Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Mystery of the Semi-Detached by Edith Nesbit, 1893

He went upstairs, and at the door of the first bedroom he came to he struck a wax match, as he had done in the sitting rooms. Even as he did so he felt that he was not alone.

Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), the renowned English author and poet, wrote for children and adults with equal ease. She wrote dozens of books and short stories for the young and old. She had a particular fascination for horror stories many of which were published in literary magazines like Strand.

‘The Mystery of the Semi-Detached,’ which is part of Nesbit’s second collection of horror stories titled Grim Tales, is about an ordinary young man who is waiting in a suburban lane to meet the girl he is engaged to be married. When she fails to turn up long after the appointed hour, he goes to her semi-detached house and finds the front door wide open and no sign of life around. The atmosphere is eerie and the man is scared. Still, he enters the large and empty house shrouded in darkness. He walks into the first bedroom upstairs, lights a match, and is absolutely unprepared for the sight that meets his eyes—on the bed, in a white loose gown, is the girl he loves, her throat slit from ear to ear. He runs away from the scene and approaches the police who take him for a drunk and imprison him for the night.

The next day the cops accompany him to the house where they find that the girl is all right. She had been to a hotel with her mother and a rich uncle and, in what is a bizarre twist to the tale, insists that she had locked her room and carried the key with her.

Did the young man see an apparition in the house or was it a premonition of a grisly  death, if not that of the girl he loved then perhaps someone else?


While the 1,250-word story falls in the horror category, it is by no means scary or suspenseful. Both the man and woman have no names. In this story they don't matter. The author's style is simple and lucid. I may read some of the other tales in Grim Tales. After all, Edith Nesbit is a big name in fiction.

15 comments:

  1. I don't know much about E. Nesbit--I think she's better known in the UK, perhaps. I remember shelving her books when I was the YA director at the bookstore, and being surprised that there was an author on classic publishing imprints that I'd never heard of.

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    1. Kelly, I've been familiar with E. Nesbit and her work for a long time though I don't recall reading anything by her in recent years. I'm interested in reading her full-length novels including those meant for children like the BASTABLE SERIES, THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, THE ENCHANTED CASTLE, and THE MAGIC CITY.

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  2. Hum, I don't really know anything about her either. Guess I need to rectify that.

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    1. Charles, I'd be interested to know what you think of her horror stories. She tells them without fanfare.

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  3. Not familiar with Edith Nesbit either. The story sounds interesting although I don't read any horror. Maybe someday.

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    1. Tracy, E. Nesbit has also written non-horror stories. She wrote both adult and children's fiction and may have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl.

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  4. It's been a fair few years since I read any horror fiction. I doubt I will be re-visiting the genre TBH, nice post though.

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    1. Col, thank you. I read horror fiction occasionally though not the macabre variety. Nesbit's horror stories are milder in comparison.

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  5. The name was familiar but I just checked her catalog and have read ziltch by her. Great post, Prashant. And love your new header with Buster Keaton. My favorite film actor from that period.

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    1. David, thank you for the double dose of appreciation. I didn't expect the Buster Keaton picture to hog so much space. I'm looking for a smaller size. I have to depend on the templates and gadgets provided by Blogger as I know nothing about HTML and all that stuff. I love Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Marx Brothers, and The Three Stooges in that order.

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  6. Used to read her children's books to my kids. Very lovely writing.

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    1. Patti, I agree with you about Nesbit's writing. I intend to read some of her children's books.

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  7. Thsi takes me back - I used to love her books as a kid, especially "The Railway Children" - thanks Prashant.

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    1. You're welcome, Sergio. A lot of stuff I'm reading these days is taking me back many years.

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  8. Strangely enough I came across this story when I was browsing gutenberg.net.au for Edgar Wallace stories. I did a google search and found this blog.

    Funny thing was, I expected a novel, but got a short story instead. But the writing is very familiar of that era. I am a big fan of Edgar Wallace, by the way.

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