The Claimant by Elizabeth Bowen: Somehow I never adjust to the endless sites to dead people that fill the internet. I suppose they’re an expression of love, and sometimes it’s difficult not to respond to them. Seeing Elizabeth Bowen’s blog on MySpace had the deepest effect on me yet. I’ve always been in love with the past and it’s very easy to believe that the past is still with us if we want it that way. I have never claimed that my grip on reality is strong.
That night I picked up Lady Cynthia Asquith’s Third Ghost Book and re-read The Claimant. It’s about a family who learn that they’ve inherited from a forgotten relative in Australia. P St James Hobart had died intestate, which leaves Arthur next in line. So they leave their Wimbledon home and with the capital that is now theirs, move to the West Country. It is a perfect July and the house stands on lawns that slope to the edge of a lake. Arthur has never been so happy.
Then the family learn of another claimant. His name is also P St James Hobart, and he insists that there was a will and his uncle had left the house to him. The family is disconcerted and Arthur made miserable, as much by the obvious unhappiness of the claimant as the threats he makes. Mr Hobart says that he is going to fly over directly and have this out with the solicitors. But the aircraft never arrives.
You can probably fill in the end for yourselves, but it’s much more pleasant to read it. Elizabeth Bowen’s writing makes reading effortless, and I loved the descriptions of the house by the lake and the interplay of the characters.
At the moment I’m reading Walter de la Mare, to whom this volume was dedicated, incidentally. Now I wonder if he’s on MySpace?
weirdmonger: Thanks for that. Particularly interesting to me as 'The Claimant' does not seem to be included in the book 'The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen'. This has caused me to google the story and I think it must be apocryphal in some way. Any info in the Ghost Book? I don't think I have this particular Ghost Book. According to the site here:
...there are three such stories: Brigands The Claimant Songs My Father Sang Me that I have never read!
Grateful to you for this wake-up call, intrigued - yet disturbed and annoyed! :-) des
I don't think it's apocryphal, Des - unless there are two Elizabeth Bowens. I believe that most of the stories in the book are first publications.
She provides the Introduction to The Second Ghost Book, and is shown as "Elizabeth Bowen, C.B.E."
Hand in Glove is the story in The Second Ghost Book
The Cat Jumps is in The Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories originally from the collection The Cat Jumps.
The Demon Lover is in TheSecond Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories and in Duel and Other Horror Stories of the Road originally from The Demon Lover.
weirdmonger:Thanks, Rog. I'm sure you're right. I meant apocryphal in its non-apocryphal sense! ;-) I know all the stories you've just mentioned. One of the first stories of hers I read (and my favourite) was THE APPLE TREE in 'Best Ghost Stories' chosen by Anne Ridler (Faber mcmlx). Many of her 90 odd stories would appeal to people on this site, I reckon. I grew into loving all her novels, too. This is my short essay on EB:
Still perturbed (in a positive must-do-something-about-this way) that I have not read at least 3 of her stories. des
That's an interesting article which made me want to read more Elizabeth Bowen.
I've copied some parts here:
Elizabeth Bowen (as I infer) didn't understand her own powers; she is a conduit for a creative force that yearns to bring to life the figments and fragments of our recent history with the added ingredient of alternately subtle and blatant elements of supernature.
I like the word "supernature" - it suggests that unseen powers might be as natural as wild growing things; and perhaps those growing things have a supernatural and subtle life of their own, perfectly illustrated in this quote you've made from her writing:
"Ivy gripped and sucked at the flight of steps, down which with such a deceptive wildness it seemed to be flowing…"
I must admit I've previously found EB's stuff a little obscure, the sort of charge normally levelled at Robert Aickman. This means clearly that I'm lacking in moral fibre and you've inspired me to have another look at those great stories.
weirdmonger: I've just read the story 'The Claimant'. This story is to be found in THE THIRD GHOST BOOK Ed. Lady Cynthia Asquith, not (for whatever reason) in the 'Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen'! Perhaps the story itself is a claimant to the EB canon!
SPOILER This story, for the first time, I feel, makes an EB ghost unutterably visible. For EB, this is a relatively straightforward story but with an aftertaste that is still building even as I write this... Thanks again.
To keep this thread up to date; Elizabeth Bowen has just finished quoting from all her short stories, but not yet from all her novels:
I have just received, hot off the press, a hardback book entitled THE BAZAAR AND OTHER STORIES by Elizabeth Bowen (edited by Allan Hepburn - Edinburgh University Press). This contains 28 stories by Elizabeth Bowen that have never been collected before (many of them never been published at all before).
