Reading Group #33 ('The Judge's House')

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Reading Group #33 ('The Judge's House')

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ag. 23, 2012, 5:47pm

Bram Stoker (which means we may be in for a pretty sh**ty story, folks :D

Here's a link for anyone without the text...

ag. 23, 2012, 6:05pm

And here's a picture (I hope).

That's not a rat in the background, it's my head...

ag. 23, 2012, 6:39pm

I'm glad you felt the need to point that out, haha...

Incidentally, am I the only person in this group with a photo of herself on her profile? :D

Editat: ag. 24, 2012, 12:37pm

Just a note for anyone who's interested:

This is from the Bram Stoker short story collection Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories, published in 1914. This is available on Project Gutenberg but, for some reason, they simply call it 'Dracula's Guest' and, until you look into more closely, it looks as if you only get the one story. In fact, the whole book is there in that one download.

ETA - For anyone who doesn't know what I'm rambling on about, Project Gutenberg stuff is free, out of copyright and downloadable in various formats for Kindle and so forth.

ETA, again - Or readable online.

ag. 24, 2012, 6:18pm

I've never previously read this.

First thoughts: I thought it was quite good; with a disturbing build-up of unease; but ...

There was something about the ending - the last two or three sentences - that didn't seem to work very well. I can't quite put my finger on why, at the moment, but it had a somewhat bathetic feel - not quite anti-climactic, but sort of 'running out of steam'.

Up until then I found it really gripping, though.

I'll give it another read in a day or two.

Editat: ag. 25, 2012, 6:20am

You may regard this as a SPOILER; so it's probably best not read until you've read the story.

I think the problem I have with the ending is that it proceeds smoothly to the logical conclusion, when entertainment value demands the expectation be subverted. I was mentally screaming at him Malcolmson, towards the end - "Remember what happened with your Bible, you idiot!" Perhaps Stoker was subverting expectation, there.

ag. 25, 2012, 6:38am

Did Stoker intend any significance in the name 'Malcolm Malcolmson'? It's just enough out of the usual (sounding like it belongs in an Edda or Saga) to make me suspect that there might be a purpose there.

I wondered if there was some sort of connection with the Malcolm in Macbeth; but, if there was, I couldn't see it. I also wondered if there was supposed to be a Danish feel to it to play, somehow, on history - the Danelaw and the Saxons and all that - but, again, I couldn't see it.

Or are obscure references and hidden meanings a bit too much to expect from Stoker?

ag. 25, 2012, 6:41am

And, in the time I've been sitting here cogitating over 'The Judge's House', I could probably have read the damn' story again!

ag. 26, 2012, 5:15pm

>7 alaudacorax:

I don't think there are any subtle hidden meanings here. I do think there are some discernible influences, though. Whether they are conscious or unconscious I'm not certain.

Firstly, I'd suggest the influence of the theatre because everything is very visual, and very (melo-)dramatic. Stoker was of course involved with the theatre from an early age, firstly as an enthusiastic theatregoer, then as a reviewer in the local press (which he did for free, I think I remember reading!) and then as Henry Irving's "acting manager" (i.e. business manager) at the Lyceum.

As examples, the dining room in the Judge's House could be a stage set. There are dramatic changes of lighting (as lamps are moved, knocked, dropped). There's a dramatic exit (which Stoker does not handle well as a prose writer, because he merely tells us how impressive the scene would have been if we'd seen it: 'and the Doctor made about as effective an exit as could be thought of.'). Mrs Witham's propensity for falling into hysterics looks to me like the sort of antique "business" that survived into the early talkies. And the "last act" - without giving too much away for anyone who's yet to read the story - would be effective on stage (certainly in the 1880s, and probably still today).

The notes (by Jack G. Voller) in the Swan River Press "chapbook" ((2) above) are more extensive than those in the Penguin Classics edition of Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories. They suggest a couple of other influences, or in the first case "connections" might be better.

This is simply that Stoker wrote "The Judge's House" when he was also in the early stages of writing Dracula, and there are some parallels between the two works: The rationalists Malcomson (mathematics student) and Harker (solicitor) journeying to remote dwellings that the locals regard as evil/haunted (with good reason!); the doctor figure with a strange line in 19th century psychology and apparent knowledge of the supernatural (Thorndike/Van Helsing), and so on. In fairness, I should say that it's me, not Voller, making these connections (just in case it's nonsense, not because I want the glory!).

