Episode 30: The Housekeeper by Marjorie Bowen

Marjorie Bowen

Marjorie Bowen was the  nom de plume of Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long, born Campbell. 

Marjorie Bowen was born in 1885 in Hampshire, England, and lived a very interesting life, especially in a time when women were generally expected to be confined to the kitchen or  other minor supporting roles.

Unfortunately her father was an alcoholic and abandoned the family and the was eventually found dead on the street in London. There must’ve been some money in the family, and those of us who are English are ever conscious to subtle indicators of social class. 

For example, working-class Englishwomen are never called ‘Gabrielle Vere Long’.  Another clue to the fact that she came of refined stock was the fact that she studied at the Slade School of Art and later in Paris. I was about to say that working-class people did not study at fine art schools when I remembered my own grandfather ,who was an Irish immigrant, in fact went to an art school in Edinburgh just after the First World War.

In any case, Bowen was a talented writer. Even though she married a Sicilian (who died of tuberculosis) and then in Englishman named Long (who survived) , it was Bowen who supported the family through her writing. 

Her first novel The Viper of Milan was published in 1906. Her work was prolific and she produced over 150 published items and she seems to have liked lurid subject matters such as black magic and murder. 

All praise to her for that say I. Women have been expected to write stories about love and domestic situations and while that is well and good, why can’t they write about murder andblack magic as well!

This story that I’ve just read: The Housekeeper is from a collection called The Bishop of Hell. Although I love the title ‘The Bishop of Hell’, I prefer this story. Like the Bishop of Hell it’s a period story set in a historical epoch that was on her own and Bowen makes a good job of creating authentic sounding dialogue. I think she also is brilliant at conjuring characters; and  though neither Beau Sekforde, his evil wife the Countess, or even the ghost Jane Sekforde, come out very sympathetically, they may not be sympathetic but they are strong and memorable.

In constructing the story we see how she drops the scar on the ghost’s cheek early on when The Countess sees the ghost and doesn’t know who she is, and neither do we at that point, and then then explains the scar at the end causing us we as readers give a gasp of final understanding! 

Nothing suggests until the end that Beau Sekforde murdered his wife, but when we find out that there is a bottle of poison that the ghost has significantly tidied up, we are not surprised, and we marry that with our prior assessment of Beau Sekforde as a bounder and a cad and are not surprised to find him a murderer.

The ghost does what ghosts often do and sets the moral order straight, and murderer is punished 

 I think Marjorie Bowen writes very well. Her prose is strong, her characters vivid, her dialogue convincing, and her story construction is admirable, but in this as in other stories in the anthology the Bishop of Hell I think the weak point is actually the supernatural element

Even so, I hope I enjoyed reading the story very much, and I hope you enjoyed listening to it.

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