Saturday, September 14, 2013

"That Dieth Not"

"That Dieth Not"
from They Return at Evening
by H.R. Wakefield

They Return at Evening is a collection of ghost stories by H.R. Wakefield.  It's his first such collection, published in 1928.  I'll be posting reactions to stories individually.


A baronet marries unwisely, grows to hate his wife, and finally gives in to the impulse to kill her.  She returns the favor by haunting him-- or is he going mad?  (Nah, she's totally haunting him.)

My reaction:
Eh... I wasn't really creeped by this one.  The first, pre-murder half of the story was much more disturbing than the haunting half.  Maybe it was just me-- and my modern, desensitized perspective-- but most of the haunting (except one part, to be addressed later) seemed fairly mild and lacking in nuance.

--  Of his wife:  "She was highly intelligent in a debased feminine way."  ...What?  Can intelligence be qualified, categorized, whatever by gender? 

--  Sadly, I have to admit that I relate to the murderous narrator in his wish to avoid the social scene.

--  The narrator sometimes expresses himself with a sharp, rather cruel wit that reminds me of the little I've read of Oscar Wilde. 

--  "And then Ethel went off to twitter in butts..."  And then I said, "She whaaaaa...?"  I don't know what that means.

--  "To think that I could have been such an utter flaming fool as to have ruined my life by a fortuitous combination of pigment, cuticle-- and the way the blood shone through it, hair-- and the way the light caught it, bones-- and the way their envelope draped around them."

--  "Once I had been fool enough to regard women as mentally almost indistinguishable, and it had been merely by the physical criterion I had separated one from another in my mind."  What a great guy!

--  "'Nothing,' I said, 'is worth an awkward pause, not even the exposure of notorious evil-livers.  Some people have a sixth sense for knowing how to avoid them.  Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.'"

--  The narrator doesn't think too highly of the Riviera:
"What a region!  I have cruised the Mediterranean fairly extensively, and it is no Sea for me.  What merits the Southern Latins may once have possessed is a matter of opinion; that they retain any today seems to me untenable. A breed of pimps, parasites, and horse-torturers, the choicest surviving examples of that cretin civilisation which is Catholicism's legacy to the world.  And it has always seemed to me that members of races vastly their intellectual and moral superiors become debased and degraded when brought into contact with them, though I know the region attracts the worst."
...Wow.  How much of that is the author's own opinion?

--  The narrator's wife does seem pretty awful.  Are we supposed to sympathize with the murderer-- or just conclude that they deserve one another?

--  The narrator, when meeting Margaret, notices "the lovely junction of her legs and feet", which sounds pretty funny.  Are there any "ankle men" out there, these days, or is appreciation of a slender ankle mostly a thing of the past?

--  Until the appearance of a car (and the mention of a "flat-tyre" personality or somesuch), the story felt like it could've been set further in the past than it actually was.  Instead, we get a technophile ghost who chooses to make her first appearances through the telephone and radio.

--  Some of Ethel's hauntings fail to give me the shudders-- though the "haunting via technology" concept has endured.  (Some of the fairly recent famous Asian horror films come to mind.  The Ring... The Grudge... Pulse...)

-- The Grodiest Moment award goes to...
...that time when the narrator wakes in the middle of the night to the feeling of someone slipping into his arms... and the sense of a beating heart... At first, he thinks it's his new wife, but then he gets that creepy-crawly, something's-wrong feeling-- looks-- and sees that it's his dead wife, the woman he murdered several months ago.  "For a moment she was warm and whole, and then she glazed, swelled, and burst asunder, and became a seething bladder of corruption."  Well, gross.

-- There was an introduction that I skipped because sometimes introductions have a way of assuming that you've already read the book (which is incredibly stupid, since they come at the beginning of the book!) and proceed to give away the story.  I intend to go back and at least skim it when I'm done, though...