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The Strange Case of the Swarthy Boy:
Mittelholzer’s Mischling Horror

6,669 words

Edgar Mittelholzer
Eltonsbrody
London: Secker & Warburg, 1960;
Richmond: Valancourt, 2017 (First reprint, with an introduction by John Thieme)

Lecktor: “The reason you caught me, Will, is: We’re just alike. You want the scent? Smell yourself.”

Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)

“I have him decked off in evening clothes — we Barbadians insist on correct dress, even for the dead.”

— Mrs. Scaife, Eltonsbrody

Looking for lockdown literature? Valancourt is a plucky little publishing house that specializes in bringing back in print books that have been forgotten, or at least mislaid; from 18th century Gothics, to pre-Stonewall “gay interest,” to Colin Wilson. A recent sale called this book to my attention, and it makes fine reading for the quarantined: a traditional “spooky old house” tale, but set this time in Barbados. Along the way, it hits a few notes of special interest to Counter-Currents readers, though probably not the ones the author’s name may lead you to assume.

Barbados is what caught my own eye; as Constant Readers know, I’ve been exploring the magickal world of Neville Goddard and his guru, the “black Ethiopian rabbi” known only as Abdullah; both natives of Barbados, who met while living in Depression-era New York City. [1] And on a purely personal note, my mother was born and raised in the then-British West Indies, the child of Methodist missionaries living far from Nassau, more Green Acres than Thunderball. [2]

And indeed, our protagonist’s problems start when he leaves the safe and sophisticated surroundings of Bridgeton for “the other side of the island”; a GoodReads patron supplies an excellent summary:

While vacationing in Barbados, artist Woodsley decides to visit the other side of the island and is dismayed when lodging is all booked up. He’s relieved when the kind and grand Mrs. Scaife generously invites him to stay with her at Eltonsbrody, her estate. Mrs. Scaife is the widow of a man who was a well-renowned doctor on the island, yet strangely enough, Mrs. Scaife has no friends and lives very isolated, other than her servants and sporadic visits from her son and grandson. Woodsley is soon dismayed as this nice old woman begins to make strange and gruesome comments, and is seen wandering around the estate all hours of the night. He begins to wonder if there is more to Mrs. Scaife and Eltonsbrody than meets the eye.

Oh, and one might add, his “dismay” is also caused by several people dying. . . Here’s another summary of this book that calls itself “a study of real horror”:

Set in Barbados, this book begins with the arrival of our narrator Woodsley (a commercial artist), arriving at Eltonsbrody, the old house owned by the eccentric Mrs. Scaife. Woodsley had been “stranded” in the area after traveling from Bridgetown, and the bus driver had suggested he try the old house, since according to him, Mrs. Scaife is “a koindly lady,” who would be “sure to help you out for the night.”  He has been invited to stay on, an invitation he accepts, since he’s decided that the house will become the subject of his next painting. So the one night turns into a few more, and over the course of his time there, Woodsley becomes witness to several bizarre and horrific events. But really, nothing is stranger than Mrs. Scaife herself, who has a particular affinity with those people upon whom she sees the mark of death; woe be unto he or she who comes to Eltonsbrody without it.

Woodsley starts off by disavowing any ability to paint with words, which of course is the usual Gothic misdirection, a manifestly fictional work purporting to be just the unadorned facts. There are a few rather painterly attempts at description, but the main piece of atmos’ is the sound and feel of the winds that whip around and through the old house.

The wind zoomed and bellowed in monotonous fury round the house.

The wind. Just the wind whooping now, moaning now, whining in under the eaves, shaking the windows downstairs.

Only the wind seemed to know everything. I thought I could detect something intelligent in its whining drone — a cold, detached intelligence from which nothing in this dismal old house could hide. I could feel probing draughts twining round me, dissecting my thoughts — perhaps muttering inarticulate warnings that I was too stupid to catch and understand.

Every now and then a chilly draught curled round my ankles or tined clammy tentacles around my neck.

The wind continued to drum round the building like a live, frustrated creature outside in the dark.

And we’ve only reached Chapter 2. Otherwise, the plot is fairly conventional: what’s in the room (or rather, several rooms)? What’s real and what’s the narrator’s imagination running away with him, as he speculates from time to time? And, what’s a threat, and what’s just a — rather morbid — joke?

The last point raises the main problem here: why does Woodsley stay, day after day, despite the at first odd, then definitely off-beat, then terrifying, words and deeds of Mrs. Scaife? We understand his being stranded the first night, and supposedly he decides to commit his impressions of the house to canvas, but it does seem rather implausible; any normal person would have high-tailed it back to Bridgetown at the first opportunity.

