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Alex Hamilton – The Cold Embrace

Posted by demonik on September 1, 2007

Alex Hamilton – The Cold Embrace (Corgi, 1966)

The Cold Embrace

M. E. Braddon – The Cold Embrace
Shena MacKay – Open End
Shirley Jackson – The Lottery
Elizabeth Bowen – The Demon Lover
Agatha Christie – The Seance
Marie de France – The Werewolf
Margaret Irwin – The Country Gentleman
Mary Coleridge – The King Is Dead
Christianna Brand – Akin To Love
E. Nesbit – John Charrington’s Wedding
Hortense Calisher – Heartburn
Scheherezade – The Cenotaph
Elizabeth Jane Howard – Three Miles Up
Marguerite de Navarre – The Confessor
Janet Frame – The Press Gang
Flannery O’Connor – Judgement Day
Elizabeth Gaskell – The Doom Of The Griffiths
Elizabeth Taylor – Poor Girl

Marguerite de Navarre – The Confessor: One of the Grey Friars lusts after a nobleman’s beautiful wife and commits mass-murder to get his groping hands on her. Between assuring her that he loves her above all others and threatening to cut her throat like he has everyone else’s, he makes her dress up as a Brother and carries her away to the Monastery where he and the Holy brotherhood are all at it with kidnapped women! Four pages of mayhem, well worth revival.

Marie de France – The Werewolf: Set in Brittany in the days of King Arthur. The bold knight Bisclaveray has a terrible secret – the title’s a clue – which causes him to disappear into the woods for three days at a time. His loving wife implores him to confide in her, and, against his better judgement, he does. Now she knows what he is, she hates him and conspires with a past admirer to steal his clothes while he’s in his wolf form so he won’t be able to become human again. It’s more of a fairy tale than I remembered it, but none the worse for that.

Janet Frame – The Press Gang: A very short prose poem which I’m not even sure I understood. A ghost? Nightmares? Do I even care? I’ve not read anything quite as screaming of pretension as The Press Gang‘s last line in ages.

M. E. Braddon – The Cold Embrace: An artist weds his cousin in secret then sets off galivanting across Europe. His undying love for his wife is forgotten the moment he sets eyes on a luscious model, and he soon tires of even writing to her. Back in Brunswick, the young lady in question throws herself off the nearest bridge. Her soggy spectre pursues the artist to his doom.
Often included in Classic Ghost Stories collections, I think the flaw with The Cold Embrace is that Braddon doesn’t at least give their characters a name as it’s asking too much for the reader to care overmuch about such anonymous characters.

Elizabeth Bowen – The Demon Lover: Mrs. Drover returns to her boarded-up home in bomb-ravaged London in keeping with a promise she made her soldier fiance on the ever of his departure to France twenty-five years earlier. He never returned and was presumed missing in action. Mrs. Drover secretly saw this as a lucky escape – he was extremely hard going.

As the agreed hour arrives, her nerves overcome her – the letter from the “dead” lover awaiting her on the table didn’t help – and Mrs. Drover rushes into the street to hail a taxi. Even if you guess the ending, this story packs one of the creepiest kiss offs this side of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Three Miles Up or Burrage’s One Who Saw.

And speaking of creepy ….

Christianna Brand – Akin To Love: The bedroom has an appalling reputation dating back to the Seventeenth Century when the young man who lived there joined the Hellfire Club. Even in relatively recent times his evil presence has driven two women to suicide. Now he appears to the virginal Sam, and it transpires that all it will take to set him free is for a woman to listen to his confession and forgive him. Not being used to being chatted up by a Satanic corpse, Sam falls for it, even going so far as to romp with him on the four poster. Only then does she realise the soul destroying truth.

Shirley Jackson – The Lottery: On the morning of June 27th, the villagers assemble in the square where Mr. Summers will preside over the annual lottery. The lottery seems to have its roots in a nature offering, but that’s all forgotten now and there’s even talk among the crowd that some places have actually dispensed with the tradition altogether. Old Man Warner scowls at such an outrage: “Pack of crazy fools. Listening to young folk, nothin’s good enough for them.”
So, the head of each household takes their turn to draw a paper from the battered black box, hoping they’ll be lucky again this year. Because if they’re not …

Hortense Calisher – Heartburn: Psychiatrist walks into a Doctor’s surgery and says “I have some kind of small animal lodged in my chest …”
It began when a troublesome boy arrived at the school and boasted of his special ability. He could swallow animals and regurgitate them whole. Obviously, nobody believes him and when one of the kids says as much, the ‘gift’ transfers to him. Soon it has passed from one boy to the next until only the shrink dismisses it as some kind of collective mania …

You can see the end coming a mile off but that doesn’t detract from the powerful strangeness of the thing.

E. Nesbit – John Charrington’s Wedding: Brixham. The village belle May Forster, finally gives in to the persistent John Charrington and accepts his marriage proposal. It is clear to all the villagers that she’s loved him all along, and as for John, “My dear, I believe I should come back from the grave if you wanted me.” Which, as it turns out …

Come the wedding day and, while the best man kicks his heels at the station awaiting Charrington’s return from a mercy dash to a sick relative, the wedding goes ahead and a terrified May is hustled into the carriage by her corpse groom as the bells sound the death knell …

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