Thursday, 17 September 2020

'Roaring Tower' by Stella Gibbons

The final story in Women's Weird 2 is by the author of Cold Comfort Farm, usually seen as a comic novel parodying the work of Mary Webb and (to some extent) D.H. Lawrence. But - rather like Three Men in a Boat - Gibbons' big hit has more than a few serious ideas. I mention Jerome K. Jerome's book deliberately, as writers of comic fiction often handle horror rather well. There's an overlap between the two, as situations that might be hilarious are often horrific if viewed from another angle. Like Jerome and E.F. Benson, Gibbons had a good grasp of the eerie and disconcerting. 

'Roaring Tower' begins with a young woman being sent away by her family to end a liaison they disapprove of. We are firmly in the realm of Victorian values, and you don't need to be Doctor Freud to see that repressing emotion in one area might lead to it erupting, in a more dangerous form, elsewhere. That's one interpretation of what happens when Clara is sent to stay with her aunt on the Cornish coast. As she approaches her new home she sees the ruins of Roaring Tower, and is fascinated. 

Clara soon hears the story of the ruins, and her obsession grows. The writing is particularly effective at describing her state of mind. 'I hugged my grief; it was all I had. Nothing could heal it; it was a deathless wound.' She goes to to the ruins and hears the mysterious roaring sound, allegedly produced by the sea thundering in a cave far below. But the legend says a monster, somewhat bear-like, is trapped beneath the ruins. Eventually, lonely Clara calls up the monster...

'Roaring Tower' is an excellent finale to his collection. Overall, the book shows how rich and diverse women's weird fiction was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in supernatural fiction. 

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