Vengeance with a Stickpin

Browsing through JSTOR the other day, a paper caught my eye: “Vengeance with a Stickpin: Barreto, Quiroga, And García Calderón,” by Daniel C. Scroggins. A stickpin, you say? Oh, that must be “El solitario” (The Solitare)! I love that story; it’s my favorite of the Quiroga pieces that I’ve translated. So of course, I had to read the paper.

Stickpin, circa 1911
Photo by Helena Bonnevier. Source: Wikimedia

Scroggins posits that “El solitario” (probably first published in 1913, collected in 1917), as well as the 1925 short story “El alfiler” by Peruvian author Ventura García Calderón, were both influenced by an earlier story, also titled “El alfiler” (The Stickpin), by Peruvian José María Barreto. Barreto published his story in the Uruguayan periodical Revista Nacional de Literatura y Ciencias Sociales in 1897; Quiroga, remember, was Uruguayan.

If you read Spanish, you can download the August 10, 1897 issue of Revista Nacional here; the story is on page 74. It’s quite short: about two columns of a three column layout. I also translated the story and put it up on Ephemera:

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Las Rayas by Horacio Quiroga

In the introduction to their fantastic (and huge) anthology The Weird: A Compedium of Strange and Dark Stories (2011), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer talk about “unease and the temporary abolition of the rational” as components of the Weird. With respect to modern (twentieth and twenty-first century) fiction, they write:

The Weird, in a modern vernacular, has also come to mean fiction in which some other element, like weird ritual or the science fictional, replaces the supernatural while providing the same dark recognition of the unknown and the visionary.

The thought 1904 jpg Blog
The Thought, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1904). Source: WikiArt

There is a particular feeling, they go on to say, that a certain piece of fiction gives to aficionados of the Weird, a feeling that makes us go “yes, that piece, it’s Weird.” When I read “Las rayas,” by Horacio Quiroga, I definitely got that feeling.

Quiroga isn’t represented in The Weird anthology, but perhaps he ought to have been. He wasn’t in Jorge Luis Borges’ anthology The Book of Fantasy, either, and Borges must certainly have been familiar with his work. Though obviously the fantastic and the weird aren’t (always) the same thing. Quiroga’s work is mostly non-supernatural–also true of Poe, who Quiroga greatly admired–but much of it (like Poe) is extremely unsettling, with illness or madness, or the brutality of jungle life contributing to that sense that here, in this story, you have indeed relinquished the rational.

“Las rayas” struck me as particularly weird. It’s a story about an inexplicable graphomania and its tragic outcome. So of course, I wanted to translate and share it. It seemed straighforward enough, but turned out to be challenging for a reason I hadn’t anticipated.

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Alexandre Singh’s Gothic Tale

We took the day off today and spent a little time at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the museum down at Land’s End here in San Francisco. Among other things, they are currently featuring an installation plus film called Alexandre Singh: A Gothic Tale.

The installation uses pieces from the museum’s own permanent collection to explore the theme of doubling and the doppelganger — the perfect theme for a museum housed in a building which is itself a replica of a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The installation, full of mirrors and symmetries, features duplicates from the permanent collection: prints and even sculptures of which the museum owns multiple copies, almost but not perfectly identical, like human identical twins. The space also serves as an anteroom for a small screening room, playing Singh’s short film, The Appointment.

Alexandre singh appointment still exhibition preview 1

The Appointment is a nightmarish little weird tale, exploring duality (of course) and transmigration. The protagonist, Henry Salt, is an author who seems to have a fascination with the idea of The Double. He wakes up one day, completely disoriented, and finds in his diary a note for a lunch appointment. Only he doesn’t remember making the appointment, nor can he make out the name of the person whom he’s meeting….

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HorrorBabble reads Horacio Quiroga!

I’m about a week late making this announcement, but I’m pleased to announce that HorrorBabble has launched a five-part series, “The Horror of Horacio Quiroga,” based on my translations!

The first two have been released: The Feather Pillow and The Spectre (one of my favorites). The next three should come out one at a time every Wednesday at 1pm Eastern time, on YouTube.

And check out their other readings as well — they have a wide and eclectic selection of stories, including a series on “Tales from Foreign Shores”, focusing on works first published in languages other than English. By the way, I have a translation in that series, too: The Family of the Vourdalak.

As always, it’s a great feeling to hear Ian Gordon and the rest of the crew bringing these stories to aural life. And I have picked out the next few stories to translate when time permits, so stay tuned for that as well!

Enjoy!

Library Police: A Novel Crime Fiction Genre

Reading two different takes on libraries, crime, and the 1970s.

