Sunday, February 23, 2014

"The House with the Brick-Kiln"

"The House with the Brick-Kiln"
 by E.F. Benson

Two friends rent a manor house for a few weeks, hoping to enjoy some fly-fishing along the nearby stream.  Strange occurrences on the property gradually lead to a less-than-ideal situation.

My Reaction:
I enjoyed it.  A good old-fashioned haunted house story.  Personally, I think some of the creepiness is blunted by having two friends as witnesses-- both open to the possibility of "paranormal activity"-- both more than willing to discuss things.  Benson seems to prefer having at least two witnesses to his horrors.  I guess it can work, sometimes, to have them discuss, compare, and contrast their creepy observations-- but often I find it scarier when a character is alone.  ~shrug~  It's more a matter of execution than a simple, cut-and-dried fact that a story can't be scary with two witnesses.  Some extremely creepy stories have two or more people witnessing the same creepiness-- with great success in the form of shivers and shudders.  In this story, however, it doesn't feel that these two men are ever in any real danger, and even when what they observe is horrific, the details are usually lacking something... But it was still a perfectly nice story-- especially in parts. 

Tidbits (with SPOILERS): 
-- "...Our arrival seemed to arouse a good deal of interest.  The reason for this was obscure; he could only tell us that he was questioned a dozen times as to whether we really intended to live in the house, and his assurance that we did produced silence and a shaking of heads.  But the country-fold of Sussex are notable for their silence and chronic attitude of disapproval, and we put this down to local idiosyncrasy."

--  " that moment of stepping from the darkness into the cheerfulness of the lighted house, I had a sudden sensation, to which, during the next fortnight, I became almost accustomed, of there being something unseen and unheard and dreadful near me."

-- When the two friends discover that both of them have had that odd, unpleasant sensation... "...As he spoke I felt it with far greater intensity than ever before.  And at the same moment the house-door which had been closed, though probably not latched, swung gently open, letting out a shaft of light from the hall, and as gently swung to again, as if something had stealthily entered."

That reminds me of the bit in Blackwood's The Willows when a character says that speaking about things makes them real-- giving them utterance-- admitting that you've noticed them-- makes them worse, somehow.  ~shiver~

--  The "revelation" of the manor house's history is no great surprise.  Well, possibly the reader's not sure who the woman was-- or that the ghost is the artist-- but I think most modern readers will jump to one conclusion regarding the brick-kiln, almost as soon as they see the word "brick-kiln".

--  It took six months for someone to discover the "charred fragments", and in the meantime, Francis Adam was apparently living at home as usual, working on his series of paintings of the house and grounds.  No wonder the brick-kiln was always visible (and smoking), even from angles where it should have been hidden.  He was obsessed-- possibly haunted-- by what he had done...  The white flames around the edges of his clothes make less sense.  Just a symbol of his crime?  It would be more logical (er, ghost-story logical) if he had thrown himself into the lighted brick-kiln, driven to fiery suicide by his guilty conscience or the haunting presence of the kiln.