Mr Jones by Edith Wharton
This is the second Edith Wharton story we’ve read, the first being Bewitched which was Episode 4. Wharton was an American of course but she spent time in England and set a number of her ghost stories there.
This story is the third of a series of stories where the house is a major character. In this story of course, the house is inhabited by the ghost of Mr Jones as we learn.
As normal with Wharton there is incredible craft in the shaping of this story. It is at least in part a mystery story and we are familiar with the mystery ghost story where the ghost is debunked at the end, not least in Scooby Doo, but also in Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White. We have the mystery of the house with the strange old servants. We realise early on that Mrs Clemm has something to hide and her niece Georgina who is portrayed as a clumsy idiot is actually the one whose information ties up the tale.
We have locked room, conniving housekeepers, blind gardeners and a historical tragedy to boot. The poor deaf and dumb Juliana, locked up in the house by the evil Mr Jones on the orders of her philandering husband is a Gothic staple and Wharton knew this of course and probably drew the character knowingly with a nod to gothic tradition.
Wharton does a bit of foreshadowing that you might not get at first listen, but early on in the story when she is impressed with Bells, she muses about her ancestors who lived and died there and adds, unknowingly that to some of them, it may have been a prison! We later learn that it was indeed.
Then when Lady Jane asks Mrs Clemm to take her to Mr Jones, Mrs Clemm agrees that he’s not well; “He’s between life and death as it were.” This is in fact the literal truth but we don’t understand that at this point and take from some figurative description. In fact, Mrs Clemm tells the exact truth: “He’d know you, my lady, but you wouldn’t know him.” “He’s in no state for you to see him.” Wharton must have had fun writing that.
I think that the posh lady guests breaking off to crush over the Tempeltonia Recusa rare plant by the wall is probably an in joke that Wharton’s friends may have recognised as a reference to their mutual acquaintances.
She sees Mr Jones only once, when she enters the Blue Room to retrieve her friend’s lost handbag. Her friend Stramer doesn’t notice him, but Mr Jones is messing about in the citron desk where the incriminating papers are later found. We learn slowly, detail by detail that this Blue Room had been the prison of Juliana the poor shut-away wife.
The first clue is the tomb of old Peregrine who died at Aleppo of the Plague and ‘Also His Wife’ unnamed. Things move on and we don’t get another clue for a while.
Then the next clue is them finding her portrait and Lady Jane mentioning that she might look so miserable because she was an inconsolable at his death. Stramer, a bright chap, says that they didn’t dress like that as late as Peregrine’s death so she was clearly miserable before he died.
They identify the poor woman as Lady Juliana. Stramer is a font of knowledge. Not only does he know about fashion, but he remarks that they clearly used the Blue Parlour in those days, even in winter. She’s leaning on the citron desk: it’s here the secret of her fate is of course, though we don’t know that at this point. And Stramer then mentions the family archives, which Lady Jane hasn’t thought of yet. She only knows Mr Jones won’t allow her access to them because the key is lost. Hmm. Convenient. Stramer says that in Mrs Clemm’s hands chimneys smoke, keys get lost and locksmiths die.
When they go to the Blue Room and Stramer’s about to open the drawers of the citron desk, Lady Jane chickens out and as they leave she notices the stirring of the curtain which we later find out used to be a door leading to the servants’ area. The ghost of Jones has snuck out!
Stramer is also the one who speaks to the blind gardener and by looking at the windows concludes that Mr Jones doesn’t even have a room in the house.
When they are thwarted by Mrs Clemm who connives to send the locksmith away they threaten to break down the door and the old housekeeper can’t have that so she returns with the fortuitously found key. But she has had time to let Mr Jones remove the key papers that hold the clue to the mystery. Mr Jones’s big flat footprints are imprinted in the dust of the muniment room (a good word that)
Once again, the moral tale is that evil will out. Bad deeds no matter how well hidden and with what supernatural power will eventually be found out by good hearts and those that serve the evil will be punished.
Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
I just narrated these as single files, put some sound effects and music in and they are on sale for 30p (about 50 cents) each from Music Glue, if you fancy them.
Alice in Wonderland
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
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Beginning music ‘Some Come Back’ is by the marvellous Heartwood Institute