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The Best Novels of the 1890s — Interesting Literature

The 1890s saw pioneering works of science fiction, detective fiction, and Gothic horror all published, by some of the greatest English, Scottish, and Irish writers of the age. In the United States, too, novelists addressed social issues, sometimes in comic ways, while social realism continued to play an important role […] The post The Best…

via The Best Novels of the 1890s — Interesting Literature

SOME MUST WATCH. (1933) BY ETHEL LINA WHITE. SANDRA HARRIS REVIEWS THE BOOK THAT INSPIRED THE MOVIE ‘THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.’ ©

some-must-watch

SOME MUST WATCH. (1933) BY ETHEL LINA WHITE. THE BOOK THAT INSPIRED THE FILM, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

As though struck by some recollection, he turned round and faced Helen.

‘How did you get back to the house?’ he inquired.

She did not understand the question.

‘When?’ she asked.

‘When you were coming through the plantation. I heard your footsteps. I waited… But you never came.’

At the words, suddenly- Helen knew.

‘You,’ she said.

SOME MUST WATCH, by Ethel Lina White.

This, as is says above, is the book that inspired film-maker Robert Siodmak to make his classic thriller, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. I’m not a huge fan normally of ’30s crime fiction, and I admit I only read this one because of its connection to the famous film.

The language can be out-dated in these ’30s crime novels, and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s motivating people to say and do some of the mad things we see them saying and doing. This book is no exception to that rule.

It’s the story of a young woman called Helen Capel, one of those women who takes a job in service as an antidote to being all alone in the world and obliged to make one’s own living.

She’s young and pretty with a cloud of red hair, and much is made in the book of her slight stature. She’s a tiny little fairy of a thing, the kind men rush to protect and cherish, much to the annoyance of at least one other, much taller and bigger, female character in the book.

She has a job as a ‘lady-help’ in the book, though what exactly her duties are meant to be is a somewhat mystifying question. She doesn’t appear to ‘help’ any one lady in particular in the house, and she seems to spend all her time flitting between the floors of the isolated English country mansion known as the Summit, sticking her nose into the business of the inhabitants of the house.

She has an insatiable curiosity about everyone and everything in the house that some folks would call nosiness, and she also seems selfish, self-absorbed, self-obsessed and possibly not a very nice person, which is odd for the heroine of a book. That’s what I mean about some of these ’30s crime novels written by lady authors; sometimes the people in them are not actually that nice or relatable…!

You’d be hard pushed to find a single nice character in the whole of the book, to be honest with you. The head of the household is the cold, intractable Professor Warren, who shares his home with his bookish unmarried sister Miss Warren and their obnoxious old bedridden mother, Lady Warren, a sly, cunning and cruel old baggage who gets rid of the nurses her children employ for her by means of violence both verbal and physical.

She may not get rid of her new nurse so easily, though. Nurse Barker, a tough cookie, has come from the nearby Nurses’ Home to take charge of Lady Warren. Because of her superior height, build and strength and a distinct darkening above the upper lip that necessitates the use of a razor, Helen and the gossipy drunkard of a housekeeper, Mrs. Oates, who lives downstairs with her handyman husband Oates, have decided she’s not a woman at all but a man in drag.

Which wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem (or maybe it would; it was still only the ’30s, after all!), but a murderer has been operating in the vicinity of the Summit of late. Several pretty young women have been brutally strangled to death, and earlier on in this particular day, in which the action of the book takes place, a woman who used to work for Lady Warren at the Summit was found dead and dumped outside the home of the Summit’s nearest neighbour, a Colonel Bean.

Which, of course, is bad news for Helen and the inhabitants of the Summit, because it means that the murderer is getting ever closer, and everyone in the house is suspect, especially the men. Let’s quickly meet the remaining tenants of the Summit.

There’s the Professor’s academic son, Newton, and his slutty wife Simone, who has her sights firmly set on Stephen Rice, the Professor’s live-in ‘pupil,’ who is not remotely interested in Simone, or at least not interested enough to run away with her, which is what she wants.

Finally there’s the young Dr. Parry, who doesn’t ‘live in’ but who constantly visits his patient at the Summit, Lady Warren. Over the course of his visits, he seems to fall in love with the vain, silly and flighty Helen, which might be no bad thing. For her, I mean.

