Reading Group #9 ('Canon Alberic's Scrapbook')
Afegeix-te a LibraryThing per participar.
Aquest tema està marcat com "inactiu"—L'últim missatge és de fa més de 90 dies. Podeu revifar-lo enviant una resposta.
Holy anachronism, Batman!
1883 is what James actually wrote, of course.
ETA - I've just realised that comment on Project Gutenberg was a daft one. I can copy the stuff over to my own files and change the font to my liking, can't I? Prat.
I found it rather low on the 'creep' factor. Even when the one with the hair made an appearance I didn't find it particularly strong.
What interest there was for me was in trying to 'read between the lines', as it were, to work out the exact inter-relations between Alberic, the one with the hair, the scrapbook, the sacristan and the church, assuming they were there below the surface; but they didn't seem to make much sense. For instance, if the trouble was tied to the book and its ownership, why was the sacristan afraid to leave Dennistoun alone in the church?
One thing I thought I detected here was a certain confusion of tone - just a touch of 'English gentleman dealing with the funny foreigners', humorous style at odds with content and genre.
I do like James's typical tropes, so I am looking forward to reading more of him.
The thing about Solomon was that he was supposed to have controlled demons to work for his ends. James wrote a piece about it, online here -
Presumably this was what Alberic was up to and came a cropper because of it. But the story doesn't seem to satisfactorily tie it all together - to me, at any rate.
I think a lot can often be added to the creepiness of such a story by leaving things unsaid and loose-ends untied. I think what James does here is to unbalance the story by overdoing that.
That said, I've been half-hoping one of you would come back at me with, "You're missing half of it - this happens because of that, and that because of the other"!
Yes, that thing about the picture-bond occurred to me after I'd gone to bed last night. I also wondered whether the demon was the party with whom Canon A. had made his bargain, or whether he'd made it in the usual manner with the demon being only the instrumentality. The G&S piece would seem to make it the former.
That and the picture-bond are interesting insofar as why the demon would still be plaguing anyone two centuries later. Perhaps the sacristan is supposed to be a descendant of Canon A., given that he's living in his house and in possession of what might well be "heirlooms" (both book and demon)? Although it is curious that the demon seems to haunt whoever holds 'title' to the book (suggested by the selling rather than simple giving-away of the book). That also makes me wonder what the treasure was that Canon A. looted: the library, or more typical gold & silver locked up in the treasury (apparently St. B-de-C had a hidden treasury: Wikipedia has entries on the person, cathedral, and town, and there's an interesting "G&S" article about the cathedral and town that's available on-line). And after all it's curious that the sacristan didn't just burn it himself.
Even so, I find this story satisfying enough, certainly more so than "Two Doctors".
I rather like the incompleteness because it makes it seem all the more plausible, especially considering the accuracy of the place-descriptions.
In a way "C. A.'s S-B." reminds me of "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas", which I suppose shouldn't be too surprising given the similarities between "The Mezzotint" and "The Haunted Dolls' House", and between "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" and "A Warning to the Curious". And, now that I think about it, there are some similarities with "An Episode of Cathedral History", too.
But of course I'm a big fan, and these low points don't take away very much of the stories' power for me. It is a pity, though, that they happen, usually, at the last bit of the story, as that's what I consider the most important part. I'm a sucker for a great last sentence (or two).
ETA - Sorry, *Lost Hearts.
This made me think of how I enjoy reading gothic stories (especially antiquarian spook stories) in old books smelling of dust, with page browning, some spotting, and maybe even some brittleness. A gothic story from a gothic book, as it were, providing another connection to the atmosphere of the work. I've found a lot of Dover editions over the years, and while they're all pbk, a lot of them are basically reproductions of older hbks so one gets the older typefaces (and often Dover uses thicker paper, too). Then there's the ghost-story novel I received as a gift some years ago, with paper texture, page layout, and typeface that all remind me of tedious academic works: so I haven't even tried to read it yet.
Does this kind of thing happen to anyone else?
ETA - Come to think of it - though I can't think of one off-hand - there must be any number of spooky stories based on someone finding a rare old book in a second-hand bookshop.
ETA to my ETA - "... though I can't think of one off-hand ..." - (slapping forehead) completely forgot the subject of the thread, didn't I?
This prompts a question: would I have found Canon Alberic's Scrapbook a stronger story had I not been reading it extra carefully and critically with a view to writing it up in this thread? I really don't know the answer to this, but, in future, I'll make a conscious effort to turn off the 'Gothic group' bit of my brain for the first reading.
I actually attempted this post in the early hours this morning, but it wouldn't behave itself so I never posted it - let's see if I can beat it into submission this time:
I've taken to thinking of the kind of stories we've been dealing with as lying on a line. One extreme of the line being the pure 'chiller': here it's the author's writing skills ratcheting-up the tension and 'chill factor' that is the main strength of the story - I actually had in mind as an example 'The Empty House' that v. mentions above. The other end of the line I see as the 'curiosity' (in the sense you'd use it of some odd conversation piece you found in some junk or antique shop): here, the main strength is (are?) the fantastical elements in the story - the example I thought of here was H. G. Wells's 'The Crystal Egg' - a story with a fantastical premise but pretty much devoid of tension and chill (as I remember it, anyway).