I tripped over an interesting collection while browsing the Wildside Press website: The Library Fuzz Megapack, James Holding’s series of short stories about Hal Johnson, the “Library Fuzz.” That’s right, he’s library police for the Grandhaven Public Library, in a smallish city that seems to be modeled on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[1] His job is to track down stolen and overdue books, and collect fines.

The Library Fuzz Megapack, by James Holding

As someone who more than once has put a hold on a checked-out book at my local library, only to eventually discover that said book has disappeared, this concept resonates with me. I’m lucky; I can afford to buy books that I can’t get from the library, but not everyone can. And often the book I asked for is older, out of print, and relatively obscure, so even money doesn’t help; the book can’t be easily purchased, and information has simply been lost. So, while I appreciate that it isn’t a good look these days for cops to go door to door, demanding the return of overdue books and collecting late fees (which is what Hal Johnson does–politely), I have to admit that I like the idea of libraries having their own police to recover stolen books. I suspect more than a few librarians feel the same.

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The Moral Opiate

More winter tales as we head into 2020! I came across “The Moral Opiate” a few years ago, in a collection of supernatural tales from Cornhill Magazine, and it struck me then as an unusual “ghost” story. The story is set in January, and seemed like a great winter tale. Unfortunately, as it was published in 1923, it wasn’t in the public domain when I found it. This finally changed in 2019. The story fits this year’s theme of a “different sort of haunting” quite well, and I’m delighted to share it with you.

La temptation

Birchington Priory isn’t haunted, per se; in fact, the Blue Bedroom of Sir Darcy’s annexe is a cheerful, pleasant room–the very opposite of spooky. But it’s a sinister place nonetheless, and the downfall of several guests at Birchington Priory. The room’s potential next victim: Eric Weir, amateur Egyptologist.

To feel yourself above mankind with their foolish conventions, designed to keep the bolder spirits to their own dead level—to feel that you are infinitely wiser than these sheep who voluntarily follow a moral code that leads through toil and trouble to the grave, and that can, at no time on the journey, offer any real recompense—these are feelings that intoxicate a man and sweep him off his feet.

“The Moral Opiate” is a fable disguised as a ghost story, an allegory about how easily a person can let go of their principles and slide into amorality and unethical behavior if they aren’t careful. In the story the bad influence is supernatural and dramatic; in real life, it can be slow and insidious, and hence, so much more dangerous…

You can read The Moral Opiate here.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about the author, William Bradley. The name is a fairly common one, and though there are several William Bradleys in Wikipedia, none of them seem likely. There are also several Will or William Bradleys in the FictionMags Index, but the folks there have decided that the author of “The Moral Opiate” is distinct from the others, and glancing at the titles of the pieces written by the other W. Bradleys, they’re probably correct. So this seems to be the only story published by this author, at least under this name.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Featured Image: Source: pxhere

La Temptation, Copyright by Wm. Lee. Lith. F. Heppenheimer & Co (1869) Source: Library of Congress via Picryl

Sir Hugo’s Prayer

Over the years, I’ve fallen into a habit of sharing a lighter winter tale right before Christmas, usually as my Christmas Eve story. I suppose I find that it matches the more festive mood that preceeds the gift-giving and the celebrations. This story is a bit early, but I won’t get a chance to post right on Christmas Eve, so here’s my Christmas gift to you: “Sir Hugo’s Prayer” (1897), by G.B. Burgin.

Hamlet sees the ghost of his father 1843 1 jpg Large

Purgatory for the late Sir Hugo Follett and his wife Lady Follett entails haunting their family estate, which they’ve done for centuries. Apparently they were quite the rowdy ones, in their time. But times have changed, and life, er, death, just isn’t what it used to be. As they walk the battlements of Dulverton Castle on Christmas Eve, they run into their late-nineteenth century descendant, the young Clare Follett, in a bit of a pickle.

“There’s something up, my dear,” Sir Hugo remarked to Lady Follett. “It looks to me as if these fellows are in love with the girl, and that there’s going to be a row over it. I mean—ahem—that they will settle their differences with the sword.”

Well, maybe not. But Clare could use a little help. Can Sir Hugo and Lady Follett lend a ghostly hand? They’re certainly going to try.

You can read Sir Hugo’s Prayer here.

George Brown Burgin (1856-1944) was a novelist, editor, and journalist. He sub-edited the humorous monthly magazine The Idler (founded and originally edited by Jerome K Jerome and Robert Barr) from 1895 to 1899. He also wrote some 90 novels — 90 “forgettable novels” according to Stenley Wertheim, author of A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia. Ouch. The poor man doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. He seems best known today for a single quote:

I suppose it is much more comfortable to be mad and not know than to be sane and have one’s doubts.

