“Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was.  All I know is that he did it beautifully.”-  Neil Gaiman

Recently, I came across a mention of Robert Aickman again.  He was  a horror writer I’d hear about every once in awhile, certainly not as famous as many of his contemporaries.  A writer’s writer, it would seem.  The twentieth century’s “most profound writer of what we call horror stories”- according to Peter Straub.

Yet, he certainly has his critics as well, his stories being described as too obscure.

Curious to finally read him and form my own opinion, I picked up a copy of Dark Entries.

The first story within, “The School Friend” begins, “It would be false modesty to deny that Sally Tessler and I were the bright girls in school.” And so, an older Mel reflects upon how she met one of her oldest girlfriends.  Only a few pages in, I was hit by this doozy of a line.  “I was able to construe Latin fairly well for a girl, but the italics and long s’s daunted me.” Really? I recalled how once another woman mentioned she’d been reading a work with a female main character which happened to have  been written by a man.  Everything was fine and believable until the writer had the character make reference to her period by calling it, “my menstruation.”  Because no woman talks like that.  I had a similar feeling here because I doubt there is any female who thinks to herself, “wow! I can do this pretty well, you know, even though, I’m like, only a girl.”

Okay, so Mr. Aickman wasn’t going to win any POV awards for this, but I tried to put that aside and concentrate on the rest of the story.

Forty-one year old Mel comes into contact with her old friend after decades apart when Sally returns to their hometown after the death of her father.  A man who “never went out”, and who received a doctorate for an unknown subject.   Sally, herself, was always odd- living to work and revealing very little about her private life.

Now Sally has moved back in her father’s old house.  One that Mel describes as, “entirely commonplace, and in the most unpleasing fashion.”  After her friend suffers an accident, Mel is asked to look after the place.  To her surprise, she discovers every room is kept locked; there is one chain with numerous keys to open each one.

What Mel discovers inside the house is difficult to say even after one has finished the story, and my initial reaction was one of disappointment.  Some ambiguity is fine.  Were Miles and Flora really haunted in The Turn of the Screw, or was their governess mad?  What exactly did Eleanor and Theodora see in The Haunting of Hill House?

But here, it felt like full pages had been ripped out.  As though the author was being lazy, here you do the work.  I’ll just sit back and appear clever.

Yet, the story stayed with me, and I recalled hearing how Aickman’s stories begged to be reread.  In doing so, I did notice more things- said and unsaid- that had escaped my initial notice.

I’m not yet settled on how I feel about this particular little strange story, but it continues to gnaw.

Fritz Leiber: “Robert Aickman has a gift for depicting the eerie areas of inner space, the churning storms and silent overcasts that engulf the minds of lonely and alienated people. He is a weatherman of the subconscious.”

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “A charming, energetic but somewhat feckless man (or boyish woman).  A man or woman of immense charisma, but who lacks commitment.   Emigration, making a major domestic or job move.”

darker or more hidden meaning: “Someone who loves them and leaves them.  A charming manipulator, particularly of the emotions of the opposite sex.”

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She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”- from Lord Byron’s, She Walks in Beauty

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot:  “A creative, sensitive person.  An ‘arty’ type who can be quite impractical.  A great lover who tends to idealize the object of his (or her) affections.  An enthusiastic advocate for all creative and artistic endeavors.”

darker or more hidden meaning:  “A creative person whose energy is sometimes wasted in conflict and fighting.  A tendency to rush into things based on emotion rather than rationale.”

beatrix –  Gabriel Rossetti’s, Beata Beatrix.  Painting of the character of Beatrice from Dante’s Inferno, with the memories of his deceased wife, Elisabeth Siddal, serving as the model.

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “A fighter, who can be a great friend but an implacable enemy. An impetuous person who tends to leap right into things.  A leader with great energy and intelligence.”

darker or more shadow meaning: “A person who has to get his own way.  A person who abuses others.  Using intelligence to dominate and take control.”

“When you see a river, you must follow it to its source, no matter the perils, no matter those comrades that fall along the way. You must know how things work. You must unlock.”Sir Malcom from Penny Dreadful

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Following a routine dutifully.  Reliable and trustworthy, but lacking in imagination.”

darker or more hidden meaning: “Obsessive compulsive disorder.  Feeling stuck, unable to move on.   Never losing your head, always being predictable and rather dull.”