Then there is the very likely inspiration from J. S. Le Fanu's "Mr Justice Harbottle" (and/or its first incarnation, the Dublin-set "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street") ... again, saying too much would give away too much, if you haven't read the story yet.

There's also the tea (a nod to Le Fanu's "Green Tea"?) which is apparently more potent than a brandy!

I would also guess that the Irish folktales his mother told Stoker as a child feed in, in some way - perhaps the efficacy of the Bible as a sort of amulet against the rat?

Then there's the strange behaviour of Malcomson at the end, which seems to stem from Stoker's own personality, and his propensity (need?) to fall under the spell of another man's personality (Irving would be the classic but not the only example of this behaviour).

Is the end disappointing? I don't think there would be anything to choose between a "happy" or "sad" ending, necessarily. Maybe the atmosphere isn't sufficiently worked up to create a sense of "dreadful inevitability" the ending perhaps seems disappointing because we were half-expecting something ingenious?

Mike (Hellboy)Mignola, who provides an introduction in addition to the frontispiece, sort of agrees and sort of doesn't...he thinks the build up of tension is fine, even's the "last act" (which again, I'll refrain from discussing directly), that he thinks goes "goofy"; but then he says "if not for that last bit, would we love this story half as much?{...} it's that lack of subtlety {...} - that's what makes this thing work".

ag. 26, 2012, 6:10pm

#9 - Maybe the atmosphere isn't sufficiently worked up to create a sense of "dreadful inevitability"...

Good point. The impression I get of Stoker is of a great natural talent for writing who wouldn't or couldn't put in the hard graft to make his work truly great. Some places the spirit seems to take him and the writing really flows along; others it seems quite laborious and I strongly suspect he wasn't the type to have several more attempts at them until he hit rich veins again.

Thinking over your last paragraph and Mignola's use of 'goofy', I've realised how much I, myself - as opposed to Stoker - am bringing to the 'last act'. There's a horrific quality in it for me that I've just realised probably comes from my memories of various horror films - from particular, common, visual tropes that directors like to use. These would probably have been quite absent from the experience of Stoker's original readers (I say 'probably' because I wouldn't like to swear that they weren't used on the Victorian stage) and I'm not sure that the last act would have worked as well for them as it does for me. It's a tricky business - this lit-crit.

Editat: ag. 29, 2012, 3:26am

> 10

I'd hazard a guess that a lot of the visual tropes of Horror cinema had already been seen on stage before the 19th century was over. "Frankenstein" was put on the stage in the 1820s (Mary Shelley saw a production), "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" was playing at the same time as the Ripper murders were being committed. In general productions were both lavish and naturalistic (in terms of scenery, costumes etc. if not perhaps performance style).

"The Woman in Black" is still playing in the West End after - what, 20 years?

Edited to add: - I mentioned "The Woman in Black" simply to illustrate that theatrical effects are still effective on a modern audience. I know it's a 20th Century work.

Editat: set. 4, 2012, 3:46am

I enjoyed the period horror of “The Judge’s House”. One of the things that amused me was not so much Stoker’s building of the horror, but his maintenance of hope right up to the final sentence. I also enjoyed peering into the society of the day.

This link,, brings you to a history of the stories publication, from its first appearance in 1891 in the December issue of Holly Leaves to a 1997 inclusion in a Best Ghost and Horror Stories edited by Richard Dalby, Stefan Dziemianowicz and S. T. Joshi.

Brian J. Showers’ Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin has some interesting facts that give a clue to the origins of the story.

Clonmel House on Harcourt Street in Dublin was once the home of John Scot, Lord Clonmell (1739-1798), also known as “Copper-faced Jack”, a notorious hanging judge. Bram Stoker’s brother, Thornley moved into Clonmel House and Bram lodged with him from late 1874 to mid-1875, and then again in late 1876. The conjecture is that “Copper-faced Jack” and Stoker’s living in Clonmel House influenced the creation of this story.

The story reminded me of one of Edith Nesbit's stories in which she used a similar trope, but I won't be specific lest I spoil things for those that have not read The Judge's House.

set. 3, 2012, 7:44pm

>12 pgmcc:

Something odd's going on with those links - they're taking me to a "new topic" box.

Thanks for the information on Copper-faced Jack. So the inspiration wasn't Judge Jeffreys (not principally, anyway).

set. 4, 2012, 3:49am

I see what you mean about the links. The html was correct (as far as I could tell) but the system seems to have been inserting an LT link. Removal of the html seems to have sorted the problem.