And yet the narrator hangs on to the end, like one of Lovecraft’s doomed narrators. The reason is the narrator’s fatal fascination with Mrs. Scaife; at first jokingly, assuring us, like some kind of pickup artist, that he’d be happy to return her attentions if she were a bit younger. [3] He must assume she’s desperate for a man, any man, since “my face, I admit, is one that can easily excite suspicion in the most trusting strangers. I have deep- sunk eyes, heavy brows, a glum expression, and, generally, a distinctly sinister mien.” As it turns out, that’s exactly why she interested in him.

Mrs. Scaife, you see, bears The Mark, and she can perceive it on others, such as Woodsley. One aspect of this distinguishing feature is the ability to discern The Shadow, which indicates an imminent death; and then the fun begins for those special creatures with The Mark.

The Mark takes them in various ways; her husband had it, and became a beloved local doctor; Borkum, a native, has it, and works at a mortuary, although three years in medical school enable him to help Mrs. Scaife with some of her “fun” activities. [4]

How it manifests itself in Mrs. Scaife is the question of the book. Her “playful” hints are a bit off-putting:

“I should have given anything to have watched him die. I should have danced with excitement. To stand beside his bed and watch him slowly strangling with pneumonia — gasping and gradually growing weaker and weaker — Ah! Death!” [5]

“Imagine my joy and horror exquisitely intermingled when I rushed down to find her impaled on a sharp-pointed wallaba post!”

While Mrs. Scaife seems to partly enjoy the usual “catch me if you can” shenanigans of the typical psychopath (or guest-villain on Columbo), she’s also sounding him out as a potential recruit, or at least encouraging him to “become who you are,” as Nietzsche would say. [6] Woodsley, in turn, can’t shake the feeling that she has something important to reveal to him.

The two memes are related, unlike on a Columbo episode; Lecktor’s taunting “How did you catch me?” is also intended to force Graham to realize that it was not by being smarter, but by being just like him.

Their relationship, in short, is like that of Dr. Hannibal Lector and FBI agents Will Graham (in Manhunter) or Clarice Starling (in Silence of the Lambs). [7] These agents have the ability to track down psychopaths because they possess the same potential within themselves; what Mrs. Scaife calls “The Mark.” [8]

The Woodsley/Scaife now makes sense, at least as it reiterates many of the notes hit by the Lecktor interactions, starting with the queasy, age-inappropriate erotic undercurrents: “People will say we’re in love, Clarice.”

She chuckled, and gave me another genuinely affectionate look.

She uttered a teasing cackle. “Nothing, my dear boy. Just a touch of senile jealousy, perhaps.”

She wiped her mouth with her napkin, still shaking with mirth. “So much like [her late husband] Michael,” she murmured to her bacon. Then she glanced up with her affectionate twinkle and said: “My boy, I really believe if you stayed in this house long enough I’d become so attached to you I’d have to hire Borkum to assist me in carving you up so that I could preserve your bones as a loving memento to a dear, dear young man.”

Like Lecktor, Mrs. Scaife insists she’s not crazy, or evil; just a bit different.

“I’m not a bad woman, Mr. Woodsley — but I’m strange. Strange in a strange way.”

“Strange in a way not one of my fellow creatures would dream possible. But I’m not bad. Nor am I insane. You must never be afraid of me.”

This ties in with the way Mrs. Scaife seems just normal enough for Woodsley to be able, like one of Lovecraft’s protagonists, to fit her remarks and antics into some kind of normal category, though with increasing difficulty — eccentric; given to jokes in bad taste; perhaps a bit batty from living in the old house; maybe, even, flirting with him (or shit-testing, as pickup artists would say).

I had to admit that while her actual words sounded utterly loony, her manner was normal. The gleam in her eyes was that of a rational person.

And this relates to the vexed issue of Lecktor vs. Lechter, or Brian Cox (Manhunter) vs. Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs). Cox’s Lecktor is a normal enough fellow, at first, and therein lies what makes him a successful predator; as someone once said on the internet, he could sit down next to you on the bus, strike up a banal conversation, and before you know it, you’re tied up in his basement workshop. Hopkin’s Lechter is conceived as a traditional Hollywood Gothic character, along the lines of Dracula or the Phantom of the Opera; he lurks in the basement of a supposed mental institution that looks more like the castle of the former or the grotto of the latter. He’s so obviously crazy it makes it hard to imagine any patient who would return for a second appointment, much less lay out the details of their life. [9]

Mrs. Scaife is conceived firmly in the Lecktor mold, only gradually — but with same sadistic playfulness — revealing how dangerously nuts she is.