 “Whatever happened to Lestat I do not know. I go on, night after night. I feed on those who cross my path. But all my passion went with her golden hair. I’m a spirit of preternatural flesh. Detached. Unchangeable. Empty.”- Louis from Anne Rice’s, Interview With the Vampire

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From the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “energy and enthusiasm.  Innovations, experiments.  Messages, letters, news.”

darker or more hidden meanings: ” Hidden passions, especially in a young person.  Energies put into negative activities. Nature in a form that is uncontrollable and frightening.”

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Naive, but full of passion and goodwill.  A young idealist, particularly when it comes to the arts- and to matters of love.”

darker or more hidden meanings: “Enthusiasm cut short.  Over-emotional young person, maybe a little hysterical.  A reluctance to grow up and leave childhood dreams behind.”

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Alert and on guard. Loyalty to a person or cause.  Defending something that’s important to you.”

darker or more hidden meaning: “not being guarded enough; there’s danger about. Acting alone, not asking for help.  Paranoia, seeing enemies all around.”

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Study, particularly of practical skills.  A time to learn more about basic, everyday matters such as money and running a household.  Someone a little old and serious for their age.”

Darker or more hidden meanings: “Getting too obsessed with practicalities, taking no time out to dream.  Getting drawn into repetitive, compulsive behavior.  A young person who tends to hoard and save.”

“A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own!
“- by Emily Dickinson

“The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.
Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.” – Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree

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“Under the oil lamp that hung outside the Hare and Billet public house opposite the willowed pond at the bottom right of the heath, a spindly figure came hurrying into view.  She was cloaked in black, pulling the swirling material close to her body and moved with determined strides, hurried along by the threat of what stirred above.  Illuminated by the orange glow of the pub windows, she stopped suddenly, distracted by a noise at the pond.  Beyond the curtain of dark willow branches that dipped down into the water something was moving.”

…..

Racing up the old Dover road from the coast two large black carriages pulled by four muscular black horses attempted to outrun the storm that had kept pace with them since their arrival in the country.  Finally Blackheath opened up to them, the storm a dramatic black sea above it. The carriages veered and swayed as their wheels hit verge and pothole, turning the corners too fast and at alarming speeds.  They threatened to topple as they approached the Princess of Wales public house that marked entry into the village.”

Set in 1850s Blackheath- an area of south-east London- Alan Williams’s novel begins as forty year-old Maggie Cloak makes her way home through a crazy storm, while her younger sister, Judy, sits at her desk penning the first lines of the gothic horror she is attempting.

It is a few years since the Fox Sisters of Hydesville, NY made headlines with their spirit tappings, and across the sea, the Spiritualist Movement has caught fire.

As their chocolate store is barely selling enough sugar mice or marzipan ladybirds to keep them fed, Judy declares they must finally close shop and, “We must open the Blackheath Seance Parlour!”

And so begins one of the most fun, engaging romps I’ve read in years.  Filled with beautifully realized characters, a poignant portrait of a troubled sister relationship, a surprising friendship between Maggie and a minister, a serial killer stalking women across the desolate landscape, psychics, angry royalty, and a very naughty gothic number by Judy… this one had me utterly engrossed.

It may be important to note, that others have pointed out some anachronisms.  Indeed, it is unlikely that Judy’s bawdy, explicit novel with 18th century sensibilities would be so easily published in the repressed, hushed nineteenth.  However, the inaccuracies blended so easily into the story, that they never took me out of it.

Blackheath Seance Parlour

written by Alan Williams

2013

Favorite book read in ages.

Sembene: You are required.

Victor Frankenstein: Let me fetch my bag.

Sembene: You will not need it.

Victor Frankenstein: What will I need?

Sembene: Courage.

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Sembene: “I have been much feared and hated in my life. By my people, by yours. These marks, mean I was a slave trader. It is my sin to live with, but in this house I have found kindness among the unkind. So have you. ”

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Hanged Man: Illumination, spiritual enlightenment.  Self-sacrifice- for altruistic reasons.  Trying to see things from a new perspective- though it is hard.  Letting go of ego.”

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Ethan: Do you believe in God?
Sembene: I believe in everything.

