Archive for February, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The White Old Maid”

Posted in Ghost Stories, Nathaniel Hawthorne, story translations, The White Old Maid (1835), Twice-Told Tales with tags , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

While looking up book covers on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database I came across this collection of Hawthorne stories in French. I couldn’t figure out what the title was in English, so I checked the contents which usually has the original titles next to the translations. Once I did I realized it was a title I’d never heard of before called “The White Old Maid” (1835). Apparently it has been included in a few ghost story anthologies, as well as in the expanded edition of Hawthorne’s “Twice-Told Tales”, so I looked it up and found it on the Wikisource page for “Twice-Told Tales”. It actually was rather good, but not on par with his more celebrated tales.

It starts with a sort of MacGuffin: two young women, one haughty and the other gentle, tearfully hovering over the cadaver of a young man in state. There is some transgression which the proud one has made, but it is never divulged. She asks if the other will betray her, but the gentle one, who is named Edith, says,

‘”Till the dead bid me speak I will be silent,” answered Edith. “Leave us alone together. Go and live many years, and then return and tell me of thy life. He too will be here. Then, if thou tellest of sufferings more than death, we will both forgive thee.”

“And what shall be the token?” asked the proud girl, as if her heart acknowledged a meaning in these wild words.

“This lock of hair,” said Edith, lifting one of the dark clustering curls that lay heavily on the dead man’s brow.’ [Nathaniel Hawthorne “The White Old Maid” 1837, retrieved from Wikisource 02/22/17]

The proud woman goes off and lives her entire life wearing the same white dress and trailing behind every local funeral cortege, presumably in penance for her unnamed transgression. She eventually becomes a town fixture and any funeral she doesn’t attend is seen as being ill-favored. Then, one day she is seen walking the main street by herself when there is no funeral. People crowd the street to see what is amiss…but you have to read the story to find out what happens next.

In truth, it isn’t really a ghost story per se, although there is some question at the end as to the status of an old servant of the house of the young man from the beginning of the tale. I’m surprised it has never been filmed. I could picture it as a Val Lewton movie, not too explicit, but with class and atmosphere to spare. The French title, La vieille fille blanche et autres contes fantastiques, which roughly translates to “The White Old Maid and other Fantastic Tales” features a depiction of the maid in question. The only discrepancy is that the woman in the story always wore the same white dress, and the woman in the artwork is wearing black.

A French collection of stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, featuring "The White Old Maid" ((1973, Marabout).

A French collection of stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, featuring “The White Old Maid” ((1973, Marabout).

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Hugh B. Cave’s “Murgunstrumm”

Posted in A Taste for Blood, H.W. Wesso, Hugh B. Cave, Lee Brown Coye, Murgunstrumm, Murgunstrumm and Others, Pulp Magazines, Pulp Writers, Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, vampire novellas with tags , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am a very big fan of the weird pulp writers of the early 20th century. I enjoy the mixture of Victorian naiveté and pre-code exploitation in truly imaginative Horror and Fantasy stories, and I just love the cover art! Sometimes when I am bored I’ll surf the web in search of illustrations from the original publications of tales that I review on here. On one such a search I encountered the January 1933 cover for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror by H.W. Wesso. The image was so striking that I was drawn to it immediately. Upon further investigation I learned that it depicted a climactic scene from the vampire novella “Murgunstrumm” by Hugh B. Cave.

Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, January 1933. Cover art by H.W. Wesso.

Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, January 1933. Cover art by H.W. Wesso.

Come hell or high water, I vowed to find that story! As luck would have it, I found it only a few days later in a collection of vampire novellas edited by Martin H. Greenberg called “A Taste of Blood”. I didn’t care much for the cover art, but couldn’t argue with the selection which featured everything from Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” to Clive Barker’s “Son of Celluloid”.

A Taste for Blood (1992, Dorset Press). My copy is the 1995 paperback reprint by Barnes & Noble.

A Taste for Blood (1992, Dorset Press). My copy is the 1995 paperback reprint by Barnes & Noble.

