Yes, I’m way behind in my fiction reading for The Weird Tradition group over at LibraryThing.
Review: “Man-Size in Marble”, Edith Nesbit, 1887.
This started out well and ended not so well.
The story opens by stating “every word of this story is as true as despair”. The narrator says he is going to tell a story most will dismiss in favor of a “rational explanation”. But, he says, his “life’s tragedy” does not have the element of an “utter delusion”. This, he tells us, will be the tale of three people: a woman named Laura (revealed to be his wife), another man who still lives, and the narrator. We learn the fateful night in the story is October 31st.
The narrator and his wife are poor and look for some place to live. He is a painter. Laura is a writer. They are reconciled that they won’t have much money, but they’ll get by. They find a house near a village called Brenzett near the Romney Marsh. (Miller’s foreword to the story says Nesbit herself was fond of this area and retired there a few years before her death.)
They have a housekeeper called Mrs. Dorman who is friendly, efficient, and tells them the local folklore. However, in October, Mrs. Dorman states she is leaving their service. Laura is upset at them having to now tend to domestic chores as well as working. Mrs. Dorman says she has to leave to tend to her sick niece, but her niece has been sick a long time already.
At Laura’s request, the narrator agrees to talk to the housekeeper and perhaps offer her a raise.
In the meantime, he goes for a walk to the nearby church which has a couple of curious tomb effigies. They are of knights, and local folklore states they were particularly wicked men. In fact, before they were struck dead by lightening (a punishment from Heaven, it is said), they lived in the large stone house among whose stone foundations the narrator and his wife now live.
The narrator confronts Mrs. Dorman. He finally gets her to agree she will come back after a week. But she must leave this Monday even though the end of the month isn’t until Thursday.
The narrator finally gets some more details from Mrs. Dorman. She talks about those effigies of armored knights, referring to them as “drawed out man-size in marble”. Every All Saints Eve, the effigies come to life and return to their old home. If anyone is there, they will be killed –Not that Mrs. Dorman herself knows personally of that happening, but she won’t come back until November.
In the days after Mrs. Dorman leaves and before Halloween, the couple do the chores.
On October 31st, Laura feels uneasy. (The narrator hasn’t told her of the legend about the knights.) Laura says it reminds her of when she knew her father had died in far off Scotland. The narrator comforts her. The two share endearments before the narrator goes for a walk and to smoke his pipe.
Having heard church bells, he decides to go to the church. The effigies are gone. He bolts from the churchyard to run home.
But he immediately encounters a doctor who is making a housecall. When he tells the doctor the marble figures are gone, the doctor says he is overwrought and suggests they go back to the church so the narrator can see it was just a misperception of his.
And the effigies are there. But the doctor notes that the hands of one is broken and missing a finger.
The narrator asks the doctor to accompany him back to Laura. The two go there and find Laura dead, a “grey marble finger” in her clenched han
It’s an abrupt, predictable, and disappointing ending.