I think the only one I've ever read is 'The Claimant' first published in 'The Third Ghost Book' (1955) edited by Lady Cynthia Asquith, a story that was not included, for some reason, in the 1980 volume of her collected stories.
This is a major event for Elizabeth Bowen fiction lovers. :-)
I now need to do this with regard to the new book described above. And below is the first one from her first published work SALON DES DAMES (1923) (previously uncollected):- ==================
Each of the hundred bedrooms with their shuttered windows might have held a corpse, rotting in humidity beneath the glacial swathings of the bed. In the lounge, a mist perpetually filmed the mirrors, the wicker armchairs gathering sociably around the glass-topped tables creaked at one another in the silence, so that now and then an apprehensive human head would bob up from over a writing table or the back of a settee. The rain was always audible on the glass roof of the verandah. It is terrible to be alone in the darkness of rain, swept aside by one’s world’s indifference into a corner of a house. It is still more terrible to be swept aside into a corner of a continent.
Lady Cynthia Asquith (ed) - The Third Ghost Book (James Barrie, 1955: Pan, 1957)
Cover of the 1968 edition.
Introduction - L. P. Hartley
Mary Treagold - The Telephone Elizabeth Bowen - The Claimant Evelyn Fabyon - Napoleon’s Hat Rachel Hartfield - The Bull L.A.G. Strong - The House That Wouldn’t Keep Still Mary Fitt - The Doctor Elizabeth Jenkins - On No Account, My Love Lord Dunsany - The Ghost Of The Valley Margaret Lane - The Day Of The Funeral Ronald Blythe - Take Your Partners L.P.Hartley - Someone In The Lift Robert Aickman - Ringing The Changes Marghanita Laski - The Tower Jonathan Curling - I Became Bulwinkle Collin Brooks - Mrs. Smiff James Laver - Somebody Calls Rosemary Timperley - Harry Ursula Codrington - The Shades Of Sleepe Daniel George - The Woman In Black Shane Leslie - A Laugh On The Professor John Cornell - The House In The Glen Elizabeth Taylor - Poor Girl Nancy Spain - The King Of Spain Michael Asquith - The Uninvited Face Angus Wilson - Animals Or Human Beings Eileen Bigland - Remembering Lee Cynthia Asquith - Who Is Sylvia ?
Cover of the 1968 edition.
Thought I'd add a contents list as so far this thread only really comments on one story when there's plenty else to be admired. Some of the stories have more to do with nasty horror than quaint old ghosts. Editor Hartley's Someone In The Lift is a particularly spiteful tale of a Christmas bereavement. Wilson's Animals Or Human Beings sees an aged anti-vivisectionist done in, either by the lab-rats she's rescued or some rat-faced children at the very least. Robert Aickman, not always the most accessible author, is at his most traditional in Ringing The Changes which sees a honeymooning couple tormented by the dancing dead (this, Rosemary Timperley's ghost child Harry and Mary Treadgold's The Telephone were all borrowed by Roald Dahl for his supposedly exhaustively researched Book Of Ghost Stories). Jonathan Curling's under-rated London tale of terror, I Became Bulwinkle, introduces black sorcery as the odious, warty nosed, squat, balding, third-rate conjurer Clarence Bulwinkle uses a trick picked up in Sierra Leone to exchanges bodies with the well-to-do narrator.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.
In L.T.C. Rolt's 1956 article "The Passing of the Ghost Story", he writes scathingly (and at some length) of a recent anthology. An example of his comments: "With one possible exception the masters are not here. Well-known writers who should know better fall into every pitfall which can so easily entrap whoever would succeed in this minor but most subtle and sinister art". That one exception he names as Michael Asquith's 'The Uninvited Face". From this, and with the invaluable aid of the ISFD, I've deduced that the collection in question must have been The Third Ghost Book. Although he was a great ghost story writer himself, I'm not sure what this comment says about Rolt's tastes in supernatural fiction. How could he have dismissed so summarily such stories as Laski's "The Tower" (always a favourite of mine), Aickman's "Ringing the Changes", and Hartley's "Someone in the Lift" (that story gave me nightmares when I first read it, and meant that I refused to go into a lift for several months - I was only little!).
Interesting to hear what Rolt thought of the Third Ghost Book, even if his falling out with Aickman may have led him to set his face against it. I must say that as a long time reader of ghost stories, the anthology has always struck me as being perfectly fine, and has provided me with many absorbing hours over the years.
Just as a matter of curiosity, what does IWA mean when talking about the Rolt-Aickman falling out?