The Open Window by Saki

I read this story for the first time a few days ago and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him sooner. Saki, or Hector Hugh Monro (1870-1916), has an impish humour that’s impossible not to like. Well, I think, anyway.

So, to encourage you to buy a collection of his short stories, here is The Open Window:

“MY aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel,” said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; “in the meantime you must try and put up with me.”

Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.

“I know how it will be,” his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; “you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice.”

Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction, came into the nice division.

“Do you know many of the people round here?” asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.

“Hardly a soul,” said Framton. “My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here.”

He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.

“Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?” pursued the self-possessed young lady.

“Only her name and address,” admitted the caller. He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.

“Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,” said the child; “that would be since your sister’s time.”

“Her tragedy?” asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.

“You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon,” said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

“It is quite warm for the time of the year,” said Framton; “but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?”

“Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day’s shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it.” Here the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. “Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing ‘Bertie, why do you bound?’ as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window – ”

She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.

“I hope Vera has been amusing you?” she said.

“She has been very interesting,” said Framton.

“I hope you don’t mind the open window,” said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; “my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They’ve been out for snipe in the marshes to-day, so they’ll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you men-folk, isn’t it?”

She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic; he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.

“The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise,” announced Framton, who laboured under the tolerably wide-spread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one’s ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. “On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement,” he continued.

“No?” said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention – but not to what Framton was saying.

“Here they are at last!” she cried. “Just in time for tea, and don’t they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!”

Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.

In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: “I said, Bertie, why do you bound?”

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid an imminent collision.

“Here we are, my dear,” said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window; “fairly muddy, but most of it’s dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?”

“A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel,” said Mrs. Sappleton; “could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost.”

“I expect it was the spaniel,” said the niece calmly; “he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve.”

Romance at short notice was her speciality.

19th century Parisian death entertainment

heaven-and-hell-paris-madeleine-swannLa Belle Epoch (or golden era, roughly 1871 to 1914) of Paris certainly enjoyed life on the dark side. Not only were gory horror plays performed for those looking for late night thrills, a person could chat about philosophy and the meaning of death over a coffin table.

The Grand Guignol was a style of theatre steeped in gore and fear that continued right up until 1962. Rich and poor alike would go to a performance and prepare to be terrified. Read more here.

The Heaven and Hell nightclubs were fantastically intricate drinking spots. The heaven-and-hell-paris2-madeleine-swannCabaret of the Inferno was described thusly:

“Enter and be damned, the Evil One awaits you!” growled a chorus of rough voices as we hesitated before the scene confronting us. Near us was suspended a caldron over a fire, and hopping within it were half a dozen devil musicians, male and female, playing a selection from “Faust” on stringed instruments, while red imps stood by, prodding with red-hot irons those who lagged in their performance.”

After this spectacle patrons would visit the Cabaret of the Sky, a much more divine affair.

The club I find most intriguing, however, is the Cabaret of Nothingness:

“Large, heavy, wooden coffins, resting on biers, were ranged about the room in an order suggesting the recent happening of a frightful catastrophe. The walls were decorated with skulls and bones, skeletons in grotesque attitudes, battle-pictures, and guillotines in action. Death, carnage, assassination were the dominant note, set in black hangings and illuminated with mottoes on death.”

To read more about these fascinating clubs visit here.

Well, there we have it, much more interesting than Euro Disney don’t you think?

Prostitutes and progress: the Victorians

The Victorian era is a continuing source of fascination for writers and artists alike whether it be a steampunk science fiction angle, high class manners and repressed pennyroyal-pillaffections or the out and out seediness lurking underneath. Why don’t we have a look at the various elements that draw us to them?

1. Repression. Certain things could not be discussed, even going to the toilet (what did women do around town? I’ve read a few articles which suggest they ducked down an alley but I don’t know how reliable that is). Unlike today where you can call a friend to go down the clinic and collect the morning after pill, such things back then were treated with the utmost discretion.

However there is always a way round things as this genuine advert from the era on victorianlondon.org suggests (Pennyroyal has abortive qualities). Have a look at the others; hair removal was a concern back then too.

Women’s bodies were a thing to be feared as their own wombs could cause hysteria. This led to some … interesting inventions, advertised with the usual subtlety. Or if you prefer a more direct approach have a look at this!

The invention of the camera led to uses other than miserable family photos. If you knew where to go (ie. Holywell street in London) you could find images of those accodomating ladies of the night and maybe one or two of those well-known filthy types, actresses.

2. Bizarre cures. With marijuana, cocaine and opium (or Laudenum) all legal in the laudanum-side-apharmacies it’s a wonder anyone got anything done. Laudanum was also known as ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and certainly kept a few babies quiet.

As well as this there were a number of ‘quack medicine’ products ie. stuff that didn’t work, flooding the market, including the relatively new and exciting idea that ‘electricity was life’.

Another intriguing cure idea was mesmerism.