Obviously there is a gap in my education. I think everyone should have one of those. It saves one from becoming conceited.

set. 4, 2012, 3:49am

S'ha suprimit aquest usuari en ser considerat brossa.

set. 4, 2012, 4:08am

#15 - Are you aware of the horrible fates that can befall one in our genre?

Editat: set. 4, 2012, 4:11am

#16 LOL, or should I say, BWAHAHAHAHA...?

set. 4, 2012, 4:18am

But he has reminded me that I've yet to get round to my second reading of this. This evening, perhaps. If my brain has settled down enough from my reading The Lair of the White Worm.

set. 4, 2012, 4:28am

#18 That is one I have yet to read. I've noted your comments elsewhere so I'm not expecting too much from it.

set. 4, 2012, 6:21am

#19 - I wouldn't discourage you from reading it - it's quite fascinating in its own way, if you've read some of his other stuff, but partly in a car-crash-watching kind of way.

set. 4, 2012, 3:39pm

> 14

Many thanks for the links. Interesting to see Clonmel House in its modern state (it reminds me of squares in London around Bloomsbury. You pass by an anonymous building with a brass plaque announcing it's the headquarters of something or other, or the institute for something else. Later on you learn of its connection to someone such as Arthur Machen).

set. 5, 2012, 4:47am


Yes, it's dreadfulness does retain some charm... Generally when I'm...shall we say...'under the influence, and yet haven't taken a single drop of alcohol' (is that mysterious enough? :P, I read ancient gossips like Suetonius and Procopius, but every so often there's nothing like The Arabian Nights or, yes, The Lair of the White Worm. For those of us disposed to the occasional herbal refreshment, I seriously recommend LWW...


But uh...anyway...

set. 5, 2012, 10:30am

You guys have inspired me. I've read The Judge's House and found it very much like a play, right down to showing a 'gun' in the first act and having it 'go off' in the third. Good sense of dread, but also hope which, fittingly, is crushed in the end. I found the Judge's violence/antagonism to be a bit vague though; mindless and without specific purpose meaning he'd go after anyone in Malcomson's position. Found that I've got a copy of Mr. Justice Harbottle in The Dark Descent which is a pretty good horror collection, so I'm reading that now and definitely there are parallels between the stories.

set. 5, 2012, 10:39am

#22 - Ah - we must be back on that green tea thing again ...

Editat: set. 14, 2012, 12:11pm


I finally got round to a second reading.

#5 - There was something about the ending - the last two or three sentences - that didn't seem to work very well. I can't quite put my finger on why, at the moment, but it had a somewhat bathetic feel - not quite anti-climactic, but sort of 'running out of steam'.
I withdraw that comment. I had intended to try to analyse it this time round, to see if I could 'put my finger on it'. In the event, those two or three sentences just didn't strike me the same way. Perhaps they are a fraction too abrupt - I'm not really sure - but I can't now see them the way I did last time.

#9 - In the light of houseful's comments in #9, I really could see the theatre's influence this time round - especially in seeing the big room at the house as a stage set.

Did anyone else think that the absence of some sense of justice in the plot was a flaw? I think there's some sort of idea of justice running through most of the Gothic genre. The innocent eventually get away by the skin of their teeth; the guilty get some sort of punishment, even if it's the 'sins of the fathers' kind of guilt, as in 'The Rats in the Walls'*, or guilt in some equally oblique way. Innocents do get 'punished', but they're usually secondary characters.

Bringing those three points together, I think the story would work better if you were watching it - as a short stage piece, for instance - but when you have it on the page you need to see more deeply into it, and it's just that absence of a justice element that gives a lack of depth to it.

Talking about 'The Rats in the Walls', I was a little intrigued and amused at the way Stoker gave the rats a sort of bunnies in the hedgerow friendliness and even had them come out on the 'good guy' side toward the end. In general, I don't really see much humour in Stoker, but I couldn't help wondering if, here, he wasn't having a little gentle fun with the readership.

And now I've introduced the subject of humour, I'm wondering if we're meant to see a grim humour in the juxtaposition of the complete injustice of what happens and the ghost of a judge.

I'm sort of middling on this story. I wouldn't call it bad, but it's far from the best we've read, I think.

*Or 'Rappaccini's Daughter' - classic example of the sins of the fathers there.

