Charlotte Riddell was born in 1832 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. After she married she moved to London where she lived most of her life and died in Ashford in Kent in 1906. Riddell was a very prolific novelist and well known in the Victorian period. She actually owned and ran a Literary Magazine in the second half of the 19th Century.
The Open Door is considered a classic Victorian ghost story and it reminds me of some of Wilkie Collin’s stories which are more or less contemporary. The Open Door is both a ghost story and not a ghost story. It has elements in it reminiscent of Scooby Doo and if hadn’t been for the pesky sacked insurance clerk, maybe you know who would have got away with it
But for all that the opening of the door does appear to be supernatural. It simply won’t stay shut and breaks of the handle of the gimlet. We don’t use gimlets much these days, but once I looked up what a gimlet was the phrase ‘gimlet eyed’ became more understandable.
And then there is the monstrous figure that appears at the end. This seems to truly be a ghost and the apparition reminds us that the function of ghosts in stories is often a warning and a demand that murder or other outrages be put right and justice be done.
Banquo’s Ghost in MacBeth and Hamlet’s father in Hamlet do much the same. It’s all about revenge.
The story is a pretty straightforward adventure but there are a couple of nice touches. Phil Edlyd’s uncle seems a nice chap. He uses dialect thee and thou, which is a nice homely touch. Another endearing feature is that Phil longs to be a country boy. He loves horses such as old Toddy and he luxuriates over the descriptions of the beautiful summer countryside outside Ladlow Hall. In the end he gets to be a farmer with his beloved Patty.
The Victorian ghost story was an outgrowth of the Gothic novel, a specialist sub-branch if you like. Ladlow Hall functions as the ruined castle/abbey etc of the Gothic novel.
All in all a nice piece. Unpretentious but sweet. Not scary.
But then ghost stories are really scary. They’re not horror stories you know. And besides after the Human Caterpillar there’s not much can scare we moderns anyway.
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