S0208: The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood
We did the Kit Bag by Algernon Blackwood as Episode 20, and there I said:
Algernon Blackwood was an English writer born in 1869 who ended up as a broadcaster on the radio and TV.
His writing was very well received at this time and critics loved him. Even the great American author of weird tales HP Lovecraft cited Blackwood is one of the masters of the craft.
Blackwood came from a well-to-do family and was privately educated despite that he was quite an adventurous man. He was interested in Hinduism as a young boy and his career was varied. For example, he ran a dairy farm in Canada and also hotel in the country. It became a newspaper reporter in New York City and was also a bartender and a model and also a violin teacher!
All of this time, though he was always writing. He liked being outdoors and his stories often feature the outdoors. He was also interested in the occult and was a member of the hermetic order of the Golden Dawn along with such other characters is Arthur Machen and WB Yeats and Alistair Crowley.
At one point he was a paranormal researcher for the British Society for Psychical Research and it is said that this story was based on a case that he investigated.
The Empty House
Structurally, the story is simple: our man hears of the house, he visits the house, he explores the house, weird stuff starts to happen, the ghost is revealed to be a replaying of a tragic scene from the house’s past, the protagonist is merely an observer. If he has an arc, it is the transformation of his attitude to his aunt from seeing her as a feeble old lady to a woman who is in some respects braver than he is.
Blackwood lays on the dust, the shadows, the moonlight as well as scurrying beetles and some black thing that scurries off (probably a cat, maybe a rat in the dark). He does this well. We are taken right there.
Michael Kellermeyer describes the story as an exploration of fear, rather than ghosts and I think that’s a good point. In that it matches some other stories like Marghatina Laski’s The Tower and H R Wakefield’s Blind Man’s Buff
There’s a whole genre of ‘night in a haunted house’ stories.
The Empty House Reminds me of a story I recently read from 1835, No. 252 Rue M. Le Prince by Ralph Adams Cram. That is much older, and more decadent. It’s worth a read though.
In 252 Rue. Me Le Prince, as in this story, the person visiting the haunted house is merely a witness to past happenings. At least that was my take. Of course, that is like the Stone Tape theory of hauntings, which holds that the fabric of a building somehow records strong emotion and plays these scenes back as hauntings.
It is also reminiscent of Blackwood’s own The Kit Bag, in that we have someone lurking out of sight who eventually is seen and in both cases they are the ghosts of criminals.
The story also reminded me of Blind Man’s Buff by HR Wakefield, which we read recently , not to mention The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker, which we haven’t yet got round to.
One bizarre incident in The Empty House is when he turns to see his aged aunt’s face is transformed into the face she had as a girl. He finds this horrific and turns from out, but I can’t see why it would be horrible and what purpose it has in this story. I had wondered whether she had been transformed into the murdered maid, but this does not seem to be the case.
Blackwood with his stories of outdoor adventure and colourful employment history sounds very much like a man’s man and I am familiar with that archetype from my father’s attitudes and most of the rugby-playing chaps I knew.
Blackwood’s stories, especially The Wendigo, are problematic for a modern audience because of their everyday racism. There is also a hint of misogyny, and ageism in his view that the aged aunt (I wonder how old she really was supposed to be – fifty?) is not expected to be brave or dogged, though she proves to be both. He doesn’t paint her as a feeble old woman, which is to Blackwood’s credit.
It’s overdue that I recommend Old Style Tales, a one-man labour of love by writer Michael Kellermeyer who produces annotated and illustrated copies of the stories we love.
Here's Michael's analysis of the story.
If you have three minutes, I’d be grateful to know what you think of The Classic Ghost Stories Podcast
Being a fan of The Prisoner, I was chuffed to see we have been listed as the sixth best ghost podcast in the world! The guy behind this list is Anuj Agarwal and this is the link
But on perusal, I see we are the first purely fiction ghost story podcast. So, way-hay!
For free or discounted horror books for Halloween, check out the following links