Well, it shows he had a sense of humor. And “Sir Hugo’s Prayer” shows off his humor, too. It’s a fun, comedic ghost story, perfect for reading in front of the Yule Log on Christmas Eve, or while relaxing after a big Christmas dinner. Enjoy!!

Wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Featured Image: Image from A Clerical Courtship [a novel]. (1893) Source: British Library on Flickr

Hamlet Sees the Ghost of his Father, Eugene Delacroix (1843) Source: WikiArt

The Fourth Wall

After last post’s Lovecraft tale, I’ve decided on a kind of “theme” for this year’s series of Winter Tales: Something a little different.

I’m going to try to share stories where the haunting is some way atypical. Not just the usual suspiciously cheap rentals full of restless spirits, and dusty haunted manors rife with dark family secrets. Well, maybe there will be a few of those, but with a twist.

This time, I have an early story (1915) from A. M. Burrage. who was an extremely profilic writer of short stories in many genres, including romance. He’s best known today for his supernatural tales, including the spooky Christmas ghost story, “Smee,” written under the pen name Ex-Private X.

The story I’m sharing today, “The Fourth Wall,” is quite a bit different from “Smee,” but I think it’s fun, and the haunting is different and clever.

Drama 312318 640

Five people take a cottage in the country for a couple of months starting in December. No, it wasn’t absurdly cheap; it fact it’s perfectly delightful. Almost too delightful.

‘It’s a ripping old place,’ he said; ‘but do you know it seems to me rather self-conscious of being a cottage.’

‘What do you mean?’ Mrs Forran laughed.

‘I mean that everything about it—the furniture and all that—is so very “cottagey”. It seems to keep on shouting at you: “I am a cottage. Everything in me is just right for a cottage.” I don’t express myself very well.’

Helen laughed.

‘I know,’ she said. ‘You mean this room is, somehow, just a little stagey.’

“A perfect stage cottage,” is what they call it, but if that’s the only complaint they have, it’s not a bad thing. Is it?

You can read The Fourth Wall here.

Enjoy.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Featured image: Set Design for staging Diary of Satan (by L. Andreev), Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin (1922). Source: WikiArt

Comedy/Tragedy Masks Source: Pixabay

Winter Tales Time! The Festival

Winter Tales time already! I’ve had a tradition on the blog for several years now: from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around.

327px The Shadow over Innsmouth by Mushstone

It snuck up on me this year, and I’m starting a little late and a bit unprepared, but there’s a silver lining. While rummaging amongst the files and lists on my computer for a good story to open with, I found a cache of tales that I’d forgotten about. So I can start this year’s round off strong, with a story a bit different from what I usually present: The Festival, a tale of Yuletide horror from H. P. Lovecraft.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and mankind. It was the Yuletide, and I had come at last to the ancient sea town where my people had dwelt and kept festival in the elder time when festival was forbidden…

The narrator journeys to spooky New England, in accordance with family tradition, to participate in a once-every-century winter festival. What he experiences is ancient, eldritch, and adjective-laden.

I poke fun at Lovecraft’s style, but this story has moments of evocative atmosphere and genuine creepiness. I don’t think I’ll look at Midnight Mass in quite the same way this year.

So find a hot beverage and a warm blanket, and kick off this year’s Winter Tale season with a Cthulu Christmas story.

You can download “The Festival” here.

Enjoy!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Featured image: The Nameless City, leothefox (2013). Source: Wikimedia

The Shadow over Innsmouth, TY Kim (Mushstone), (2012). Source: Wikimedia

Agatha Christie’s Supernatural(ish) Writings

Covering two supernatural-inflected Agatha Christie collections, The Last Seance and The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

Long before I was into ghost stories, I was into detective and crime fiction. I grew up reading old paperback anthologies from Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, and I read a lot of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers: everything my local library had. But it’s been years since I’ve read anything by either Christie or Sayers, or that style of “body in the library” detective fiction, in general.

The Last Seance - Agatha Christie

Christie and Sayers began their writing careers in the period between the two World Wars, a period when the English ghost story also proliferated. It’s not surprising that both authors tried their hand at supernatural tales. While I’d come across a few of Christie’s ghost stories amongst her short story collections, it was before I was as widely read in the supernatural literature of the period as I am now. So it was interesting to read the recent Christie collection, The Last Seance: Tales of the Supernatural, now that I’m more familiar with the landscape of ghost stories written about the same time.

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