Thursday, May 28, 2020

"John Charrington's Wedding" (1891)

Here's another good one by E. Nesbit, who can really pack a lot into her stories. M. Grant Kellermeyer, proprietor of the useful Classic Horror Blog, helps clarify some of the fine points in a typically insightful analysis. I was puzzled at first, for example, by May Forster's bland change of heart after repeatedly laughing in John Charrington's face for his marriage proposals. Charrington himself chalks it up to "perseverance—and the best luck a man ever had in this world." Later, the narrator happens to find Charrington and May in an ambiguous tryst in a churchyard. Charrington is overheard saying, "My dear, my dear, I believe I should come back from the dead if you wanted me!" It doesn't exactly sound like the Charrington we've come to know, and Kellermeyer suggests he may actually be a demon whose intention is to abduct May into the underworld. He says the implication of May's hasty reversal may be that she is pregnant. The meeting in the graveyard may thus not be so ambiguous. Indeed, that brief scene has a charge of the uncanny any way it's read. Nesbit carries this off well. In a way we are as seduced as May by Charrington. His name already implies destruction by fire but he's mild-mannered, seemingly straightforward, and well behaved. Charrington dies suddenly and mysteriously, hours before the wedding, but appears at the ceremony in disheveled state to take his vows. The witnesses cluck at the disgrace of what they assume is drunkenness before learning of his strange fate. Even at the end, on my first reading, he felt like a sad victim of some kind, his appearance at the ceremony a reflection of desire and fidelity from beyond the grave. Instead, much more insidiously as our view of these ambiguous deeds and statements shifts and refocuses, we may be seeing the destruction of a woman's life and soul. Yet it's still hard to make out the actual reprobate and victimizer even with the clues. Women might pick this up as obvious. I suspect my semi-blindness here has something to do with being male. There is a good deal of formidable power behind the work of E. Nesbit. Some of the shorter horror stories of others work because they keep you moving past the odd points and discrepancies. Nesbit's seem to work when you go back to worry over them. There's a lot to unpack in the fragments, such as the overheard conversation in the graveyard.

No comments:

Post a Comment