Editat: set. 14, 2012, 12:24pm

Also, it's pure bad luck that that final mention of the portrait in the last paragraph immediately made me think of the grandfather's portrait in 'Young Frankenstein'. NOT Stoker's fault.

set. 16, 2012, 7:18am

>23 Bookmarque:

Someone's posted a review of 'The Dark Descent' on here, and listed the contents. I think I've got about half of the stories in other collections. There does seem to be a lot of overlap in the various collections and anthologies.

A very good collection is 'H P Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales' from Cold Spring Press. It's compiled from a handful of lists that Lovecraft made, mostly I think in private correspondence (he was an incredibly industrious letter writer).

The book is split between more-or-less established classics: 'The Literary Weird Tale' (the bulk of the book) and six stories from Weird Tales that particularly chimed with Lovecraft for some reason: 'The Popular Weird Tale'. These last stories, I would guess, are anthologised much less often, although one, 'The Night Wire' by H F Arnold, is in The Weird.

I don't know if this book is still readily available. It was only published in 2005 but Cold Spring Press is a small press (it's rather astonishing that a copy found it's way into my local Waterstones, really).

set. 16, 2012, 7:27am

> 27

I'd better list the contents:

The Fall of the House of Usher - Poe
The Suitable Surroundings - Ambrose Bierce
The Death of Halpin Frayser - Bierce
Novel of the Black Seal - Arthur Machen
Novel of the White Powder - Machen
The Yellow Sign - Robert W Chambers
Count Magnus - M R James
The White People - Machen
The Willows - Algernon Blackwood
The House of Sounds - M P Shiel
The Moon Pool - A Merritt
Seaton's Aunt - Walter de la Mare

Beyond the Door - Paul Suter
The Floor Above - M L Humphreys
The Night Wire - H F Arnold
The Canal - Everil Worrell
Bells of Oceana - Arthur J Burks
In Amundsen's Tent - John Martin Leahy

Editat: set. 16, 2012, 8:53am

Looking at the stories in that light, it will be very interesting to hunt them up. I know I've read four, and there another three of four that seem to ring bells.

I remember I read a lot of Machen when I was a youngster; but now I remember little of what I read.

I read a lot of M P Shiel at about the same time; but it's a name that I'd decades ago forgotten till I read your post. I seem to remember a block of the yellow-coloured Gollanczes on the shelves of the library where I grew up - I think they had a similar block of Gollancz Lovecrafts, too. All I can definitely remember about Shiel is something about the last man and woman left in the world and the the man burning cities for some reason.

ETA - Oddly, in the second block, none of the authors ring any bells with me, but the first three titles do - I shall hunt through what anthologies I have here.

set. 16, 2012, 9:23am

> 29

the last man and woman left in the world and the the man burning cities for some reason.

The Purple Cloud

set. 16, 2012, 5:55pm

> 26

Thanks for mentioning 'Young Frankenstein' - just re-watched it on DVD.

oct. 21, 2012, 5:14am

Hey all, here to let everyone know I'm not dead! I'll get a new reading thread up soon...


oct. 21, 2012, 6:37am

[... alaudacorax waves across, happily ...]

That reminds me, I meant to go to the library to look for Stoker biogs. I'm really curious to learn something about the man himself that might throw some light on some of the quirks, oddities and - I have to say it - inadequacies of a lot of his output.

I've come to be quite intrigued about him. From the fiction, I've built up my own ideas on his character and ideas, but ...

oct. 22, 2012, 3:49pm

> 32 Hello, it's good to hear from you. Looking forward to the new thread,

oct. 25, 2012, 3:41am

Alllllrighty, so here's a new thread AT LONG LAST: Le Fanu time, everyone!! :)

(This may be the most...illiterate thing I've ever written on LT...apologies...)

New thread is up!

ag. 20, 2015, 7:29am

Pondering on relatively unconnected Stoker stuff, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder if there was some contemporary satirical significance in having a judge reincarnated as a rat - or some personal grudge, perhaps?

gen. 15, 2020, 8:20am

Bumping this to the top, since my Kobo/ebook Stoker collection includes this title. Maybe for February?

Editat: gen. 15, 2020, 8:58am

>9 housefulofpaper: I found this article in the NCR helpful when wrapping one's brain around the term 'Sacramentals' for those unused to the concept, as non-Catholics or as uninformed 'lukewarm' Catholics who have not done their proper research.

