“He knew that a battle had been fought over his soul, and that evil had not prevailed…” A.C. Benson’s ‘The Slype House’

Author A.C. Benson

Saturday mornings in 2011 have brought with them a new and welcome tradition. Thanks to my short story reading project (“Deal Me In”), it has become my custom on Saturday morning to draw a new card from the deck to see which short story I shall read next. This morning brought me the king of spades…

When I started this project (Inspired by Prongs’ “52 weeks, 52 books” reading project) I roughly assigned the stories in my pick list to “suits” with some common theme. “Diamonds” were to be stories recommended by others, “Hearts” were to be favorites that I was re-reading, “Clubs” were to be stories I had not previously read, but had wanted to, and “Spades” – ah, the darkest of the suits – were to be ghost stories, long one of my favorite reading genres.

This was also a story I had read once before, but nearly fifteen years ago. How I found it for this year’s reading project was that it was in one of my favorite ghost story anthologies, “The Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories” edited by Richard Dalby.

This is the volume that introduced me to Bram Stoker’s story, “The Judge’s House,” and also one of my all time favorites, “The Ash Tree” by M.R. James. I have a bad(?) habit of defiling the contents sections of any anthologies I own, writing the date that I read each story, and tagging it with an asterisk if I found the story particularly good (occasionally, there is even found a two-asterisk story, but that is very rare; some of them are featured in the Hearts suit if this project, however). This story was marked with an asterisk, although I could remember NOTHING about it, which perplexed me. That is why I added it to this project.

“The Slype House” the story of one Anthony Purvis. He is an unfortunate soul who has hardly known any love in his life. Though of a rich family, he was a sickly child whose mother died when he was young, while his father had little interest in raising or devoting any time to him. When he was sent to university, he was picked on by his peers and formed a resolve to gain power and make himself a name – “he had determined that as he could not be loved he might still be feared.” In part, this ambition leads him to study The Dark Arts, inspired in part by an old doctor of the college “who feared not God and thought ill of man” and devoted himself to the study of “the black influences that lie in wait for the soul.”

Anthony lives abroad awhile and returns to collect his inheritance when his father dies. He spends some of the inheritance on “The Slype House,” where he can devote himself to his studies safely away from his fellow man. The house (described wonderfully by Benson) is, fortuitously, next door to a kind of monastery or church. As he grows older and reaches the age of fifty, Anthony begins to ponder his own mortality and becomes worrisome about “what lies beyond” this life, concluding that he “had made a few toys, he had filled vacant hours, and he had gained an ugly kind of fame – and this was all.” His melancholy induced by these musings leads him to try to (presumably) call upon the ghost of his dead mother, who is the main character in the only memories of love that he possesses. Naturally, his efforts in this regard lead to unintended consequences, and the fate of his eternal soul is left in jeopardy…

You should really read this story. I absolutely loved it.

“The Slype House” can also be found for free on the Internet. Here is where one PDF of the story resides: