Story Notes:
"The Haunted Dolls' House"

(from Ghosts & Scholars 16.)

In 1987, Oxford World's Classics published Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories, a collection of twenty-one tales by M.R. James with excellent notes by Michael Cox. Twelve stories were excluded from the volume, so twelve stories remained unannotated until I began this series of notes in G&S 10. The tales were dealt with in the order in which they appear in the Collected Ghost Stories, and the page/line references were to the Penguin Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James (1984) although they should be comprehensible even with a different edition. The notes for "The Haunted Dolls' House" were compiled with the help of David Rowlands and John Alfred Taylor. I intend to add all the Story Notes to the G&S Archive in due course.

Queen Mary's Dolls' House was made between 1921 and 1924 for Mary of Teck, queen consort of George V. It is on display at Windsor Castle. Many of the most notable authors of the day were commissioned to produce something for its library - either a new work or a selected item from their existing writings. The only person who refused the invitation was George Bernard Shaw.

According to M.R. James's introduction to the Collected Ghost Stories (Arnold 1931), "The Haunted Dolls' House" was written specially for Queen Mary's Dolls' House. However, unlike most of the original works contributed to the library (see Mary Stewart-Wilson, Queen Mary's Dolls' House, Bodley Head 1988, p.33), MRJ did not make a gift of the copyright to the Queen.

In a letter to Gwendolen McBryde (Letters to a Friend, Arnold 1956, p.118) dated 10th September 1922, MRJ says "At intervals I try to get on with the Dolls' House story". Its first publication was in the Empire Review, volume XXXVIII (February 1923), and it was then collected in the fourth book of MRJ's ghost stories, A Warning to the Curious (Arnold 1925). The whereabouts of the manuscript are unknown.

In a note at the end of the tale, MRJ apologises for the fact that it may be seen as merely a variation on the theme of "The Mezzotint". Although "The Haunted Dolls' House" is like the earlier story in that the action is observed secondhand by an unconnected witness, and that the plot concerns supernatural vengeance wreaked on innocent offspring for the sins of the parents, there are sufficient differences to make this a pleasing tale in its own right.

p.267, l.8-18: "It's gone": Mr Chittenden differs from the dealer in "The Mezzotint" in that the former is well aware of what his customer is in for.

p.268, l.2: "Strawberry Hill Gothic": The form of gloriously pastiche Gothic (also known as 'Gothick') which thrived for about a century from 1720, and which was especially associated with Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill in Twickenham (he bought the existing house in 1747 and further 'Gothickised' it in the course of the following forty years). Walpole (1717-97) is also noted for his early and influential gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1765).

p.268, l.9: "ogival hoods": Pointed mouldings over a window or door, with a double curve giving a 'Turkish' effect.
"crockets": Decorative carvings on the sloping sides of pediments, etc.

p.269, l.1: "postilions": Riders of horses in or accompanying a carriage.

p.269, l.10: "The tale was complete": Tale in the old-fashioned sense of number/list.

p.270, l.20: "perron": The flight of steps leading up to the area before an entrance door.

p.270, l.38: "posset": Strictly speaking a drink of milk curdled with wine, etc.

p.272, l.30: "as a frog": Compare with the guardian "more like a toad than anything else" in "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas". These are the only two of MRJ's 'creatures' described in terms reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft's batrachians (Ann Clark in "Martin's Close" is a possible third as, in life, she is said to have looked facially like a toad).

p.272, l.31: "busy about the truckle-beds": A beautifully chosen phrase, which tells little while suggesting much. Truckle-beds are low beds on wheels.

p.273, l.20-21: "two Justices of the Peace": Two Justices (magistrates) were needed under the Vagrancy Acts of 1713 and 1744 to confine "persons who by lunacy or otherwise are furiously mad or so disordered in their senses that they may be dangerous to be permitted to go abroad".

p.273, l.28: "offensively called the 'smoke-room'": Unfortunately MRJ was a heavy and enthusiastic smoker. The landlord of the White Lion at Aldeburgh during his many stays there, recorded that he would carry a carpet bag with him to dinner containing "about 20 pipes and a half pound tin of tobacco", and he would "set out the pipes about the room and move round gradually smoking each in turn" (Daily Telegraph, June 6, 1964).

p.273, l.39: "physicks": The only meaning of 'to physick' is to treat with medicine, especially a purgative. This does not seem to be correct in the context. Perhaps MRJ was thinking of something else, or perhaps a word such as "puzzles" has been mistranscribed.

p.274, l.15: "Canterbury and York Society's publications": The Canterbury and York Society was founded in 1904, its object being to publish ecclesiastical records. It is still in existence today.

p.274, l.19-20: "Coxham...Ilbridge House": The house is clearly intended to be somewhere in East Anglia ("not a hundred miles from..." "...a quiet place on the East Coast"; p.273, l.34 & 7), but there is no parish of Coxham anywhere in England.

p.274, l.40: "Vitruvius": Vitruvius Pollio, a great Roman architect in the time of Emperor Augustus (27BC-AD14).

Copyright (c) 1993 Rosemary Pardoe.

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