3. Science vs superstition. It’s interesting that, in a time of great scientific ectoplasmprogress, much of the average public were turning to Spiritualism (and trickery). Gothic fiction became increasingly popular (as well as penny dreadfuls for the lower classes) and seances became the cool new thing to do, leading to some spooky photos if nothing else, as well as these posters.

4. Sideshows. Though these still occur in some parts of the world it’s difficult for us to comprehend that not only were people displayed in such a way, but they were exhalted as celebrities. After visiting perhaps a menagerie or pleasure garden, people would go along to a show. Joseph Merrick was possibly the One Direction of his day. OK, nobody deserves that, but you see what I’m saying. The posters are a colourful testament to a very peculiar point in history.

Well, there we have it, the weird and wonderful world of the Victorians. There’s so much more to say about them but it’s a start, and certainly their legacy will amuse and confuse us for decades to come. Visit blog ‘Diary of a Victorian Surgeon‘ for a glimpse into the daily life of a man who must have seen it all. Byee!

Spirit Photography

Whether you believe in ghosts or not (sorry, not me) these ‘spirit photographs’ from The Year of Halloween blog are rather fascinating and spooky. Put your eyes on them and you won’t be disappointed. Unless you were expecting a picture of a cheeseburger, then you will be disappointed. I’m hungry.

Short story published: The Fair, Laudenum and Passion

Woo hoo, got another erotic short story out with publishers Forbidden Fiction, read it here. This time a jolly old time is had in a Victorian funfair. Here’s the description on their site:

“Ettie visits a funfair with her bullying husband in Victorian London. When a sword-swallowing sideshow performer grabs her attention, she finds herself drawn into a new world of strangeness, freedom and passion. (F/M, F/F. M/M, group).”

Now doesn’t that sound exciting? It was more than I did last Friday. You should have a look!

Bizarre fashion predictions from the distant past (some intentional, some not)

Well hello! Icicles hang from the trees outside (unless you’re in Australia, in which case I still can’t get my head round your weather, now sort it out). With the festive party season drawing near I’m sure everyone is wondering what to wear, and as I may have mentioned I love unusual and alternative fashion.

Why not take the old advice and learn from history? They appear to have had a spooky pre-knowledge for what the catwalks of today hold.

Before Lady Gaga was even a concept of a twinkle in the eye, this bacon sporting Bacongentleman from 1894 and hardware displaying banner-girllady from the 1890s were strutting the streets. Of course, the man is taking part in a fancy dress party and the lady is a ‘banner woman’ for a hardware shop, but this diminishes nothing.

This 1917 May Queen must have seen My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding in her sleep: May

Next up Big Brother was watching the Georgians long before Orwell or (sigh) that TV programme that will not end.

Apparently owning a small framed picture of someone’s eye on your person was quite in vogue, though they had very different meanings in France and England.

To the French it symbolised watchfulness, whereas to the English it was usually a token of love: georgian-eye-jewellery

OK enough fannying about (it’s an English expression in case you’re unfamiliar), now for the serious stuff.

These billiant predictions appeared in The Strand magazine (very prestigious London publication) in 1893.

They’re all fascinating and the designers have used the past as inspiration. I fashion-predictionsrecommend you have a jaunt on over to the original post of this even if you don’t the others, but I think this one obscurely deciding that society will form a medieval circus is my favourite:

Finally I absolutely love this news item from the 1930s. Designers collaborated to predict what we would be wearing in 2000. Ooh, swish!

An Alice in Wonderland themed party

If you’re turning 30, like my friend Angie did recently, you ought to accept the fact that you’re an adult and have a party involving cheese, wine and chats about insurance. Or….hire a hall and hold a fancy dress competition in the style of Alice in Wonderland/Victorian, and top if off with a visit to a shisha cafe the next day:

Cakes!

Is he the caterpillar, or Dracula?
The white queen and…uh…a beer bottle?
Embracing my inner cross dressing Victorian lady
Us and the birthday girl
Me at the shisha cafe in Colchester
Emma…looking cool

Spooky pictures of ‘Island of the Dolls’

Gracing one of the posts of a blog I like to partake of are photos of La Isla de las Munecas (The Island of the Dolls). Never seeming afraid of death, Mexico is indeed a fascinating country. Have a look and a read about the history of this macabre place. While you’re there have a read of the other things on The Year of Halloween blog.Island-of-the-dolls2

 

Forbidden erotica: vintage pornography

Vintage pornography fascinates me, be it literature or photographic, and I’ve included a mention of it in a book of mine set during Victorian times as well as dabbling in erotica myself.

Despite what many people think, we’ve been engaging in the same practises with the same amount of variety since people began.

Perhaps the idea of someone looking out at you from a picture taken hundreds of years ago is fascinating because it highlights the fact that humans never really change very much.

A good, genuinely informative series to watch would be Pornography: A Secret History of Civilisation, in which each episode outlines different eras with their new medium for pornography (ie. Georgian literature or Victorian photography) and the attitudes that surrounded it.

If you’re up to viewing risque pictures, this blog post by author Matthew Revert is very interesting.