Anyway, she is insistent on Woodsley practicing that very modern virtue of tolerance:

“Try to understand me, Mr. Woodsley. Don’t regard me as a lunatic. There are many strange people in this world, you know. Some are laughed at, and some are treated as mental cases — simply because the normal run of people don’t understand their strangeness.”

“Why should I be condemned because I was born with a love of carnage?”

“. . . Many of us, deep within, have the urge to kill and glory in the death-agony of our victims. We may be unconscious of this urge, but it exists . . . “

“Tolerance is what matters, Mr. Woodsley. If only we could learn to smile and wink at each other’s vices!”

On top of which is the maddening insistence that “we’re both the same.”

She somehow made her words sound weighted with menace and prophecy; yet, at the same time, there was a sympathetic note somewhere in it. Yet sympathetic in a way that revolted me. It was just as though she had not a moment ago committed a disgusting act, and now was whispering to me: “Why do you pretend to be puzzled? Aren’t we both in the same category?”

“Now, admit it. Didn’t you in your fancy hear our groans and shrieks? Didn’t you see the driver of that lorry hurtling through the smashed windscreen, a bruised and pulpy mass of flesh and blood and bones? Didn’t you envisage the tangle of ruined metal and canes scattered among these tombs and our dying bodies writhing in the midst of it all? Didn’t you hear in your fancy our groans and moanings and our anguished gasping screams as perhaps some piece of sharp metal jutted deeper into our entrails? Isn’t that what went through your mind in a flash?”

That last bit recalls Will Graham almost unwillingly lapsing into the criminal’s point of view; as Graham explains to his son:

Will Graham: I tried to build feelings in my imagination like the killer had so that I would know why he did what he did, because that would help me find him… But after my body got okay, I still had his thoughts going around in my head. [10] . . . Then after a while, I felt better, and I was okay again.

Kevin: And the way he thought felt that bad?

Will Graham: Kevin, they’re the ugliest thoughts in the world.

And it definitely brought to mind a scene where both themes — I’m normal, and so are you — are combined:

Dr. Hannibal Lecktor: l want to help you, Will. You’d be more comfortable if you relaxed with yourself! We don’t invent our natures, they’re issued to us with our lungs and pancreas and everything else. Why fight it?

Will Graham: Fight what?

Dr. Hannibal Lecktor: Did you really feel depressed after you shot Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbes to death? l think you probably did. But it wasn’t the act that got to you. Didn’t you feel so bad, because killing him felt so good? And why shouldn’t it feel good? lt must feel good to God. He does it all the time. God’s terrific! He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshippers in Texas last Wednesday night, just as they were groveling through a hymn to his majesty. Don’t you think that felt good?

The resemblance to Lecktor extends even to the same clue being discovered:

“Won’t you like to look through my book-shelf? When I came in you appeared to be interested in it. Indulge me. Come and have a closer look at my books.” [11] She seemed in some peculiar way rigid with excitement.

Woodsley does so, and when examining the room a few days later, discovers something has changed: “The missing title was Human Anatomy.” [12]

The notion of “our natures” brings us back to the author himself. As I said above, Mittelholzer’s interests — Germanic culture, heredity — might chime with those of Counter-Currents readers, but not for the reasons suggested by his name; or not entirely.

As Thieme tells us right at the start of his Introduction, Mittekholzer was born in British Guiana in 1909 “into a mixed-race family of German-Swiss, French, English, and African descent.”

As the “swarthy” son of a mixed-race family, Mittleholzer was acutely conscious of being a disappointment to his “negro-phobe” father and throughout his life his wrestling with what he saw as a dual identity provided the driving force for much of his writing, including Gothic works such as Eltonsbrody (1960).

Thieme doesn’t spell out the family tree for us — why would his father be a “negro-phobe” of all things? — but elsewhere we can get more details:

His father was of Swiss-German origin and his mother from a light-skinned family from Martinique. In race-conscious British Guiana, the Mittelholzers were firmly “white,” yet Edgar’s birth seemingly revealed some hitherto hidden family history, as he was — as he himself put it — “swarthy” (A Swarthy Boy is the painfully self-conscious title of his 1963 autobiography). For his father, Edgar’s color was “a momentous disappointment”: “I was the Dark One at whom he was always frowning and barking.” Photos show a tall, rather gaunt man, with staring eyes and a sallow, rather than dark, complexion. [13]

Mittelholzer might have achieved his literary ambition, but life was never easy or straightforward. He refused to hire an agent. Money was always an issue, and books were written quickly for the next meager advance. Funds had to be found for the children from his first marriage, while the arrival of a son in his second added financial pressures. The tendency towards anxiety and depression, evident from his early years onwards, began to become more pronounced. His precarious sense of identity and self-worth, undermined by his father, the colonial system, and a lifetime of rejections from the publishing world, began to unravel.

