosts. He had been executed for a crime he did not commit and three years later his wife had committed suicide. For tonight, the house has been restored to its condition the day the wife had died. They have been waiting for the lieutenant-governor, the man who, as a prosecutor, had convicted the ghost host. The lieutenant-governor had had to use the detour on this evening, his car had stalled, he had asked to use the phone and had collapsed in the hallway. The ghosts were about to bring him around and frighten him to death—just when Marvin had arrived.

Marvin talks the ghosts out of committing murder as an act of revenge. Marvin and the host ghost carry the collapsed lieutenant –governor to his car. Marvin dries out his carburetor and his key and his car starts up.

The next day Marvin follows the detour, sees the house, sees that it has been vandalized and is empty with none of the furniture that had been there the night before. As for the lieutenant-governor, he had revived, driven toward town, and died of a heart attack before he reached town.

So the considerate host ghosts were not guilty of murder after all. Mother nature had performed an act of justice.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"On the Brighton Road." Richard Middleton.

Review: Tramp awakens in the snow and begins his trek on the road to London, meets a young boy of eighteen years, who has been walking the road for six years. He had run away from home a number of times and the police had returned him, but now he has no home to be returned to. The boy has a terrible cough and begins to collapse when the tramp catches him. No where to take him A car flashes up. Driver identifies himself as a doctor, diagnosis the boy’s problem as pneumonia, offers to take both to the infirmary. The boy gets in. The tramp declines and continues to walk.

Two miles beyond Reigate, he sees the boy on the road ahead of him again. When the tramp catches up to him, the boy says “I’ll come a bit of the way with you if you don’t walk too fast. It’s a bit lonesome walking this time of day.”
“But the pneumonia,” exclaims the tramp.
“I died at Crawly this morning,” says the boy.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"The Beckoning Fair One." Oliver Onions.

Review: In the heart of London, a haunted house—only Oleron does not know it. He is writing a novel, Romilly Bishop, which is half done when he decides to change his living quarters to the haunted house. He has a girl friend, Elsa Benough. They are happy together.

But a change comes over him. He loses interest in his novel. He begins to be indifferent to his girl friend. There is a female presence in his new lodgings and she begins to take hold of him. He now desires to stop writing the old, half-finished Romilly and to begin a new version—modeled on the “Beckoning Fair One,” the female presence in his house. And he jettisons his girl Friend Elsa.

In the end, he is barely alive and he stands accused of murdering his girl friend who had come to help him. The real killer? “The Beckoning Fair One.”

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"The Open window." Saki (HH Munro).

Review: Frampton Nuttel,  recovering from a nervous breakdown, is in the country. He calls on his neighbor, a Mrs. Sappleton. Her 15-year-old niece “entertains” him while Mrs. Sappleton, is upstairs .

She tells him the tale of how three years ago, to this day, Mrs. Sappleton’s husband and the niece’s two young brothers and their brown dog had left through the open window on the porch to go snipe hunting. They never came back, she says. The bog had been flooded and they slipped into the water and were never heard of again. This was the third anniversary of Mrs. Sappleton’s tragedy.

Mrs. Sappleton comes down stairs cheerily, greets Frampton, and says that she is sorry her husband isn’t there, but that he and her nephews had gone snipe hunting and would return soon. She obviously still imagines they are alive and she is waiting for them to come home. Frampton nods sympathetically to the niece. And then, suddenly, there appear on the lawn  the husband, nephew and dog crossing the lawn toward the open window.

Frampton lights out as fast as he can. The niece explains that he had once been hounded by wild packs of dogs and his fear of the brown dog is the reason for his hasty retreat. “Romance at short notice was her specialty.”

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Mezzotint." Montague Rhodes James

Review. Buys a mezzotint, an engraving. It doesn’t seem very well done. But a strange thing happens to it—it changes. The moon appears and declines. A man appears on the lawn. Then the man disappears into a window on the ground floor.

What does it all mean? The owner of the house in the mezzotint was known to get rid of poachers on his property. He got rid of all of them but one. He could never catch him. That one finally made a mistake, killed a keeper and was strung up forthwith. Was it that poacher, whose family had once owned the manor, who got in the house and killed the son of the owner to end his line? And then the owner of the manor himself?