Marriage and a slew of little’uns will sort her out and settle her down, but first of all she has to survive the fateful night in the book in which murder insinuates itself ever nearer to her. She suffers agonies of imagination that whole night before anything actually happens, and then, when murder finally does come knocking on her door for real, it’s wearing a surprisingly familiar guise…

There is a spiral staircase in the book, although it’s just a back stairs and doesn’t really see much action. Sadly, the book isn’t really scary at all, but it does feature one chapter that thrilled me, the opening one in which Helen Capel is returning from a solitary walk through a very eerie part of the woods near the Summit. This bit was good ‘n’ atmospheric, but unfortunately the rest of the book didn’t really keep pace with it.

It was nice to read something different over Christmas, and I did enjoy the book, although the odd behaviour and mannerisms of the characters annoyed me somewhat, and it was hard to find someone to genuinely like and root for in the book. Still, each to their own and every book is different and deserving of credit in its own way. This will be my last blog post of 2019, so Happy New Year to all my readers and may 2020 see the fulfilment of all of our dearest wishes.

Although her own lids seemed weighted with lead, she, alone, was awake in a sleep-bound world. She had to watch.

SOME MUST WATCH, by Ethel Lina White.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

 

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Creative Writing Submission Strike is Over — Write Naked

Writers of essays, poetry, and short stories generally share similar experiences when submitting their work to literary journals and contests. We have to do a number of administrative tasks: Find writing contests and literary journals/magazines Research each journal/contest to see if we’re the best fit Read the guidelines and format. Some markets are quite persnickety […]

via Creative Writing Submission Strike is Over — Write Naked

ANATOMY OF A MURDER. (1959) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Anatomy-of-a-Murder

ANATOMY OF A MURDER. (1959) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY ROBERT TRAVER. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY OTTO PREMINGER. MUSIC BY DUKE ELLINGTON. STARRING JAMES STEWART, LEE REMICK, BEN GAZZARA, ARTHUR O’CONNELL, EVE ARDEN, KATHRYN GRANT, MURRAY HAMILTON, GEORGE C. SCOTT AND DUKE ELLINGTON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Some might say that this was a strange vehicle for the all-American, wholesome-as-apple-pie Jimmy Stewart to get mixed up with. He’s not a grizzled old gunslinger in it, for one thing, and for another thing, there isn’t so much as a sighting in it of the giant rabbit who used to run the Savings and Loan.

Instead, James Stewart is casually using words previously unheard on the cinema screen, such as ‘rape,’ ‘panties’ and ‘spermatogenesis.’ That last one had even me scratching my noodle in bafflement. And this is the movie, if I’m not much mistaken, that made Stewart’s own Pops stop talking to him for a bit, it was so shocking to the old man.

For those who haven’t seen this black-and-white, rather controversial-for-its-time courtroom drama, James Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a small-town attorney who looks exactly as James Stewart does and who defends a man called Frederick Manion. Manion is accused of shooting dead the man who raped his wife.

The question is not whether he ‘dunnit.’ He ‘dunnit’ all right. The man’s as dead as dead and there are witnesses and everything. The question is whether he was in his right mind when he ‘dunnit,’ or if he was in fact temporarily insane, as this is what he’s going to plead.

The trouble for the viewer is that the married couple at the centre of the drama, Laura and Frederick Manion, are not what you’d expect for a woman who’s just been supposedly raped and battered by an acquaintance and the husband who’s so horrified by what’s happened to his lovely wife that he’s rushed out while his blood is up and shot the guy who committed these awful deeds.

Ben, an army lieutenant, is young, handsome and very, very cold. There seems to exist very little affection between himself and Laura. He’s suspected of having a jealous temperament and of giving her the odd clout round the head when he’s in the mood, although he shows us little or no emotion at all in the film. It’s not out of the question for the viewer that his wife, an incorrigible flirt, made up the story about the rape and battery to excuse her late arrival home to their trailer and her dishevelled appearance.

Let’s move onto the wife, Laura. Talk about a femme fatale. She doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word ‘inappropriate.’ Two days after the supposed rape, she turns up at Pauly’s office in a tight little outfit, flirting and smoking and smiling mysteriously, and making herself at home in his gaff, playing his records and sitting with her feet tucked up underneath her on his couch. She’s brought her adorable lickle wuff-wuff, Muff, with her too. Muff can do cute tricks, lol, and be altogether very obliging for an adorable lickle wuff-wuff. 

