"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Friday, September 27, 2019

Celebrating William Fryer Harvey

The Double Eye by William Fryer Harvey [Tartarus Press, 2009] 

In retrospect, some short stories seem like manifestoes of their author's aesthetic and thematic preoccupations. 

This thought struck me while reading William Fryer Harvey's tale "The Double Eye" in the collection of the same name (Tartarus, 2009). Harvey, whom I have never read before, seems to fit in with no "school" or "gang" of horror writers. Like the strongest work of Wakefield, Metcalfe, Aickman, and Ramsey Campbell, his is sui generis.

Elements of folk, fey, and antiquarian horror appear in many stories; others rely on psychological probing. All are beautifully balanced and acutely expressed. 

Among these, "The Double Eye" most acutely expresses concerns over sensory perceptions of reality.

The narrator visits an old school friend, Dan Hartigan, and his aunt, at their isolated coastal house. Hartigan is an illustrator and a tyro story writer. (He suffered "shell shock" in World War One).

'....I'm very much attached to my aunt,' he said as he filled his pipe, 'but she is just a little too bright for me at times. When my spirits get dull and tarnished she is convinced that it is her duty to rub them up. I hate being rubbed up.

'You said something at dinner,' he went on after a pause, 'about humour being a recognition of incongruity. I forget your actual words, but you were thinking of an outward incongruity. There's more to it than that. It depends on an inward incongruity as well. The single-minded man may laugh and be cheerful but it's not often that he has a sense of humour. He lacks stereoscopic vision. Both eyes see from the same angle instead of from a slightly different angle. Probably the first time that Adam laughed was when he sat munching the apple and was conscious of good and evil at the same time.

'Now I'm not wasting your time talking like this. I know very well why my aunt urged you to come down. She is rather alarmed about me and wants an unprejudiced opinion. She is quite right. I am alarmed about myself. There is something radically wrong with my left eye.'

He looked at me half furtively as he spoke and then quickly turned away his head.

'You don't mean to say that you are losing your sight?' I asked.

'I almost wish I were. No, the trouble is that my left eye sees too much, or rather what it sees is different from what the right eye sees. I have literally bad-sight in my left eye...."

Which eye, Hartigan wants to know, sees the world as it is? Which "side" of his perceptions is accurate?

At bedtime, Hartigan gives the narrator a sheaf of his fiction.

....I had a virgin candle to burn and in my hand was the typescript of Dan's stories. They were, as he had given me to understand, a mixed lot. One or two might have found their way into the pages of a magazine, but I fancied that most would be difficult to place. They were too elusive for the ordinary reader—left too much to his imagination—and for the others their form was against them; they had no affinity to the fashionable conte. Nor did I see any chance of a publisher taking them up in volume form unless Dan illustrated them. They lacked the same unity that their author lacked. Yet reading them I realised that the tales had some things in common. There was a curious obsession with the idea of death. In some it was no more than a vague background—the gathering of dark clouds at sunset. In others the clouds were banked high and hung menacing. In more than one or two the lightning broke and struck with a sudden and blinding flash. Then again the stories were alike in showing little interest in women. Dan was obviously not at home with them unless they were over fifty. I thought he showed an understanding of elderly people and strangely enough of little children. There was more than a streak of Hartigan's cynical humour, and he sometimes succeeded in conveying the old impression of being able to look round corners....

Harvey's stories share a certain allusive power with Hartigan's tales. Protagonists often confront a pivotal realization that they have grossly misunderstood the situations they are in. At the start of stories the reader may assume they are in a right-eye narrative, but we assume it at our peril.

And that is what makes William Fryer Harvey an irreplaceable figure. 

Some excerpts from the collection:

Introduction (The Double Eye) • essay by Richard Dalby

....After 1910 Harvey became keenly interested in the adult education movement and went to Selly Oak, Birmingham, to assist Tom Bryan with the Working Men's College at Fircroft. At the outbreak of World War One he was one of the first to join the Quaker training camp at Jordans, and went with the first detachment of the Friends' Ambulance Unit to Flanders. Later he undertook much vital work as surgeon-lieutenant in the navy.