My idea for a really top-notch story would be one that straddles the whole line - imaginative and inventive and tension-making and creepy.
I'd put 'Canon Alberic's Scrapbook' as covering a length round the middle of the line, reaching slightly further on the 'curiosity' side than the other. There's an interesting bit of curiosity value in the references to Solomon's demon-doings in the Apocrypha or wherever, and in the unanswered questions the story throws up; a bit less on the tension and creep side.
It occurred to me that James could have made a much better story from the sacristan's point of view.
Anyway: Too simplistic? Am I overlooking important stuff?
Edited to strike-through the 'the' - because the Oliver Onions I was so impressed with wasn't one of our reads - and if it had been the CPG wouldn't be something different, would it? (Shuffles off shaking head and muttering to himself.)
Rank, as to your post in 25:
I think I agree with you completely. I think Lovecracft straddles that line well, as well as writers like Blackwood (that's why 'The Listener' is still my favorite of all time).
New thread is up.
It seems I've sort of subconsciously changed my mind on this one and now find myself having to describe it as a favourite.
First of all, it's stuck in my mind more than most we've read; which suggests it has strengths I didn't consciously register. In addition to that, as I re-read this thread, I'm struck that I carried on reading through the succeeding stories in the book (and this was online and I don't really like reading stories online); which must say something for Canon Alberic. And then I notice that I'd formed the intention of buying a collected M. R. James by #20! Actually, it was probably only that intention that stopped me reading more of the stories on Gutenburg. And all this is on a story I'd thought I was a bit tepid about.
Trying to reason all this out, I have to admit that I can't really make much sense of it at the moment. It's too easy a cop-out to say that there must be something about James's writing style that chimes with me, so I'll have to give some serious thought to the matter.
#11, #13 - veil, to which Folio edition were you referring? I'm a bit torn at the moment - there's a '73 edition illustrated by Charles Keeping, with some quite cheap copies online at the moment (except the one they want £250 for!), and a 2007 illustrated by Francis Mosely which is rather scarcer and more expensive. And then there's a surprisingly cheap OUP hardback coming out in October which will include lots of notes and other goodies. Did I say 'torn'?
I also have an Oxford paperback that contains a great introduction and fabulous, fabulous notes and a few mini-essays of James' on the subject of ghost stories. It's called Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories. It set me back a piddling $7. Well, well worth it. It's now dog-eared. :)
I imagine this new OUP must be based on your paperback - it has what they describe as a 'lively' introduction, presumably by Darryl Jones, who's the editor, the essays you mention, also 'three uncollected tales'.*
ETA - *Nope, different editor and introduction.
Sad to admit, but I hadn't spotted the plot holes others commented on above. It's a bit like Ringu (Ring), isn't it, with the sacristan evidently having to pass on the cursed scrapbook (foreshadowing "Casting the Runes"?). I presume his back-story is the same as that of several later Jamesian protagonists: treasure-hunters or the intellectually curious coming a cropper when they bump up against the supernatural. Whatever he did must have meant that simply burning the picture would not have sufficed (unless this is a move that simply wouldn't have occurred to a stock "funny foreigner"? Because, yes, there is a bit of that in this story. As noted above, it was James's first ghost story.
I have a lingering mental idea, still, of "Gothic" as meaning very long novels or serials involving female protagonists imperilled and imprisoned, forced marriages or immuring in nunneries, wicked guardians and stolen fortunes, all that business (by no means wholly untrue of course and surprisingly long-lived, especially for a female readership. In fact, this sort of thing was a staple of British girl's comics (or "story papers") right up until the 80's or early 90s).
However M R James's stories don't work like that (even when, as in "Lost Hearts" the subject is an orphan at the mercy of a wicked guardian - maybe that's why he wasn't keen on it: too hackneyed? Or he was unable to pile on the agony like Le Fanu or Mrs Radcliffe would have done?).
No, rather these stories have a detached, academic air, they are short (designed to be read, or even acted out, aloud) and as a rule built up slowly to a crescendo - like a piece of music, maybe?
I said dry and academic, but that could be because I'm reading them wrongly. Has anyone else seen Robert Lloyd Parry performing M R James (including this story), either live or on DVD? In a period costume and with the glasses, and hair brilliantined back, he bears more than a passing resemblance to James. He reads in - not a fruity "actor" voice or his own speaking voice (there's an interview he did online) but a rather light, fussy, Oxbridge voice. It doesn't initially seem likely to chill, but in character (of the protagonist) he's excellent at bringing out the terror.
On a related note, has anyone else bought (or seen) the volume edited (rather heavily) by Stephan Jones, "Curious Warnings: the Great Ghost Stories of M R James"?
Wanting to keep track of the order thus far;
Casting the Runes
The Ash Tree
The Haunted Dolls' House
Canon Alberic's Scrapbook
The witch-hunt concept seems very similar in my mind to other themes I've noticed recently. Might be time to dust off The Crucible.
ETA: An email arrived yesterday that Stratford Festival (Ontario) has included The Crucible in their 2019 program of plays. Very timely. Others include; Othello, Henry VIII, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Private Lives, The Front Page, Mother's Daughter, Nathan The Wise, Birds of a Kind, Little Shop of Horrors, The Neverending Story, Billy Elliot.