Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Mrs Amworth"

"Mrs Amworth"
by E.F. Benson

A middle-aged Englishwoman returns home after spending years in India.  Despite all appearances to the contrary, one of her neighbors is convinced that there's something sinister about the newcomer.

My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
Though it's not remotely bone-chilling (from my jaded, modern perspective), this tale of an unusual vampire had a few shivery moments.

--  "'I was only telling our host how vampirism was not extinct yet.  I was saying that there was an outbreak of it in India only a few years ago.'  There was a more than perceptible pause, and I saw that, if Urcombe was observing her, she on her side was observing him with fixed eye and parted mouth.  Then her jolly laugh invaded that rather tense silence.  'Oh, what a shame!' she said.  'Your'e not going to curdle my blood at all.'"

--  The image of Mrs Amworth "fluttering" outside the windows, "like some terrible bat, trying to gain admittance"-- is simultaneously repellent and so ridiculous as to be humorous.  I keep picturing those "Red Bull gives you wings" commercials...

--  The thought of Mrs Amworth going to visit her victim with the gift of a bowl of jelly is subtly stomach-turning. 

--  "She drew her hand across her mouth as if wiping it, and broke into a chuckle of such laughter as made my hair stir on my head.  Then she leaped on to the grave, holding her hands high above her head, and inch by inch disappeared into the earth."

There were also a few of those humorous touches that one comes to expect from Benson...

--  "The general peace, however, is sadly broken on Saturdays and Sundays, for we lie on one of the main roads between London and Brighton and our quiet street becomes a race-course for flying motor-cars and bicycles.  A notice just outside the village begging them to go slowly only seems to encourage them to accelerate their speed, for the road lies open and straight, and there is really no reason why they should do otherwise.  By way of protest, therefore, the ladies of Maxley cover their noses and mouths with their handkerchiefs as they see a motor-car approaching, though, as the street is asphalted, they need not really take these precautions against dust."

--  "Besides, teaching is very bad for a man who knows himself to be a learner: you only need to be a self-conceited ass to teach."

--  "In the matter of age, she frankly volunteered the information that she was forty-five; but her briskness, her activity, her unravaged skin, her coal-black hair, made it difficult to believe that she was not adopting an unusual device, and adding ten years on to her age instead of subtracting them."

(It's always amusing-- and sad!-- to see how "mature" characters are described in these old books and stories.  In Tish, women who were 50+ were described as elderly, if I recall correctly.  Here, we have amazement that a 45-year-old woman should be "brisk" and active!  The 45 and 50 of the modern, Western world, with its plentiful food, advanced medicine, and relatively easy lifestyle is a far cry from the 45 and 50 of the 1920s-40s-- but it's easy to forget.)