WHH Short Fiction: “My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer”

Essay: “My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer”, William Hope Hodgson, 1911.

William Hope Hodgson seems to have been either an atheist or had a peculiar spirituality all his own. His relationship with his father, an Anglican minister, was tumultuous, and he tried to run away from home at age 13.

This is one of only two Hodgson stories that deal with a conventional Christianity.

Father Johnson is a rather unconventional Catholic priest in Ireland. He sometimes forgets to ask grace before a meal starts. He has a running gag with his housekeeper, a bet as to how she’s washing the kitchen knives. He allows women to knit in his church.

The narrator of the story is an admirer of Johnson, but his friend James Pelple isn’t given what he’s heard. The narrator offers to take Pelple to see Johnson and judge for himself.

The story begins with an odd couple of sentences: “Father Johnson’s Irish village is not Irish. For some unknown reason it is polyglot.” However, nothing is really made of that distinction in the story. Perhaps Hodgson, whose father was posted to Ireland for a while, just wanted to set his story there and yet excuse himself from getting all the cultural details right.

Johnson is clever in the way he helps his parishioners. The story is subtitled “An incident in the life of Father Johnson, Roman Catholic Priest”, and the incident involves helping Tom Cardallon, a man who impoverished himself in caring for his now dead wife, and who now has been evicted from his home.

Cardallon’s goods are auctioned off inside the church to prevent debt collectors from seizing the proceeds. The money goes to the widower, and the priest secretly compensates the bidders (who aren’t all that much better off than Cardallon) for their purchases, and the goods are returned to the widower. Tom’s dignity is thus maintained.

There is a particularly sad moment as the old man, prior to selling it off, describes one of his wife’s old skirts.

The story ends with Pelple also being a fan of Johnson’s at the end.

I speculate as to the relationship between Johnson and Samuel Hodgson, William Hope’s father. Is Johnson what Hodgson’s wished his father was like? Or is it a description of Hodgson’s father albeit of a different denomination? Some writers on Hodgson and his father speculate Samuel Hodgson was not well-liked and eccentric, and that’s why he was frequently moved by the Church of England. However, Avalon Brantley, in “The House of Silence: An Exposition” (Infra-Noir, Summer 2018), seems to think Samuel Hodgson was well liked though what she based that on I don’t know. Johnson is certainly eccentric

The title, incidentally, probably comes from Matthew 21:13 where Christ, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Christ says it before overturning the moneychangers’ tables. Father Cardallon is, after, conducting a sale in the church but he’s doing it to protect a parishioner from the moneychangers. This is, incidentally, another, albeit rather tame, example of Hodgson’s interest in intricate schemes.

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