Was it Mittelholzer’s escalating paranoia that repelled publishers and critics, or was their irrational hostility towards his work responsible for his descent into darkness? It was probably a mixture of the two. In any case, Secker & Warburg cut their ties with him and thereafter he found it almost impossible to find a publisher willing to take on a writer with a tricky reputation. His ideas, says Rickards in The Caribbean Camera, became increasingly right-wing and pseudo-mystical. In desperation, he resorted to a nom de plume, but with little success.

Sounds like a typical Counter-Currents author! Denied an online outlet, however, things don’t end well:

Suicide had always fascinated Mittelholzer. One critic has estimated that no fewer than 15 of his characters kill themselves. In his last, posthumous novel, the main character escapes his insanity by setting fire to himself. This was to be Mittelholzer’s preferred end: on May 5, 1965, the author doused himself with petrol in a field near Farnham, Surrey, and lit a match.

Oddly enough, for all its horrors, no character kills themselves in Eltonsbrody, making it a bit of an outlier. We’ll get back to that in a bit.

Thieme gives a slightly more nuanced and interesting account of the effects of Mittelholzer’s mixed blood:

In his autobiography of his early years . . . he writes about being torn between two opposing impulses, the “Idyll Element” and the “Warrior Element,” and the themes of psychic division run throughout his work. He espoused the Germanic side of his heritage and had a lifelong love of Nietzsche’s philosophy and Wagner’s music. Apparently untroubled by their association with fascism in the 1930s, [14] he associated these German influences with strength of character, and a struggle between envisioned strong and weak facets of personality is a recurrent theme in his fiction, achieving its fullest expression in his epic Kaywana trilogy (1952- 58), which spans more than three centuries of Guyanese history.

This sort of psychic instability seems typical of mixed-race individuals, although current year GoodThought would attribute any negative results to the effects of social prejudice. In any event, with this background, several features of the novel acquire some new resonance.

Mrs. Scaife, to start with: she’s is a white woman — a “Red Leg,” descended from white slaves transported to Barbados — who contracted a marriage with Dr. Michael Scaife, a Negro who was a well-respected physician in Bridgetown.

The tale of the gossips was (she told me this with an amused twinkle) that she had married Doctor Scaife for his money and he her for her white skin, and the argument was that the doctor had been such an ugly negro that even the women of his own race would not look at him twice, professional man though he was. And she, the daughter of lobster-fisher-folk in Martin’s Bay, had been so ambitious for a better life and education that she had shut her eyes and said yes when the doctor met her at Bathsheba one Easter Monday and proposed.

Woodsley tells us that the Red Legs are “a small group of inbred whites, the descendants of the early Scottish-Irish settlers”; the real story is more interesting:

The first slaves to work Barbados’ sugar cane plantations were Scottish, not African. Mostly POWs from the 17th-century civil war in England, they were shipped to Barbados by Cromwell as “indentured servants,” although the terms of their servitude weren’t honored. The Scots were ill-adapted to the Caribbean climate and treated as poorly as the Africans who came after. Even after emancipation in 1854, they fared poorly, welcomed neither by white society nor black. Today, many of their ancestors, most of whom live in St John’s district, don’t know about their forebears. The poor don’t leave records; their identity is lost to history.

Maybe it’s time to cancel Cromwell. Here’s some more detail:

This group, made up of the descendants of 50,000 Irish men and women who were sold into the white slave trade between 1652 and 1659 . . . were innocent Irish people who were rounded up from across the country by teams of Oliver Cromwell’s “man-catchers”, bound in chains and shipped to Barbados to work on sugar plantations. [15] Their descendants are still there today — some of them in absolute poverty — isolated, unassimilated and uneducated.

Their connection with Ireland was cut off many centuries ago; their surnames were taken from them and they were forbidden to practice their faith. Perhaps all that remains is their red hair, freckles, and blue eyes.

