“The Red Bungalow”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing’s Deep Ones reading group.

Review: “The Red Bungalow”, Bithia Mary Croker, 1919.

You know this story. Out-of-towers come to town and find a great real estate deal, ignore the misgivings the locals have about the property, and then pay the price.

Here the out-of-towners are Netta, sister-in-law of the narrator, and her husband and their two children. He’s Tom Fellowes, a major and quartermaster in the British Army. The town is the station Kulu in British India. The house is the titular Red Bungalow which has been oddly ignored by the officers and their wives in town until Netta finds it for a very cheap price. 

But the narrator, on first visit, has an ominous feeling about it which he attributes to her Scottish Highland sensitivity. An old British woman warns Netta. The narrator’s servant warns about it. 

The interesting part is how horror is never seen or detailed. 

(Spoilers ahead)

Here’s the climactic scene:

Guy had evidently climbed up by a chair, and dragged his sister along with him. It was a beautiful afternoon, the sun streamed in upon them, and the room, as far as we could see, was empty. Yes, but not empty to the trembling little creatures on the table, for with wide, mad eyes they seemed to follow the motion of a something that was creeping round the room close to the wall, and I noticed that their gaze went up and down, as they accompanied its progress with starting pupils and gasping breaths. . . .

“He stretched himself stiffly in her arms, and, pointing with a trembling finger to a certain spot, gasped, ‘Oh, Mummy! look, look, look!’ and with the last word, which was a shriek of horror, he fell into violent convulsions.

The boy dies of a fever shortly afterwards. The girl, retarded, never does really learn to speak. Netta moves back to Britain with her. 

Anthology editor Edmundson discusses, in the book’s introduction, the story as an example of Britain’s uneasy feelings about ruling over India, an alien culture. For instance, we never really do learn any more about the ”odd, shapeless mounds of ancient masonry” on the grounds around the Red Bungalow. Edmundson’s annotations point out that Netta is married to a quartermaster and is quite the quartermaster herself in arranging for the acquisition and rennovation of the Red Bungalow. 

So this is an overthrow of British colonialism by unknown native forces. For that matter, the narrator comments that she’s afraid parts of the bungalow shelter a lot of snakes which could be seen as an metaphor for the unknown dangers from the colonized populace, India being able to strike back in the form of its fauna. There is also the matter of the virtually mute daughter. There is something of a contrast between her and the “baba”, the native realtor who shows the house. He’s an Indian, educated in Britain, who speaks English while the daughter, native English, is bereft of speech. You could see that as another overthrow and supplanting of the expected order British colonizers would expect.

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