The homespun old Pauly is enchanted, to say the very least. There’s not much sign on the sexy blonde Laura of a recent trauma having taken place, barring the shiner underneath her sunglasses, which could just as easily have been given her by her husband as by the man she’s accusing of rape and battery. She looks rather in the pink, as a matter of plain fact.

Where’s the crying, the trembling, the hiding away and unwillingness to come forward that we might have expected from an on-screen rape victim? There’s none of that, just what seems like a vain, silly, thoughtless woman trying to add another middle-aged conquest to her army of followers. James Stewart, how easily you succumbed! For shame, haha.

Pauly and his elderly alcoholic assistant Parnell McCarthy (yep, it’s a good team, folks!) have to try to unravel what kind of man the dead guy, Barney Quill, was. In order to do this, they have to visit the bar which Barney owned and see the place where Laura and Barney met up on the night of the rape.

Over in one corner is the pinball machine on which Laura played on this fateful night, when she was boozing heavily and ‘swishing her hips’ in her little skirt and no doubt thrusting out her nips too in the little tight ‘Fifties sweater she wore.

And over there behind the bar is Alphonse Paquette, the surliest barman who ever pulled a pint. He surely doesn’t want to co-operate with Pauly and Co. What in the hell is he hiding? He’s played by a really young Murray Hamilton, by the way, a man who was once accused of ‘queuing up to be a hot lunch’ in the 1975 summer blockbuster, JAWS.

He’s definitely hiding something. Protecting his attractive young bar manager, Mary Pilant, maybe? Who is she, anyway, and what’s her connection to Barney Quill, the deceased bar owner with his trophies for shooting on display behind the bar…?

George C. Scott is handsome and deadly as the visiting big-city prosecutor who has to pit his razor-sharp wits against the rambling homespun wisdom of Pauly Biegler. The ancient judge, a bit of a rambling old dodderer himself, seems to be pro-Pauly rather than pro-the-visiting-big-city-prosecutor, but it’s not the judge Pauly has to convince with his arguments. It’s the jury of roughly about nine angry men and three mildly pissed-off women, and they all have lives to be getting back to…

I loved Eve Arden as Maida, Pauly’s good-humoured and efficient Girl Friday who puts up with his crap with loyalty and stoicism, even though some weeks he clearly can’t pay her her goddamn salary because he’s a bad businessman and he keeps letting people go off without paying him. She must have the patience of a saint to put up with his bullshit.

The funniest scene in the movie (and there’s a lot of comedy in this for a film about a rape trial) is when the judge, James Stewart and the two prosecutors are trying to find a suitable word for knickers, one that won’t offend the delicate sensibilities of the listening public but won’t cause them to crease up with a fit of the giggles, either. George C. Scott: ‘When I was stationed in France, there was a word they used there but it might be too suggestive…!’ Ah, go on, tell us, George, we’re totally in suspenders here…!

Modern-day feminists viewing the film will be appalled at the way in which the rape victim is judged unfavourably for her flirting and her boozing and her habit of swanning off to the pub without her husband or her knickers of a night, to play pinball and knock back the booze with strange men.

What was she wearing, the question some people think should be an irrelevancy in a rape trial, is given more court-time here than most feminists would like, and The Panties deserve their own credit, maybe even their own spin-off show, a cutting-edge legal drama where the characters are all played by undergarments, perhaps.

The long-winded judge who keeps trying to finish early in court so he can sneak off to go fishing could be played by an old pair of stripey boxer shorts, for example, and the sexy young barrister trying to make a name for herself could be portrayed by a lacy hot-pink thong, and so forth. The Panties could be splitting up with her husband and she’s fighting him tooth and nail for custody of their wonderful offspring, a delightful little pair of twin sock garters, and of course the case comes up before our aforementioned judge. You don’t buy it? No, neither did Fox, lol…

 Finally, if I may end with an appeal to film-makers to refuse to have pinball machines in the bars in their movies in the future, as said machines have been an incitement to rape in at least two films; this one, and also THE ACCUSED, starring Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis.

In fact, the pinball machine in THE ACCUSED was later found to have participated actively in the on-screen rape of Jodie Foster’s character in the movie and became unofficially known as ‘the fourth defendant,’ along with College Boy, the Ted Bundy lookalike and the local, ahem, lackwit, shall we say, so you can see how easily it can happen. Say no to pinball machines and you’re saying no to pinball machine rape, and together we can stamp out this atrocity in our time. (Send donations too if you want; it’s a totally legit cause…!)