Most accounts refer to their arrogance and alcoholism. One describes them as “lazy, worthless drunks of unworthy Irish/Scots origin, who have neither ambition nor intelligence, yet are white and proud. They believe they are a cursed people.”

Why, sounds like. . . oh, never mind.

Of course, some Red Leg families thrived when they were eventually emancipated, in 1834, when slavery was abolished. Illustrious island families such as the Mayers and Goddards proudly trace their lineage back to slave ancestry, but most tend to be poorer than the black population. They farm smallholdings of sugar cane on the arid eastern coast of the island or live in Bridgetown, the capital, drinking in local grog shops or running white brothels for middle-class blacks.

Goddards, eh? Neville has told many stories of how his family’s business rose from grocers to today’s largest Caribbean based conglomerate, all due to the use of his magickal techniques. No wonder he said he was told by God to bring the message: “Down with the blue bloods!” [16]

Anyway, Mrs. Scaife prefers a more Romeo and Juliet version:

In actuality, she said, there was no truth in any of this. The marriage had resulted from a sincerely mutual fondness and a comradeship that had developed out of a similarity of outlook and ideas: “the simpler human ideas, Mr. Woodsley — the plain, basic dreams and conceptions of two members of the same species.”

This may seem heartwarming to some, PC dogma to others, but you’d both be wrong. When Mrs. Scaife later narrates her first meeting with the doctor, her disdain for white and half-white prejudice modulates in a way that clues us (if not the narrator) in on what species that is:

“There were two or three ladies who didn’t like him because of his color. One sitting next to me had colored blood in her, besides — she was olive-complexioned, but, of course, belonged to the upper-middle-class. Snobs, all of them. When Michael came in they tittered behind their handkerchiefs and fans. One of them whispered: ‘Good gracious! But isn’t he an ugly nigger! Look at that huge, flat nose! And the mouth!’ And another — it was the mother of one of the planters who own the private cemetery — whispered: ‘But he hasn’t a nose at all!’”

For a longish while she stood there, her body stiff, her lips set tight. Then the mood vanished. She grunted and smiled. “They were right, of course, in a way. Michael was certainly no beauty — to look at. But, then, they were not able to see what I could see. He had it clearly defined on the left cheek-bone. Rich and deep-seated.”

‘What’s that?’ I asked. But as though I had not spoken, she continued: “Like [her grandson] Gregory’s. He might have been fond of Gregory had he lived to see the little chap. But he would have been shocked and horrified if I had mentioned to him that I had seen the Mark on Gregory, too. As he was shocked and horrified on our wedding-night when I told him what I had seen on him — deep and dark and rich on the left cheek-bone.” She sighed as if moved at some satisfying memory.

We realize that her talk of tolerance is bluff; Woodsley and the reader may have been led to think “us” is all of us but not at all: The Mark is actually something like Evola’s idea of “spiritual race,” or the “soul forms” of Spengler and Yockey (and perhaps Heidegger); the mark of spiritual aristocrats, people I suppose like Nietzsche’s idea of Cesare Borgia, or a sophisticated sociopath like Dr. Lecktor, for whom the rest of us are cattle and canaille.

“The mark of death. About three people out of every ten have it, my boy — and you are one of them. Like Michael and Gregory. Like Tappin and all the other servants in Eltonsbrody. Like myself — though in my case I have it to an abnormal degree. The mark of the destructive lust, Mr. Woodsley.”

“I loathe and want to destroy all who do not bear this mark, my boy. I adore those in whom the urge is obviously strong. That is how I fell in love with Michael. That is why I took so instant a liking to Gregory. That is why I greeted you so ardently when you came to Eltonsbrody that evening last week and asked for lodging. That is why I treat my servants so well and have such a deep fondness for them. Because they have the Mark. And that is why I detest [her son] Mitchell and his wife. Neither of them has it. Oh, I suppose you may call it a form of madness, but I can’t help it. Nature fashioned me that way, my boy.”

Leaving Mr. Woodsley to digest this, let’s look at his own racial views. These are conventional, and Mrs. Scaife is correct to think he “would scold her for being narrow and prejudiced,” since “she simply could not tolerate Portuguese” like her daughter-in-law; of course, we now know the nature of her “prejudice”: it might seem odd for a woman who contracted a mixed marriage herself, but her racial awareness is focused on The Mark rather than skin color.