Shortly before the end of the war, Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal for Gallantry by King George V. The official account of his heroism (recorded in The Times on 30th October 1918) runs as follows:

'On 28th June 1918, two of His Majesty's torpedo-boat destroyers were in collision, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey was sent to board the more seriously damaged destroyer in order to render assistance to the injured. On hearing that a stoker petty officer was pinned by the arm in a damaged compartment, Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey immediately went down and amputated the arm, this being the only means of freeing the petty officer. The boiler room at the time was flooded, and full of fumes from the escaping oil. This alone constituted a great danger to anyone in the compartment, and Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey collapsed from this cause after performing the operation, and had to be hauled out of the compartment. . . . Surgeon-Lieutenant Harvey displayed the greatest gallantry and disregard of his personal safety in descending into the damaged compartment, and continuing to work there amidst the oil fumes at a time when the ship was liable to sink.'

Only when Harvey was awarded the Albert Medal did his family and friends learn how he had risked his life to save the engineer. His lungs were badly damaged by the poisonous oil fumes, and he never fully recovered from the experience.

Midnight House • (1910)

....It would be hard to picture a more desolate scene—bare hills rising on every side to the dull, lead sky above; at one's feet heather, burnt black after last spring's firing, broken in places by patches of vivid emerald that marked the bogs.

The Star • (1910) 

....He wanted to confirm one or two facts about the star on which Mortimer had reported in the Review. It would be a splendid thing if he could explode yet another of his rival's theories; and he chuckled as he remembered the comet of last June.

Across the Moors • (1910)

....'Well, miss,' said the cook, when Miss Craig went into the kitchen to get her boots, which had been drying by the fire; 'of course she knows best, but I don't think it's right after all that's happened for the mistress to send you across the moors on a night like this. It's not as if the doctor could do anything for Miss Margaret if you do bring him. Every child is like that once in a while. He'll only say put her to bed, and she's there already.'

August Heat • (1910)

     'And it was only the day before yesterday,' he said, 'that I told Maria there were no such things as ghosts!'

     Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant.

Sambo • (1910)

....Janey was disappointed, and I do not wonder at it. She had been looking forward to the arrival of this new member of her family, all the more eagerly because Cicely White had been unbearably conceited about a doll her godmother had sent from Paris. The little African, instead of having a neatly painted trunk containing an elaborate wardrobe, appeared on the removal of his paper covering in a state of absolute nudity. I think Janey could have forgiven his lack of clothes if he had been less ugly. Without doubt he was hideous. His nose was a shapeless, protruding lump; his lips were thick, and his hair was represented by a collection of knobs. The one redeeming feature was his size; he measured just two feet and a half, and could stand unsupported in the bath of Condy's fluid to which he was subjected. But I thought my sister wrong in punishing Janey for her tears; the contrast between Sambo and Cicely White's gay Parisienne was too great.

Unwinding • (1910)

....' "It's useless," I remember him saying, "to think that violence can suppress violence. In most cases I think that even the compulsory detention of criminals in prisons and reformatories defeats its own object. A man's conscience, though it may permit a crime, may be trusted to cause him more discomfort than all your dark cells and strait waistcoats. But, of course, I may be prejudiced."

Sarah Bennet's Possession • (1910) 

      Suddenly Frank started up.

     'Who in the world is that?' he said.

     He held in his hand the piece of paper that had been in Mrs Bennet's lap. On it was a drawing, as cleverly executed a sketch as I have ever seen of a man, a young man, dressed in an officer's uniform of half a century ago. He was kneeling with his hands clasped in the attitude of supplication. His features, coarse and ugly as they were, were cast into an expression that seemed to demand pity. It was not entirely a black-and-white drawing; for on the side of his coat was a little patch of red, put in with coloured chalk. There was a little pool of red on the ground on which he knelt.

     Frank looked puzzled. 'I never dreamed you could draw as well as that, auntie. But it was to be someone present in the room!'

     Mrs Bennet was still gazing out into the night.

The Tortoise • (1910) 

....'Do you remember Oppenheim's Forensic Medicine, and how we used to laugh over the way they always bungled these jobs? There was no bungling here, and consequently no use for the luck that attended the hero. (I still think of him as hero, you see; each man is a hero to himself.)