At any rate, the picture was hung in a museum and it never changed again.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"The Man Who Went Too Far." EF Benson

One-minute review: Not one of the better ghost stories. People are afraid of the forest at night. Rumor that a huge mountain goat tears the fabric of the forest apart in its gambols.

Artist. Lives in the last cottage in the town, nearest the forest. In love with joy. In love with nature. One day, hears the pipes of Pan. Is sure that he is close to the revelation that he is one with nature. Friend predicts that when he has that revelation, he will experience the horror of nature. One evening, he is screaming with terror. When he is found, they see that he has goat hoofs all over his body.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"The Rival Ghosts." Brander Matthews.

One-minute review: Well, there was a ghost that haunted the house at Salem and a ghost, a sort of guardian ghost, who followed Eliphalet Duncan wherever he went. And when Eliphalet stayed at the house in Salem the two ghosts fought and swore at each other. They materialized to other visitors, but not to Eliphalet. He was aware of them from the sounds they made, especially the profanity which he could never hear distinctly, but he knew it was profanity.

Well, Eliphalet fell in love. But his guardian ghost put up a fight against his getting married. Until her mother died. Then his guardian ghost didn’t object to the marriage anymore. But his girl friend, Kitty, who didn’t like ghosts and who wanted to spend their honeymoon in the house at Salem, quietly, with nobody to bother them, said that Eliphalet had to find some way for the ghosts not to bother her. But the ghosts, whenever they were together, always wrangled.

Well, Eliphalet was told by Kitty to rid the house of ghosts or she wouldn’t marry him. Thus, he went to the house in Salem and put the facts of the case to the wrangling ghosts. He offered weapons of various kinds that they could use to fight a duel and settle their quarrels. But his guardian ghost said that he could never use such weapons on a female.

What? The house ghost was a female? Then the solution to stop the wrangling ghosts from wrangling was that the ghosts should get married. Which they did at the same time as Eliphalet and Kitty and the wrangling ghosts did not wrangle any more.

Comment: Clever solution. On the surface. But if you think married ghosts wouldn’t wrangle, then you haven’t been married. What will happen when the married ghosts wrangle, which all married people do? What will Kitty do then? Uncle Larry, the narrator, did not say.

By the way, Uncle Larry, before telling the story said that one characteristic of American ghost stories is that they usually have a sense of humor which European ghost stories never do. RayS.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"The Willows." Algernon Blackwood.

Review: Maybe the best ghost story I have ever read. Let’s set the scene:

“After leaving Vienna, and long before you come to Budapest, the Danube enters a region of singular loneliness and desolation, where the waters spread away on all sides, regardless of a main channel, and the country becomes a swamp for miles and miles, covered by a vast sea of low willow bushes.”

“These willows never attain to the dignity of trees. They have no rigid trunks, they remain humble bushes, with rounded tops and soft outline, swaying on slender stems that answer to the least pressure of the wind; supple as grasses, and so continually shifting that they somehow give the impression that the entire plain is moving and alive.”

The narrator and his companion, an “unimaginative” Swede in their canoe venture through this swamp. They camp on an island that is under siege from the flooding Danube, taking away its sand, shortening the dimensions of the island.

Beings from another world inhabit the willows. They are looking for a sacrificial victim. Their presence manifests itself by stealing the rudder, tearing the skin of the canoe and leaving but one  paddle with which to navigate the current. The narrator and Swede feel the presence of these forces, see their indistinct shapes, feel suffocating pressure on the tent, and hear humming sounds in the wind. The Swede, under their spell, tries to commit suicide by drowning, but he is saved by the narrator.

Suddenly, they are released. They feel safe. These supernatural beings have found their sacrificial victim—a drowned peasant.

Comment: The setting of the willows in the swamp and the endless miles of water with rushing current creates a threatening atmosphere and gives a chill that the reader cannot resist. RayS.

Famous Ghost Stories. Ed. Bennett Cerf. New York: The Modern Library. Random House, inc. 1944.