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

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6 Quotes by Nora Ephron to Make You a Better Writer —

Nora Ephron (1941–2012) was the celebrated writer/director of classic films like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, she was the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of When Harry Met Sally, and she was the hilarious essay writer of I Feel Bad About My Neck and other amazing collections. Here are six wonderful quotes she left us that […]

via 6 Quotes by Nora Ephron to Make You a Better Writer —

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5 Quotes by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Make You a Better Writer —

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) is the legendary author behind such classics as The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and This Side of Paradise. Here are five fantastic quotes he shared with us about writing! 1. All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. This quote is kind of amazing. I feel […]

via 5 Quotes by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Make You a Better Writer —

THE VAMPYRE: THE SECRET HISTORY OF LORD BYRON. (1995) BY TOM HOLLAND. BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE VAMPYRE: THE SECRET HISTORY OF LORD BYRON. BY TOM HOLLAND. (1995) BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Not since INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE was published almost twenty years ago has a novel of this genre appeared that’s half as good as Tom Holland’s THE VAMPYRE… a powerfully atmospheric tale.’

COMPANY.

‘Vampire fiction gets a transfusion… a classical alternative to the traditional tale; Byron himself would have been pleased by such an eerie, erudite addition to his myth.’

TIME OUT.

‘A tour de force of scholarship and gothicity.’

LOS ANGELES TIMES.

Well, way to make Lord Byron (1788-1824) even cooler, lol. The early nineteenth century Romantic poet had already acquired the reputation of being quite the cool dude of mystery and danger; hadn’t Lady Caroline Lamb said of him that he was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know…?’

And then along comes Tom Holland, writer, to make Byron a vampire as well as a cad, a rake, a bounder, a club-footed seducer of women and writer of such poems as CHILDE HAROLD’S PILGRIMAGE, SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY and ODE TO NAPOLEON BUONAPARTE. He might as well have made him into the next James Bond or successor to Indiana Jones while he was about it…!

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I must say, having an affinity for both vampires and the Romantic poets, especially Byron and his pal Percy Bysshe Shelley, both of whom were present at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva in Switzerland that fateful stormy summer during which Mary Shelley penned FRANKENSTEIN, the most famous book of gothic fiction ever written, besides Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, of course.

The book THE VAMPYRE is fiction, but it follows the course of Lord Byron’s life pretty closely from the time he first decides to leave England for ‘a tour of the Continent,’ and the characters in Lord Byron’s real life are all present here also, as well as some rather toothsome and bloodthirsty new creations of Tom Holland’s.

The book has been likened to Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and, indeed, Lord Byron is, in fact, relating the story of his ‘fall,’ as he calls it, to a young woman called Rebecca, a descendant of his who has been mysteriously summoned to Byron’s house in modern day England.

Here’s what he tells her about his European travels: ‘It was the custom then for men such as myself, well-bred and hopelessly in debt, to perform a tour of the Continent, long seen by the English as the most suitable place for the young to take rapid steps in the career of vice. I wanted to sample new pleasures, new sensations and delights- everything for which England was too narrow and tight, and which I knew, abroad, would be easy to procure.’

He travels with his friend Hobhouse. In Greece, he is turned into a vampire by a terrifying man-being called Vakhel Pasha, who finds Byron beautiful and clever and a unique individual worthy of all the knowledge of the Universe which the Pasha is keen to impart to him. The Pasha calls this transference ‘the Gift;’ Byron has reason in time to view it as ‘the Curse.’

Byron has become a ‘vardoulacha;’ ‘The vardoulacha drinks blood,’ we’re told in the book. ‘It is an evil thing. You must beware of it, for it prefers to drink from a living man.’

If you think you don’t know the word, you do, lol, if you’ve ever seen Mario Bava’s genuinely frightening movie BLACK SABBATH (yes, yes, the band took their name from this film!). The middle section stars Boris Karloff and it’s about vampires or vardoulacha, that’s all I’ll say…!

The Pasha has much to teach Byron before he vampirises him: ‘Do not be afraid, milord. Be young and old; be human and divine; be beyond life, and beyond death. If you can be all these things together in your being and your thoughts, then- then, milord- you will have discovered immortality.’

