Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

The Collected Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson
Foreword by Joan Aiken
001. I had already read Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James, and nearly died of delicious terror at ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You’
002. The heroes of Benson’s ghost stories come mostly in pairs, the narrator and his friend Hugh (or Jack or Fred or Prank or Philip); they are for ever renting summer holiday houses in very agreeable and familiar coastal regions of the British Isles.
003. One wonders why, when something is nameless, it is always so much nastier?) [PN: This is similar to a note about how Poe’s characters often say they can’t fully capture the horror of the scene because no words could describe just how horrible it was.]
004. One of the most potent features that emerged, on this later reading, is the underlying fear and dislike of women—some women, at all events, the large, bossy, dynamic, interfering, knowing kind of woman. Benson must have been acquainted with some fearful examples of this type; or, at least, he must have known one. Perhaps, like Mrs Amworth, she preyed on adolescent boys.
005. There are women villainnesses, but no heroines.
006. About his partially autobiographical character David Blaize he comments, when the subject of sex is raised: ‘The whole matter was vague and repugnant to him, and he did not want to hear or know more.’
But if you turn your back on sex, it does not vanish away, simply assumes more and more importance in your subconscious mind. It seems probable that this is what happened to Benson.
007. Benson’s limping phantom embodies the same threat as the James story: that what, ultimately, haunts us, what frightens us most of all, is the doppelgänger, the obverse side of our own selves.

001. In June 1895 Benson displayed his keen interest in the supernatural when he analysed the notorious case of the ‘Clonmel Witch Burning’ which had taken place in Ireland only three months previously. A young Irish woman had been tortured to death by her husband, family and friends in order to ‘forcibly eject an evil spirit that had taken possession of her body’. Realising that the murderers’ pagan beliefs were identical to those of primitive tribes worldwide, he urged that the hideous crime ought to be called manslaughter rather than murder. Soon after Benson’s article was published in the prestigious Nineteenth Century magazine, the Crown Prosecutor did indeed withdraw the charge of murder, and replaced it with manslaughter.

The Room in the Tower
PLOT: [Wiki] The story tells of a young man who frequently has nightmares, which tell of his visiting a friend’s house during summer and then encountering the room in the tower, where he has to stay. The young man then is invited (in real-life) to a friend’s house during summer, and he is surprised that everything there matches his strange nightmares. Eventually seeing what the room hides inside, it reveals to be a gruesome portrait of Mrs. Stone, the mother of his “friend” in his nightmares. The young man eventually encounters the true horror that the room hides… a vampirized Julia Stone.
001. ‘The end of that mystery, I am afraid,’ I said. ‘Here’s a large cat having Walpurgis night all alone.’

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