Uncanny Stories by May Sinclair
By The Criticess
May Sinclair is in danger of being lost under a mountain of critical essays; smothered by scholars of literature and psychoanalysis alike, apparently determined to claim her as one of their own; and dissected by biographers until every word on the page is weighted with biographical reference, no matter how tenuous. Her fate is partly her own fault – she is the writer to whom “stream of consciousness”, in its literary sense, has been attributed; she was a member of the Society for Psychical Research; and wrote studies on philosophy, most notably German Idealism. However, she is best read, not as an object of study, but as the teller of a damn fine tale.
Uncanny Stories is a collection of tales of the supernatural. Eerie, startling and, of course, macabre, they are also terribly civilized. There is no projectile vomit, no ectoplasm, and no demon incarnate. There are murders, but only for the most honourable of reasons and in the most civilized of settings, committed by terribly nice people who just happen to have murdered someone. In The Victim, a valet murders his employer while assisting him with his toilette, believing he drove his sweetheart away. Rigid with fear and guilt, he is visited by the spectre of his victim who thanks the valet for murdering him, thereby relieving him of his debts. Reunited with his sweetheart, he finds a slightly askew happy ending. After death in The Finding of the Absolute, Mr Spalding finds solace and ease from the pain of his wife’s adultery in debate with Immanuel Kant on a space-time continuum in heaven. Not everyone’s idea of heaven, but Mr Spalding blossoms. Discovering on an illicit trip to Paris that they are bored rigid by each other but seemingly unable to end their relationship, Harriott and Oscar are doomed, after death, to spend an eternal hereafter in each other’s mind-numbing company. In place of hell fires, it seems a sort of suburban punishment somehow. The most striking story in the collection is The Flaw in the Crystal, a love story, really, about a telepathic woman’s attempts to protect her lover and keep him, as she sees it, “supernaturally safe”. She uses her powers to protect him from the pain of an unhappy marriage and provides him with an escape from his wife. However, when she tries to do the same for a friend and cure him of his psychoses, she discovers that using her powers for her lover’s benefit has rendered her unclean and she is possessed by the demons she was hoping to exorcise. Without a purity of saintly proportions, it seems her powers are useless. However, there is no devastation of Carrie proportions. Instead, she quietly tells her lover he has to leave and let her return to the self-abnegating state she was in before they met.
So there you have it. Dissect the tales if you wish: there’s a 14-page critical theory introduction to assist, promising Freud, Einstein, and Modernism to be buried in the text, if you care to look. Personally, I think the best accompaniment to the tales is your bed on a dark, windy night while the gothic and supernatural swirl about you. If your floorboards creak, then so much the better.
About the author:
The Criticess spends her time stealing female writers, labelled classics and consigned to the doldrums of academia, and exploring them in all their unhinged, electrifying, mischievous, eloquent, mistressful glory.
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