The Beast with Five Fingers 

....Adrian was an authority on the fertilisation of orchids. He had held at one time the family living at Borlsover Conyers, until a congenital weakness of the lungs obliged him to seek a less rigorous climate in the sunny south coast watering-place where I had seen him. Occasionally he would relieve one or other of the local clergy. My father described him as a fine preacher, who gave long and inspiring sermons from what many men would have considered unprofitable texts. 'An excellent proof,' he would add, 'of the truth of the doctrine of direct verbal inspiration.'

Six to Six-Thirty • (1928) 

'....What's that you say? A telephone message has been sent on to you from your surgery in Dunswick to Carnaby Vicarage? The original message came from me? I said I was dying —had been shot, two men, one tall and the other—But I'm speaking! Yes, Leslie Gideon. I've only just come in from a stroll. Fit as a fiddle. Only got down here yesterday with Mrs Gideon. You were asked to come immediately? Well, come, by all means. You'll be here in a quarter of an hour, if you are speaking from the Vicarage. I suppose it's some confounded hoax.....'

Blinds • (1932)

....It was not a case of love at first sight, for Lizzie Scott was not a particularly attractive girl. Tall and angular, with plain features, she had little to recommend her except a good-natured smile, that seemed the quiet echo of Tom's hearty laugh. But Tom was not looking for pretty girls. He wanted a wife who could cook and sew, who would find enough in the little shanty by the beach to keep herself and him from getting lonely, and who would lend him a hand in looking after Phil, the wild young fellow of seventeen, fast earning for himself the dubious reputation of being a hard case.

Miss Cornelius • (1928)

....The manifestations had been going on over a period of three weeks. They consisted apparently of rappings, noises like those made by the dropping of very heavy weights, unaccountable movements of tables and articles of furniture, the mysterious locking and unlocking of doors, and, perhaps strangest of all, the throwing about, apart from any observed human agency, of all sorts of miscellaneous objects, ranging from chessmen and gramophone needles to lumps of coal and metal candlesticks.

The Heart of the Fire • (1928)

While on this hearthe of stone a fire you see, 

Kinde Fortune smiles upone ye house of Aislabie.

Peter Levisham • (1928)

....' "I don't know your name," I said, "but I have met you twice before, once in the traffic of Bishopsgate, and once on a winter night when I spoke to you at the Driffield cross-roads. I beseech you to listen to this warning before it is too late and see to your ways."

The Clock • (1928)

....The clock had no business to be ticking. The house had been shut up for twelve days. No one had come in to air it or to light fires. I remembered how Mrs Caleb had told my aunt that if she left the keys with a neighbour, she was never sure who might get hold of them. And yet the clock was going.

Ghosts and Jossers • (1928)

....'The jossers are the ones who are still alive. They forfeit a life each time they speak to a ghost, since it is unlawful to hold communion with the dead. I think that's about all. Proper names are allowed. You'll soon get into the game, once we have started.'

The Sleeping Major • (1932)

....He held a key position, and not only had he to maintain his ground, he had to make plans for a possible evacuation under cover of night. 'Foolish fellow,' said the German opposite, 'how perfectly absurd you are! What can you expect to do when you are keyed to such a pitch? Sit down and think over the position quietly.' In a fit of anger he fired at the face again, and again missed. The German removed his eyeglasses from his fat, white face and wiped them carefully. 'How absurdly obstinate you are!' said his enemy. 'As obstinate as a mule! Don't you remember how you had to ship those mules on the transport at the last moment, and the trouble they gave you on the quay?'

The Ankardyne Pew • (1928) 

....I have been inside the church. Anything less like dear old Garvington it would be impossible to find. Architecturally, it has its points, but the unity of design, on which everything here depends, is broken by the Ankardyne pew. Its privacy is an abomination. Even from the pulpit it is impossible to see inside, and I can well believe the stories of the dicing squires and their Sunday play. Miss Ankardyne refuses to use it. The glass is crude and uninteresting; but there is an uncommon chancel screen of Spanish workmanship, which somehow seems in keeping with the place. I wish it didn't.