The Holy Bible in any Catholic home has been blessed likely by a local priest, or if handed down by family members, by the parish priest at the time it was received (usually as a gift, not bought by the person directly, as for Baptism, First Communion, First Confession/Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, etc.). It is not usually kept on a bookshelf alongside other pieces of literature or poetry, it has a prominent place on a hall table or side table, usually with votive or tapered candles nearby, simulating a small home altar, a place of inspiration and retreat. Point being, this Sacramental would be on display, easily seen and used, near at hand to use in moments of fear or dismay or distrust or lapses in faith. They can be considered non-violent weapons (ie. rosaries) to defend the Faith. I know nothing about amulets.

gen. 15, 2020, 9:55am

>18 alaudacorax: This title is also on my list, but I'm looking forward to it (without need for alcohol or drugs), since I enjoyed Seven Stars much more than expected.

gen. 15, 2020, 10:20am

>12 pgmcc: My Kobo/ebook collections include the following; In the Dark, The Power of Darkness / E Nesbit -and- The Vampire Maid, The Demon Spell / H Nisbet - which I constantly mix up as to who wrote what and when... it will be curious to see if one of these two invoke Stoker's story.

gen. 15, 2020, 5:50pm

>38 frahealee:
Thank you for the explanation and the link, very illuminating.

The fact that a Bible would be a Sacramental in a Catholic Irish home does make its efficacy in this story more, if not necessarily believable (it depends on the reader, I guess) then certainly arising organically from the milieu and situation, rather than being something spun out of whole cloth for the sake of the plot.

>40 frahealee:
I have to confess to never having heard of H(ume) Nesbit before now.

gen. 15, 2020, 9:55pm

>41 housefulofpaper: The Demon Spell was 1894 and Horror Babble has an 18min blurb so it can't be too long, and The Vampire Maid was from 1900. Both were included as short stories in my 50 top Halloween stories collection purchased for a buck, and I am making time for them gradually.

Funny how Nesbit is English and Nisbet is Scottish. I see Edith wrote children's stories and poetry also, which will be worth pursuing eventually. Love a mish mosh when it comes to writing, since who says specializing is better than diversifying, even with obvious talent in one segment. As with sports, so with literature!

Editat: gen. 16, 2020, 11:28am

Of course, I had to find all four of these this morning and plow right through them in order to attack the title work of this thread. Whew, now I can get on with my day!

The Demon Spell (16min):
(it conjured thoughts of The Woman in White, By Gaslight, Alias Grace)
* I think this qualifies as a Christmas ghost story!

The Vampire Maid (15min):

(both by James Hume Nisbet, Scottish/Australian)

In The Dark (1888) 25min:

The Power of Darkness (1905) 29min awful audio version online

(both by Edith Nesbit, English)

Both might qualify as Christmas ghost stories. Interesting that she has a 7hr audiobook called The Story of the Amulet. The only amulet overlap I could call to mind was The Winter of Our Discontent by Steinbeck.

Editat: gen. 16, 2020, 3:45pm

Well, after completing the story, twice in fact, the above two Edith Nesbit stories did not bring The Judge's House to mind, so it must be another option, and I'll likely know it when I find it.

It did remind me of Blackwood's The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York, again for reasons that can't be specified, but the picture in that tale was also important. It was one of my favourites of the whole year. So, I liked this one too, but not quite as much. There was much more going on in the other. This was a stripped down easily consumed morsel, with me rooting for Malcolm from start to finish. The mention of St. Anthony early on, just as a side comment to one of the women, perked up my ears for that pending bible reference, and sure enough, it was satisfying to my curiosity.

The doctor had no significance to me, other than being a more reliable witness than the landlady or the housekeeper, for the time. The student was a mathematician and the judge sided with lawyers, so a doctor was just another form of 'esteemed presence' that the town would know and trust. What I want to know is why that night was the expected conclusion of events, how and why would the doctor know that enough to speak it aloud, and the tea thing was bizarre. He stopped drinking it and things got worse. Seems contradictory to me, or a red herring.

I liked the setting, the seclusion with a viable reason, three hours away is just enough to render isolation for study successful, so the fact that I only had to worry about five or six characters was refreshing. Yep, I liked it. Flaws and all. Ending, right as rain!

Residual images; the fat lady in the moving portrait at Hogwarts dorm who requires a password to gain entry in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, yes Young Frankenstein, hypnotic eyes of Kaa in Jungle Book, casting out of devils into swine or similar, etc. Lots of fodder for fitful dreams tonight! Now, for more audiobooks by Edith Nesbit...