Although Woodsley is critical of her contempt for Portuguese, he has no problem treating the black servants as, well, servants. He has the kind of Bwana Don relationship with them that we see, for example, in Dr. No, set in Jamaica, where Quarrel is a “friend” and ally, but, unlike with, say, Felix Leiter, both are very much aware of class and racial status. (“Fetch my shoes” Commander Bond commands, as casually as Quarrel obeys; a moment modern audiences find uncomfortable). Kingsley Amis comments:

With Quarrel, Bond’s relationship is “that of a Scots laird with his head stalker; authority was unspoken and there was no room for servility.” This is  — isn’t it? — exactly how natural aristocrats are supposed to feel and behave. Perhaps they do, if they exist. Certainly, Bond’s Scottishness makes such an attitude in him a couple of degrees more believable. [17]

Indeed, Bond’s Scots laird attitude is much like how the Red Leg Mrs. Scaife regards here loyal servants, and they her: the mutually recognized hierarchy among a natural aristocracy (of the Mark). Woodsley may, like Bond, simply be a man of his time (as in his Bond-like assumption that every woman he meets is willing to have a go at it) but we know it’s really a result of the Mark.

And this also puts an interesting spin on the closing pages, where Woodsley, in present time, continues to muse on this “shocking story of real horror.” Mrs. Scaife had said that “’the mark is strong on you, but I don’t think the time has come yet for you to dabble in deathly deeds,’” and Woodsley still “’somehow simply can’t bring myself to dismiss her out of hand as a homicidal maniac.’”

Perhaps she was right. Perhaps there’s something dark in me myself that makes me able to feel sympathy for her in spite of her horrible deeds. [18]

As we’ve seen, manhunters like Will Graham must live with the knowledge that something in them feels sympathy for “you crazy sons of bitches,” [19] which drives them to simultaneously seek to bring them to justice, while in the process allowing themselves to become more and more like them.

But as we’ve seen, Mrs. Scaife’s metaphysics of The Mark raises a question that sounds more like race than psychology. As Woodsley reflects on his experience, we get a sense of the narrator of The Shadow over Innsmouth searching the mirror for signs of “the Innsmouth look” which would confirm his own tainted heritage.

After noting the frequency of suicide in his novels, Thieme adds that the protagonist of his last work, The Jilkington Drama (1965), “kills himself in a manner which foreshadows Mittelholzer’s own meticulously planned suicide,” and speculates that it was “apparently inspired by the ending of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.”

Seems likely, yet in conjunction with the “Innsmouth” echoes at the end of Eltonsbrody, [20] one might also speculate on the influence of another of Lovecraft’s tales, “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” in which the titular Jermyn (German?) immolates himself in front of his ancestral manor house, after deducing that his branch of the family included a white ape encountered in Africa. The family’s own story had been that his great-grandfather had married “the daughter of a Portuguese trader whom he had met in Africa”; we recall Mrs. Scaife’s loathing for her son’s Portuguese wife. [21]

Alas, another Lovecraftian echo involves my one major criticism: the attempt to render the servants’ dialect phonetically. A common fault of early American “local” tales, [22] Lovecraft does this all time, especially in Innsmouth, which there renders important plot information almost unintelligible. [23] An Amazon reviewer makes the same point, giving as an example the crazy Irish maid:

“Oi dream Oi was standing insoide it, and Oi was naked. And the doctor was there looking at me. He look and he look at me, and Oi feel noice. And after he go on looking Oi soigh heavy and tell him Oi’m not that koind of girl. Oi don’t do no nastiness.”

It’s particularly the representation of the word “I” and the sound of that letter as well that drove me nuts. I’ve rarely read a more annoying use of supposedly accurate local dialect in a novel.

I agree, the “Oi” (note the capital, to show it’s derived from “I”?) is weird, and not in a good, scary way. [24]

This minor criticism aside, Eltonsbrody can be recommended for readers looking for a bit of race realism in their horror fiction.

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Notes

[1] Barbados also seems to fascinate Steve Sailer and others over at Unz, mainly due to its outlier status as literal “island” of civility and high IQ, “whose citizens are renown for being the best-educated and most civil of all the West Indians,” which puts some ironic perspective on the shady goings-on at Eltonsbrody. Eric Holder is a Bajan-American, described by Sailer thus: “His father was born in Barbados, as were his maternal grandparents. Barbados has the best educated, best behaved black population of the West Indies. Bajans generally look down upon other West Indians, much less African-Americans, as frightfully uncivilized.”  Jayman’s article here on the Cavalier influence in Barbados and the US includes the same Van Dyck portrait as found on the cover of my book, The Homo & the Negro: Masculinist Meditations on Politics & Popular Culture; Second, Embiggened Edition edited by Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017).