The Tool • (1928) 

....Every man has experienced at some period of his life that strange intuition of danger which compels us, if only it be strong enough, to alter some course of action, substituting for a reasonable motive the blind force of fear. I was walking straight towards the mound, when I came to a standstill. Something seemed to repel me from the spot, while at the same time I became conscious of my intense isolation, alone on the moor miles away from any fellow creature. I stopped for half a minute, half in doubt as to whether to proceed. Then I told myself that fear is always strongest when in pursuit and, smiling at my folly, I went on.

The Devil's Bridge • (1928)

'Half green or not,' said his father, 'what good can come of an unblessed bridge? The Devil might have built it for all you cared.'

     'And he should have my thanks for one,' the charcoal-burner declared with an oath. 'He is a cunning craftsman, whatever men may say. In my mother's parish was a field with five of the Devil's arrows planted in the centre, each as big as a man. I never saw prettier target practice. Then there is the Devil's Wine Bowl over at La Roche. He placed it on the top of the highest hill, where his thirst would be likely to be the greatest. It is deep enough to hold a dozen churches. Your bishops and curés, once they fell in, would be no better than drowning flies, and if I were the Devil, no little finger of mine should help them to crawl out. Here's to the honest gentleman!' and he raised his glass.

Two and a Third • (1928)

....On the following Tuesday, Mrs Hobson, Mary Shepherd and I met at the little Camden Town studio. The séance was held in the back sitting-room. The windows were closed to shut out the noise, but through them filtered the deadened rhythm of street traffic and the golden haze of a still August afternoon. I suppose that both sound and light were of just sufficient intensity to create the right environment, for in a surprisingly short time the planchette began to write. At first the words were meaningless and scarcely decipherable, but gradually the character of the script changed. 'Helford River! Helford River!' wrote the planchette. 'Who's that a-calling so sweet?' Now the Helford River was the mine-sweeper in which Jim Hobson had served in the Mediterranean. Mrs Hobson began to ask questions. There was something incongruous, something pathetic, in the way in which this shrewd, commonplace woman believed without doubt that she was speaking to her dead or rather to her living son. But stranger still were the light-hearted gaiety of the replies. They were characteristic of one side of Jim's nature, but it was not the side that his mother had known. Her familiar landscape was of a dark-shouldered hill that faced the north, its hard outline softened only by rainstorm and cloud. She had never travelled far enough from home to watch the sunlight resting on the southern slopes. 'Jim,' she said at last, 'tell me that you love me, that you've forgiven me!'

Miss Avenal • (1928

....'I think of the church,' said Miss Avenal, 'as the last outpost of the new religion, standing sentinel over the passes that lead to the hills. And the stream I picture as the friend of the old spirits that were driven by the priests into the fastnesses of the moor. It carries their secrets still; but lest the old sentry should discover them, it has made for itself a way underground.'

The Double Eye • (1933) 

...At dinner that night the conversation more than once showed signs of flagging. Dan, I thought, resented Miss Hartigan's assumption that I was to be made to feel at home. After all there was no ice to break, no soundings to be taken. The channels were old and familiar, at least to him. But in the drawing-room as we sat round the fire—it was burning apple-wood logs, I remember—he came out of his curmudgeon's shell. He twitted his aunt who had been busy arranging stamps in an immense volume, on her hobby. He told her of a monarch who from innocent philandering with philately developed such a passion for Papal states and West Indian colonies that he imperilled both the Protestant succession and the peace of Europe. He sketched ribald designs for stamps of the Irish Free State. He defended their sanction of the lottery and parried Miss Hartigan's attacks by an ingenious argument in which he invoked the doctrine of Grace—the supreme gifts of life coming unearned to the unworthy. I forget how he worked out his ingenious theory, but it was obvious that Dan enjoyed teasing the little old lady and just as obvious that she appreciated the gentle shocks he gave her.

The Dabblers • (1928) 

A fascinating story with a pleasant patina of lore and antiquarianism. A 'school story.'

     ' "We were all of us frightened, horribly frightened. It was quite different from the ordinary schoolboy escapade. And yet there was fascination, too, in the fear. It was rather like," and here he laughed, "dragging a deep pool for the body of someone who had been drowned. You didn't know who it was, and you wondered what would turn up."