That’s kind of a tall order, is that. I mean, if we could all do this stuff, we’d all be going around achieving immortality all the time. The fact that we’re not is possibly testament to how difficult it is. ‘I give you knowledge,’ the Pasha says then another time. ‘Knowledge and eternity. I curse you with them.’ Clearly the one-for-all gift voucher hadn’t yet been invented…!

Byron likes the idea of being immortal, but not of drinking blood. At first, the notion revolts him. But if drinking blood is what he has to do to survive, he’ll do it. ‘I felt the incisors extend from my gums- the skin gave- blood, in a soft silken spurt, filled my mouth. I felt a shuddering delirium, as the blood was pumped by the dying man’s heart, and rain flooded out across my parched skin and throat. I drained my victim white. When I had finished, his gore in my blood felt heavy like a drug.’ Intoxicating stuff.

With a fellow vampire, Lovelace, Byron embarks on an orgy of blood and debauchery. He also learns everything there is to know about being a vampire. ‘Much as a lover is instructed by a courtesan, so I was taught the arts of drinking blood. I learned how to enter a victim’s dreams, how to master my own, how to hypnotise and generate illusions and desires.’

A return to England, and Byron finds much to amuse him in the salons of upper crust London, and much to slake his thirst in the back alleys. ‘I returned to London, that mighty vortex of all pleasure and vice, and climbed the giddy circles of its delights. In the dark places of the city, where misery bred nightmares far worse than myself, I became a whispered rumour of horror, stalking the drunk and the criminal; I fed with a greedy compulsion, cloaked in the filthy mists of the slums.’

After an incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh and an unsuccessful marriage to Annabella Millbanke (why does the vampire Byron want a child so much, and what is the ‘golden blood’ he desires above all else?), Byron leaves England forever in 1816.

While in Brussels, he desires to see ‘the fields of Waterloo, where the great battle had been fought a year before.’ The bit where the legions and battalions of dead soldiers rise up from their graves to salute Byron as their ‘Emperor of the Dead’ is magnificently chilling and my personal favourite bit of the book, even over and above the fabulous Villa Diodati stuff, which soon follows.

In Switzerland, Byron, his physician Polidori, the poet Shelley, his mistress Mary and Byron’s teenage mistress Claire Clairmont (whom he’s desperate to get rid of because she’s too clingy!) all play the game of ‘Who can write the best ghost story?,’ to which history has already testified.

Byron, who swings both ways in the book, is extremely attracted to the intelligent, soulful and golden-haired Shelley. He is also desperate to get Shelley to come over to the dark side and become a vampire like him, but he is reluctant to force vampirism on him and wants Shelley to come to him willingly. He might be in for a bit of a wait, so…!

One person who’s mad keen to be vampirised by Byron is the young Dr. Polidori, who’s half-crazed with jealousy of Byron’s well-deserved fame as a poet and the fact that Byron’s been given the gift of eternal life and more knowledge than you can shake a stick at. Whether Byron chooses to share his ‘Gift’ with the odious, poisonous Polidori or not, he will find his former friend a thorn in his side from this time onwards…

The descriptions of Venice, where Byron spends some time, are gorgeous too. ‘Venice had grown into a playground of depravity. Everything about her was extraordinary, and her aspect like a dream- splendid and filthy, graceful and cruel, a whore whose loveliness conceals her disease. I found in Venice, in her stone and water and light, an embodiment of the beauty and vileness of myself. She was the vampire of cities. I claimed her as my right.’ The images of buildings of decaying grandeur sliding over time into the slimy waters of the canals are firmly established in the reader’s mind.

Then there’s Byron’s overwhelming love for the beautiful slave girl of his ‘creator,’ Vakhel Pasha’s, and his disconcerting discovery that he may have gained immortality, in that he will now live forever, but this won’t stop him from growing older and more hideous with time. Only drinking ‘the golden blood’ can prevent this; but where is he going to find a shop that stocks it at this hour of the night…?

There’s also his real-life desire to help the Greeks in their time of revolution, and finally the crippling loneliness that strikes every vampire, unless they are lucky enough to find suitable companions for themselves down through the centuries. Catherine Deneuve’s character Miriam Blaylock in vampire flick THE HUNGER (1983) is a lady who refuses to be lonely; but how happy are her consorts?

Anyway, I’ll leave you with the stern words of wisdom imparted by Lord Byron to the loathsome Polidori: ‘You must steer your own course… We are all lonely, we who wander the Ocean of Time…’ For secret reasons which I am forbidden to share with you, I couldn’t have put it better myself…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com