[2] Just as Wyndham Lewis’ birth on a yacht off Nova Scotia made him technically Canadian, a useful status when seeking refuge from wartime England, I have had occasion to amuse myself by asserting a “West Indian heritage” — race unspecified — when diversity points are being awarded.

[3] He is equally jokey about, and with, a mentally-defective Irish housemaid, Malverne, who compulsively whips open her blouse from time to time, while assuring spectators that “I don’t do nothing nasty.” Even as she lies gravely injured, Woodsley coolly sizes up the nurse: “Very good figure, too. Not up to Malverne’s standard, perhaps, but extremely presentable.” What a nice guy.

[4] “He simply adores cutting up dead bodies — it’s his chief weakness. He has the Mark deep on him, of course, so it’s not surprising.”

[5] More CoVid-bidity!

[6] We’ll get to Mittelholzer in a bit, but for now, note that the Introduction tells us that “he espoused the Germanic side of his heritage and had a lifelong love of Nietzsche’s philosophy and Wagner’s music. Apparently untroubled by their association with fascism in the 1930s, he associated these German influences with strength of character, and a struggle between envisioned strong and weak facets of personality is a recurrent theme in his fiction.”

[7] Or more precisely, Dr. Lecktor and Graham, Dr. Lecter and Starling, as Michael Mann changed the spelling of several names in Manhunter for unknown reasons. The title itself was changed from Red Dragon at the insistence of producer Dino De Laurentis, who had just had a huge flop with Michael Cimmino’s proto-alt right Year of the Dragon; which failure was due less to its title than to the critical backlash against Cimino for his studio-killing mega-bomb Heaven’s Gate, as well as the race-realism of the movie itself, which was, of course, denounced as “Asian stereotyping.”

[8]Mom called it ‘the gene’” — Dennis Leary, Suicide Kings (O’Fallon, 1997).

[9] This is not to criticize Hopkins’ performance, which fits in the universe of his film, as Cox’s does in his.

[10] Jack Crawford: You don’t want Hannibal Lechter in your head.” (Silence of the Lambs).

[11] “You haven’t threatened to take away my books,” the imprisoned Lecktor taunts Graham; later they will try to find clues to a “book code” used by the killer from the books in his cell.

[12] In Manhunter, Graham recalls: “I was sitting in Lecktor’s office and saw a book on a shelf with pictures of war wounds. And l knew it was him. So l went to a pay phone to call the police. That’s when he attacked me. . .”

[13] James Ferguson, “Edgar Mittelholzer: the Dark One”Caribbean Beat, Issue 100 (November/December 2009).

[14] Nor was he troubled by their effect on his work: “At the end of 1938 Mittelholzer finally received a positive response from a London publisher, but the outbreak of war stopped communications. It was not until 1941 that Corentyne Thunder was at last published, by Eyre & Spottiswoode; and immediately disaster struck. Hardly had copies arrived in the publisher’s warehouse, according to journalist Colin Rickards, than a German bomb destroyed warehouse and books alike. Only a handful of advance copies, sent out for review, survived.” Ferguson, op. cit.

[15] “Cromwell decreed that troublemakers — the poor, the hungry, clergy, and Catholic landlords who refused to move to Connacht — be sent to Barbados. They were herded south into holding pens in Cork and Waterford, then crammed into African slave ships in chains. One in five died en route; those who survived were scrubbed in readiness for the slave mart. The women — nuns, soldiers’ wives, Catholic gentry, and teenagers — were stripped and checked for virginity. Good breeders were sold to studs, to make future slaves and brothel girls. The men were checked for muscle tone and strength of teeth, then branded with their owners’ initials.” Op. cit.

[16] In my review of Mitch Horowitz’ The Miracle Club, I note that “Neville’s ‘English background and elegant bearing’ might lead one to think him another toff [like fellow Bajan Alexander Hamilton], but Horowitz notes that Neville, unlike the historic Hamilton, thought that ‘privilege did not belong to the rich but to the truly imaginative,’ in the manner of Jefferson’s natural aristocracy.” In Horowitz’ Neville anthology Unlimited Potential, we find this reflection on colonialism: “In a certain social world, if you pronounce a certain word differently you are cataloged as one who is not “in,” as it were, and Huxley would not listen to my visions because I did not speak as he thought everyone should . . . Had Aldous only listened to my message, rather than my English, I could have told him things beyond the wildest dreams of D. H. Lawrence. But I am a Colonial in his eyes and, like all Englishmen; the Colonials are looked down upon. If you don’t speak with the Oxford or Cambridge accent, you are a Colonial in their eyes and not one of the boys. I was amused today when I looked at my baptismal certificate. My father’s occupation was listed as a meat vendor. He had a butcher shop.”