Mrs. Ormerod • (1933)

I have a theory of my own that good attracts evil. It shows it up of course and draws attention to it. The Inchpens always convinced me of selfishness—but it goes beyond that. Really good people, saint-like people, act as magnets to those who have more than a streak of the devil in them. That's why they have adventures and meet with folk that you or I seldom see. That's why Mrs Ormerod stays on with them, horrible parasite that she is.

The Follower • (1933)

....He drew up his chair to the fire and filled his pipe. If only he could hit on the idea for the story, something uncanny, something sinister. It was not yet ten o'clock on an April morning, but he was just in the mood to submit himself to an unknown fear. The story was in him or around him, in the air. He knew the effect he wanted to get, but what was the story itself? Why wouldn't it take shape, come out into the open so that he could see at least the dim outline, the skeleton rather, which later he could clothe at will?

The Man Who Hated Aspidistras • (1933)

....One, he slowly did to death with weed-killer; into another, following the example of the Good Samaritan, he would pour in oil and wine. A third he garrotted with rubber bands; a fourth, slowly succumbing to a solution of bath salts, filled his room for weeks with the faint perfume of lavender. A horticultural detective would, of course, have quickly got on the track of the Bloomsbury murders, but no suspicion ever fell upon Ferdinand. 

     He was so inoffensive, so subtle, so respectable, and in his own way so quietly ornamental. His requirements were so few and he needed little looking after. His landladies were always sorry when he went. The aspidistras never got over his departure.

Double Demon • (1933) 

....Very carefully he put out the cards and began his game of Double Demon. It would be a good omen if luck were with him tonight. Eleven o'clock struck, twelve o'clock. The cards would not come out. Half an hour after midnight he went to bed, and when the clock struck one he was sound asleep.

The Arm of Mrs. Egan • (1935)

....Mrs Egan was a wealthy widow with an only child on whom she doted. Ten days before she had rung Gilbert up about an eruption she had noticed on the nurse's hands. When he came over to see her he found a strapping wench who complained of nothing. She said she had a sensitive skin and had been using a new brand of soap. Two days later the little boy was violently sick. He had eaten several slices of a rich cake, and Gilbert, who was rushed off his feet with an influenza epidemic, assured the anxious Mrs Egan that it was nothing more than a slight digestive upset. The sickness, however, continued. Mrs Egan, unable to get in touch with Gilbert, called in another doctor who found that the boy had scarlet fever contracted from his nurse, an ambulant case, and that she had most likely picked up the infection at the home of the young man with whom she was walking out. 

     The boy died. Gilbert never saw him again, for the case was taken out of his hands, but on the day after the funeral Mrs Egan sent for him. It was then that she cursed him. She called him a licensed murderer, and said that as long as she lived Gilbert could count on one enemy who would not rest until she had got even with him.

Account Rendered • (1951)

'You took the anaesthetic splendidly. The only thing that surprised us was when an old man came up the stairs a little after twelve and looked into the room without knocking. I think he, too, was surprised to see us and said something about seeing you another time.' 

     Mr Tolson glanced at me in a curious way. I saw fear, dismay, and a suggestion of something else, of wily satisfaction that gave one the impression that he was well pleased to have escaped from a tiresome visitor.

The Flying Out of Mrs. Barnard Hollis • (1951)

....The Grange had been a house of refuge to many. In the early days of the war Mrs Barnard Hollis had offered hospitality to two families of Belgian refugees for a week. They had stayed for four years. There was a constant succession of guests, over-worked parsons and their wives from the East End, lonely deaconesses, governesses waiting for a job, decayed gentlefolk—how I loathe the expression!—who nobody wanted to entertain because they were so unentertaining.

The Habeas Corpus Club • (1951) 

....even the ordinary lay student of Pocock and those authors who laboriously follow his footsteps in the dark must have been struck by the fact that less than justice is done to the characters they murder at the end of the first or second chapter. A corpse has to be discovered in startling circumstances—on the farther side of the bunker that guards the thirteenth green, in a reserved sleeping berth on the Orient Express, in Sir Marmaduke's family pew at Widdecombe Basset, in a pantechnicon outside Number 10 Downing Street. The corpse is the important thing. It is the spring-board that projects frail clues and dark suspicions.


27 September 2019

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