John's Reviews > J. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, V3 (the Haunted Baronet

J. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, V3 (the Haunted Baronet by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
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's review
Jul 26, 2017

liked it

I read and was none too thrilled by Le Fanu's Uncle Silas, probably his most famous novel, long enough ago that my tastes have evolved since then, so I thought I'd give another of his novels a try. My reactions are . . . mixed.

After many a long year, Sir Bale Mardykes returns to the family pile in Northumbria, bringing with him his private secretary Philip Feltram, whom he bullies relentlessly. There's bad blood between the Feltrams and the Mardykeses, because the latter family has a history of swindling the former, in one way or another. One of Philip's ancestors was swindled out of what she thought was a valid marriage to a Mardykes, her child thereby being swindled out of its legitimacy. Philip himself has been swindled by Sir Bale out of a small annuity. And so it goes.

One night Philip drowns in the lake. However, after having been declared dead by the drunken local doctor, he's inexplicably restored to life, albeit without respiration or a pulse. And he's a changed man. Gone is the affable if chronically depressed chap whom people (Sir Bale excepted) tended to like; now Philip is moody, sullen, occasionally almost vicious. And he knows supernatural bird-humans, too, one of whom, by predicting the winners, helps Sir Bale rebuild the Mardykes family fortune through his trips to the racecourse.

But there's doom in store . . .

There are lots of ideas floating around here, but most of them aren't properly developed and some of them just sort of peter out. Philip mysteriously disappears midway through the book and never returns; we never do discover what has happened to him. Although two of the three bird-humans are identified, the third isn't; of the two, while one has a fairly clearly defined role in the overall plot, the other seems introduced only for the sake of a particular subplot. And, when a major character dies in a culminatory scene, we have no real idea why he should have done so nor how he knew he was going to do so. I could go on.

All in all, then, it's as if Le Fanu had lots of good story fragments in his mind and decided to throw them together into a single setting, letting the plot wander around as it willed.

Another problem I had was with some of the language. Every now and then we get a bit of narrative from one or other of the locals, rendered in Le Fanu's version of the Northumbrian patois. (I have no idea if his usage is accurate.) There are so many dialect words here that I swear you could have stuck the whole of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" into the middle of some of the relevant passages and I wouldn't have noticed. Here's a sample:

He's been some time in ill fettle, though he was never frowsy, not he, but always kind and dooce, and canty once, like anither; and he asked me to tak the boat across the lake at once to the Clough o' Cloostedd at t'other side. The woman took the pet and wodn't hear o't; and, 'Dall me, if I go to-night,' quoth I. But he would not be put off so, not he; and dingdrive he went to it, cryin' and putrein' ye'd a-said, poor fellow, he was wrang i' his garrets a'most.

I shudder to think what his garrets were, and what was (almost?) the matter with them.

Although I was left dissatisfied by The Haunted Baronet's conclusion, littered as it was with loose ends, I liked the second half of the novel a lot better than I did the first; I'm not sure if this was to do with the text itself or if it was just that I got more into the swing of Le Fanu's narrative. What I didn't get from the book, despite all the supernatural bits and pieces being chucked at me, was any real sense of the spectral. Any shivers that ran up and down my spine were as a result of my wife insisting on jacking up the air conditioning during the current heatwave.

Thanks to those kindly folks at Gutenberg, I have four more volumes of Le Fanu's "ghostly tales" to read -- they're story collections rather than, as this one is, a single novel -- and I'm quite looking forward to them, despite my mixed feelings about The Haunted Baronet.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 25, 2017 – Finished Reading
July 26, 2017 – Shelved

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