… and I fell behind.  Much behind.  While I continued watching, and thoroughly enjoying the sophmore season of Penny Dreadful, I’ve been so caught up in a manuscript, that I didn’t have enough of a desire to write posts on our show of glorious horrors.   So forgive me for skipping to the end, because I do want to take a moment to discuss the season finale.

I won’t do a plot summary as there doesn’t seem to be a point in doing so after all this time.

But there are some key moments that are on my mind:

John Clare and Lavinia.  Anyone who has read my posts know I loathe Frankenstein’s monster.  Whatever name he takes on, however many Wordsworth poems he recites in that knowing and tender voice, he is always, always only concerned with self.  Everything is how it relates to him.  Some hurt him so now the world will pay, and  any woman who doesn’t swoon at his poetic yearnings will find herself at the wrong end of his  hands.  But Rory Kinnear has played him with perfection, always leaving me wanting to find the beauty within the monster.

In Lavinia, we discovered the monster inside the beauty.  As she mocked him, there was a sense that she was really seething, “You thought I must be pure and good because I am beautiful and blind.”

Many have wondered why he let her live.  A moment of kindness?  Or cruelty- knowing her life would become a hell?  I think it was because in that instance he saw himself in her.

We will probably not see either of them again.  Her fate on the cold streets of London can be imagined, as can his in that cold, dark sea.

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next post: an ode to Sembene

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot:  “Mourning and grief.  Sorrow and regret.  A psychological breakdown.  Feeling desolated.  Hitting an extreme low- but from here, things should get better.  Darker meaning: Anxieties about death. Coming to terms with a tragic event.”

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful (season 1, episode 5). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_105_0418

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful, Closer than Sisters

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Weighed down by too much work.  Being burdened by too many responsibilities.   Darker Meaning: Trying to do far more than you should.  Feeling burdened by your sins and misdemeanors.”

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Sembene from Penny Dreadful

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Being thankful and happy about the simple pleasures in life.  Enjoying your family and domestic life.   Darker meaning: A dysfunctional family.  A claustrophobic, oppressive aspect to your family life.  A child (or inner child) that is not being well cared for, this could be physical or psychological.”

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Vanessa, Mina, and Peter as children with Sir Malcolm in Penny Dreadful

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from the Bohemian Gothic Tarot: “Prosperity. Feeling content on the whole, but there’s a hint of a feeling that you’ve missed out on some of the magic in life.  Choosing material comfort over more spiritual or mystical pursuits.  Darker meaning: Willing to steep low for some material gain.”

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Dorian Gray from Penny Dreadful

 

reblogged and edited from my old website: Gypsyscarlett

Redbreast In the Morning

“What woke it then?  A little child

Strayed from its father’s door

And in an hour of moonlight wild

Laid lonely on the desert moor.”- Emily Bronte  1837

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— When Miss Bronte penned those poetic lines, perhaps she was thinking upon  this ghostly tale which took place in her home town:

Haworth.  February 1801-

Two-year old Joseph Helliwell snuck outside and attempted to secretly follow his father  from their home at Enfieldside to Pecket Well, where the farmer had a business meeting.  Tragically, Joseph could not keep up as his father made his way up the old Haworth Road.   He was found frozen to death the next morning upon the Moor.

Haworth.  January 27, 1849-

Four-year old Joseph Halliwell lived with his father on Far Intake Farm.  One day, the little boy ventured out and became lost.  Four days later, he was found frozen to death upon the same moor which had claimed his  near-namesake less than fifty years before.

resource:  “Strange World of The Brontes” by Marie Campbell

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Being caught up in a nightmare.  Emotional and mental problems.  Internal issues rather than external.  Projecting one’s fears onto the world.  Self-fulfilled prophecies.

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THE HAUNTING BLACKBOXCLUB 90

nine of wands

Strong work ethic.  Stalwartness.  Refusal to give up one’s duties and responsibilities.   Commitment

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Pleasures and indulgement.   Basking in simple luxuries.  Dashes of selfishness.

nine of pentacles

Refinement.  Maturity.  Age.  Material wealth.  Comfort with self.

the-big-circus-vincent-price-1959-everett– Vincent Price

*all Tarot images from The Bohemian Gothic Tarot