Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Expiation by E.F. Benson

What E.F. Benson does is to involve you with his story by drawing in other witnesses of whatever was uncanny so that it is not a matter of subjective vapouring on the part of a single consciousness. Theories are offered which bring events that are supernatural into the sphere of the natural properly understood.

"Don’t you think that great emotion like that of Mrs. Hearne’s may make some sort of record”, he asked, “so that if the needle of some sensitive temperament comes in contact with it, a reproduction takes place? And it is the same, perhaps, about that poor fellow who hanged himself. One can hardly believe that his spirit is bound to visit and revisit the scene of his follies and his crimes year by year.”
“Year by year?” I asked.
“Apparently. I saw him myself last year, Mrs. Criddle did also.”
He got up.
“How can one tell?” he said. “Expiation, perhaps. Who knows?”

Expiation is the title of his story and it is about the events that occur during the holiday in Cornwall of two friends who have rented a cottage there..
It is all very beautiful but with an atmosphere that unsettles. One man is a doctor who specialises in nervous diseases the other the writer who is telling the tale. Both of them have had the experience of strange glimpses of another plane where an event continues to happen, a sort of supernatural cliche.

The Doctor explains:
”Look at that moth,” he said, “and even while you look at it it has gone like a ghost, even as like a ghost it appeared. Light made it visible. And there are other sorts of light, interior psychical light which similarly makes visible the beings which people the darkness of our blindness.

I like a resident expert in these tales, the Van Helsing in the form of Dr. Stephen who though called away to authorise an operation, trepanning I’ll warrant, has this advice for the narrator.

Meantime, do observe very carefully, and whatever you do, don’t make a theory. Darwin says somewhere that you can’t observe without a theory; but to make a theory is a great danger to an observer. It can’t help influencing your imagination; you tend to see or hear what falls in with your hypothesis. So just observe; be as mechanical as a phonograph and a photographic lens.
I found this story in one of those compendiums that are a relic of sea voyages and ship’s libraries - A Century of Ghost Stories It’s from his collection Spook Stories. Gutenberg of Canada have a copy:
Spook Stories

I have a note here about the remarkable Bensons:meet the Bensons

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