I began reading as soon as I got a chance to see what this tale was all about and to find out what exactly was being shown in the Wesso cover art. Unfortunately, the story moves at a very slow pace. Without giving too much away, Paul (the protagonist, a prim, proper and annoyingly self-righteous young man) escapes from an asylum where he has been stashed away after he and his girlfriend try to tell the authorities about their near-death experience with some supernatural villains. His plan is to trick the doctors that committed him into coming along on a trip back to the scene of the event to convince them that he isn’t mad after all.

The chapters read like a script for a talkie melodrama with the occasional spooky scene designed to make young girls cling to their beaus in the darkened theater. There are some decent descriptive passages but they quickly devolve into predictable pulp pablum. I imagine the vampires in their evening dress and pomade-slicked hair look like undead silent movie idols. The most interesting thing about them is their ability to turn into a blue fog leaving only their penetrating green eyes to hypnotize their prey.

Most of the horror happens off scene in other rooms and when our hero and his friends do find some nasty surprises in the forbidding lair of the vampires, their findings are only hinted at, rather than described. There are a couple of scenes near the end which are a little more explicit, but not by much.

My biggest disappointment was the title character, the ghoulish cripple who minds the lair of the vampires and does their bidding. I don’t want to spoil the tale for the curious, but I felt a bit let down by how ineffectual he turns out to be in the end after such a build up from his first appearance in the doorway of the dilapidated inn.

Even so, I am glad that I read the tale, and I do recommend it to fans of classic vampire literature. The story can also be found in the 1977 collection of Hugh B. Cave stories by Carcosa entitled “Murgunstrumm and Others” which features some macabre artwork by the inimitable Lee Brown Coye.

Cover art by Lee Brown Coye for "Murgunstrumm and Others" (1977, Carcosa)

Cover art by Lee Brown Coye for “Murgunstrumm and Others” (1977, Carcosa)

 

 

Paeans for Polly

Posted in Broceliande, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, love poems, Merlin, Nimue, Poetry, Pollyphilia, Vivien with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2017 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In the early oughts I ran around with a young woman many years my junior (she 19, I somewhere in my early 30’s). She was a brilliant writer, but she had some issues, as do I. We were both lonely, so we gravitated to one another and were inseparable for a few months. Eventually, our respective issues collided and she dumped me. To heal, I wrote many poems, some good, others not-so-much. I hope these are some of the former. The first was a ditty which popped into my head as a song, complete with a melody from some obscure nursery song I cannot recall otherwise. I sang it to her and she loved it. The second was penned after everything went south. In it, I compare our May/December relationship to that of Merlin and Nimue (Vivien, the Lady of the Lake):

 

Pollyphilia

I love my Polly, oh yes I do / No one’s as pretty or smart as you

We go out dining and play at pool / We muse on past lives and laugh at poo

We smuggle J.D. into you room / Chase it with o.j. to mask the fumes

We watch the X-Files and Lenny Bruce / Wax philosophic and get real juiced

Narrow hands just like an icon / I love her more than my bacon

Eyes of absinthe: green and cloudy / Lips like cushions, flush and pouty

Skin so soft and fair complexioned / She’s as sweet as crème confection

Florida’s boring, but we’ve got smokes / Long Island Iced Teas, sun-ups and jokes

We’ll go to Vegas and make our name / Then move to Madrid, grow old in Spain

I Love my Polly, oh yes I do / No one can move me quite like you do

Verlaine and Rimbaud, that’s me & you / Here’s hoping this round things go more smooth

"Merlin and Vivien" by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1911).

“Merlin and Vivien” by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1911).

Broceliande

Piscean, watery enchantress ardent, lubricious Lady of the Lake
Merlin, assotted, awaits you, though he knows your kiss means to quell
Nimue, bury me in your joyous garden–once curiosity is slaked
The loving cup you offer over-brims with a philtre fell

Eyes of pale green luminescence, searing my soul straight through
Nipples like red Chinese lanterns on hillocks of new-fallen snow
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you–but know that I love you still true
In a place where time is suspended, tho’ forgiveness and love freely flow…