[17] Kingsley Amis, in his invaluable James Bond Dossier (Jonathan Cape, 1965). Speaking of lairds, Amis himself notes that “Sean Connery’s total wrongness for the film part of Bond is nowhere better demonstrated than [when Bond must impersonate Sir Hilary Bray]. Mr. Connery could put up a show as a Scottish businessman all right, but a Scottish baronet never.” Ironically, Connery would indeed by replaced by George Lazenby for that book’s film. Why hasn’t this book been reprinted; is it thought (wrongly) to be outdated? Oddly, there is for now a rather detailed Wikipedia entry.

[18] Hitchcock’s Rope (1949) also deals in self-styled Supermen who dispense death and hide corpses in boxes, delighting in hinting about their crime and risking exposure. The school teacher from whom they learned their Nietzsche rejects their presumption of comradeship: “But you’ve given my words a meaning that I never dreamed of! And you’ve tried to twist them into a cold, logical excuse for your ugly murder! Well, they never were that, Brandon, and you can’t make them that. There must have been something deep inside you from the very start that let you do this thing, but there’s always been something deep inside me that would never let me do it.”

[19] Jack Crawford: You’re sympathizing with this guy?

Will Graham: Absolutely. My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he’s irredeemable. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks. Does that sound like a contradiction to you, Jack? Does this kind of thinking make you uncomfortable?

[20] One might, in an attempt to be thorough, note the bus driver who suggests staying over with Mrs. Scaife, the old house, with its connecting, but locked rooms, like the hotel in Innsmouth, the sea-side location among fisherfolk and the “clammy” winds.

[21] And I note with pleasure that Arthur’s grandfather, who rescued his father from an earlier scion’s attempt to annihilate the family line, is named — Nevil! There are also other small Lovecraftian touches, such as the bus driver who recommends the old house, as in Innsmouth, or the way the action takes place, as we are reminded from time to time, during Easter week, thus, as in climax of The Dunwich Horror, adding a touch of blasphemy.

[22] Even The Master, Henry James, indulges; in “The Jolly Corner” an Irish maid “crapes” about the house.

[23] “Hey, yew, why dun’t ye say somethin’? Haow’d ye like to be livin’ in a taown like this, with everything a-rottin’ an’ a-dyin’, an’ boarded-up monsters crawlin’ an’ bleatin’ an’ barkin’ an’ hoppin’ araoun’ black cellars an’ attics every way ye turn? Hey? Haow’d ye like to hear the haowlin’ night arter night from the churches an’ Order o’ Dagon Hall, an’ know what’s doin’ part o’ the haowlin’? Haow’d ye like to hear what comes from that awful reef every May-Eve an’ Hallowmass? Hey? Think the old man’s crazy, eh? Wal, Sir, let me tell ye that ain’t the wust!”

[24] As for the sound, I can testify that I can hear my mother’s voice there; it’s the accent that most Americans think is Brooklynese, but it’s also found in New Joisey and New Orleans, and anywhere else Irish sailors or slaves made their homes.

 

2 Comments

  1. Posted July 6, 2020 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    The author sounds like quite a tortured soul. Surely it didn’t help that his father had some strange expectations which didn’t make sense given his personal choices.

  2. Lord Shang
    Posted July 6, 2020 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    You learn something new. I never heard of this guy, and I’m, a literary aficionado:

    {Edgar Austin Mittelholzer (16 December 1909 – 5 May 1965) was a Guyanese novelist, the earliest novelist from the West Indian region to establish himself in Europe and gain a significant European readership.[1] Mittelholzer, who earned his living almost exclusively by writing fiction, is considered the first professional novelist to come out of the English-speaking Caribbean. His novels include characters and situations from a variety of places within the Caribbean, and range in time from the early period of European settlement to the 20th century. They feature a cross-section of ethnic groups and social classes, dealing with subjects of historical, political, psychological, and moral interest. Mittelholzer is “certainly the most prolific novelist to be produced by the Caribbean”.[1] Mittelholzer committed suicide in England in 1965.[2]}

    Of course, just because some guy was ethnoliterarily precocious, as well as prolific, is no guarantee he was actually any good. The ‘greats’ within the Western Canon are there for a reason (ie, they are in fact great). Most ‘rediscoveries’ are not objectively very good.

    Interesting essay.

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