This episode, we discuss what is believed to be the first story Conan Doyle submitted to a publisher, ‘The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe’ (c.1877).
You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Haunted_Grange_of_Goresthorpe
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Following a particularly atrocious multiple murder in the
mid-eighteenth century, Goresthorpe Grange in Norfolk has stood empty and
uninhabited for a century, especially given the additional stories of vengeful
ghosts who can drive the inquisitive over the brink of insanity. Yet Tom
Holton, a friend of the estate’s young heir, has his own theories about the
supernatural and wishes to test them by spending a night in the haunted grange.
At first his friend demurs, but is soon caught up in Tom’s enthusiasm and
together the two young men submit themselves to a terrifying ordeal…
Writing and publication history
The story was submitted to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine,
possibly under the auspices of Doyle family friend John Hill Burton, the
historiographer royal, but it was rejected. For unknown reasons, the manuscript
was not returned to its author and was held in the Blackwood family and
business papers. Conan Doyle believed the manuscript destroyed. His first
published work would by ‘The
Mystery of Sasassa Valley’, which appeared in Chambers’s in 1879.
In 1942, the manuscript was transferred with the Blackwood
papers to the National Library of Scotland where it lay largely unnoticed until
the 1980s. In 2000, the Arthur Conan Doyle Society (the forerunner of the
present ACD Society), published the manuscript, with an extensive introduction
by Owen Dudley Edwards and a preface by Ian McGowan from the National Library
The story has since been published in Tony Medowar (ed), Ghosts
from the Library: Lost Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (2022) and Matt
Wingett (ed), Southsea Stories and Beyond (2023).
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine
The magazine also had a taste for Gothic tales, which was so
well established in the mid-century, that Edgar Allan Poe parodied the magazine
and the genre in ‘How to Write a Blackwood Article’ (American Museum,
Nov 1838). Poe’s story is a conversation between would-be author Zenobia (aka Suky
Snobbs) and the Blackwood’s editor, who recommends she get into a dangerous
scrape and describe her experience for his readers.
Aside from the reputation that would come from being a Blackwood’s
author in Edinburgh, Conan Doyle’s interest in the magazine may have been
personal. John Blackwood, son of the founder and editor 1845-79, was a member
of the London literary set and is believed to have known Conan Doyle’s uncle,
Richard (Dicky) Doyle. John Blackwood was also friends with John Hill Burton
who had put up young Arthur in the 1860s at Liberton Bank House, when the
Doyles were in financial difficulties. John’s son, William (Willy) Burton, was
a close friend of Conan Doyle, as discussed in our episode on 'Jelland’s
ACD tried for many years to get into Blackwood’s, and
eventually succeeded with ‘A Physiologist’s Wife’ in 1890. That same year,
William Blackwood III, who succeeded to the editorship c. 1878 and most likely
rejected all of Conan Doyle’s other submissions, sought the rights to The
White Company, but Conan Doyle had already sold it (perhaps deliberately)
to one of Blackwood’s rivals, The Cornhill.
The origins of Conan Doyle’s storytelling
The principal characters’ names, Tom and Jack, are re-used
in the ‘Sasassa Valley’, although their personalities are different.
Nevertheless, there is a bond of friendship in both stories that some feel point
to the origins of the Holmes-Watson relationship.
The characters represent two sides of Conan Doyle’s personality
that were in conflict. Tom is a romantic, imaginative type, schooled in
Germany; Jack is a “credo-quod-tango” medical man. This dichotomy is at the
heart of Conan Doyle’s writing, and it is interesting to find it established in
such an early work. Similarly, the idea that the supernatural is merely the
unexplained, and that nothing is super-natural, is a theme that would persist.
The story is set thirty years before it was written, an ideal
time for the ghost story according to M. R. James, as the moment when the past
is becoming history. The tragedy at the Grange has its origins a century before
and there is a touch of Sir Hugo Baskerville in the description of Godfrey
Marsden, ‘a villain of the first water’ whose name ‘was a byword of ferocity
and brutality throughout the whole countryside.’
Although a naïve work that lacks subtlety, there are moments
that stand out, such as the strobe-effect of the moonlight through the windows,
and the tension built to the arrival of the ghosts. Conan Doyle also innovates,
introducing a ghost pursued by another ghost, which he later refined with
greater effect in ‘The Bully of Brocas Court’ (1921).
Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ (1859) and the evolution of the ghost story
|Early illustration for Bulwer-Lytton's story
The story is believed to be based on 50 Berkeley Square, the
celebrated haunted residence in Mayfair, which gained notoriety in the
nineteenth century. Bulwer-Lytton’s tale features a multitude of spirits, from indistinct
dark malevolent forces to whisp-like girls, plus the death of a dog, which
Conan Doyle would lift for ‘Haunted Grange’ and ‘Brocas Court’. Bulwer-Lytton’s
tale, heightened and sensational as it was, left him open to parody. We touched
on this in our episode on ‘A
ACD’s ‘Haunted Grange’ is closer in time and style to Bulwer-Lytton
than to the new ghost stories that were emerging. The ghost story would evolve
into a psychological tale with works such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Green Tea’ (1872)
and Henry James’s ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (1898), the hallmark story of its
kind. On another path, the detective and ghost stories would fuse, with authors
reacting to the success of Sherlock Holmes by creating psychic detectives such
as Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki who
would investigate haunted houses, just as Holmes investigates crimes.
Conan Doyle and haunted houses
|Henry Sidgwick, first president of the SPR
Conan Doyle wrote a letter to James Payn about his
experience in which he subscribed to the sceptical view but, over time, his
views changed. The son’s suspicious ten-minute absence – a crucial detail in
Podmore’s notes and Conan Doyle’s letter to Payn – was omitted from accounts in
Memories and Adventures (1924) and The Edge of the Unknown (1930),
while new scurrilous details, such as the burning down of the house and the discovery
of a child’s skeleton, were added.
Conan Doyle would resign his membership of the SPR very
publicly in 1930, a few months before his death. He had long felt that the SPR
was institutionally sceptical and felt this confirmed when Theodore Besterman
poured scorn on a medium’s powers. The resignation upset the SPR committee,
although some were happy to see Conan Doyle leave. For more information, see
this article from the Cambridge University Archives: https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=17548
Conan Doyle drew on his experience at Charmouth in his
fiction, notably in Rodney Stone (1906), in which a haunted ghost is
central to the mystery, and The Land of Mist (1926), in which Lord John
Roxton hunts ghosts with a rifle.
Who inspired Conan Doyle to write and publish?
In Memories and Adventures, Conan Doyle said that a
friend praised his vivid letters and suggested he write for publication. There
have been suggestions that this friend was Rupert Hoare Hunter, the nephew of
the doctor to whom Conan Doyle was apprenticed at the time of writing ‘Sasassa
Valley’, although the two would be unlikely to correspond, living and working
together at the time.
Another candidate is Willy Burton, the son of John Hill
Burton, who would remain a lifelong friend. Willy was a correspondent in the
1870s and he and Conan Doyle maintained their friendship over long distance
when Willy moved to Japan.
A third candidate is James Paul Emile Ryan, Conan Doyle’s
only friend in Stonyhurst, who was a year below him. Jimmy Ryan’s grandfather
founded a tea plantation in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) which Jimmy took over and ran in
the 1910s. Jimm’s letters to ACD reveal an easy comradeship, and it is clear
from context that Conan Doyle shared story ideas with Jimmy, with the latter
offering suggestions for The Lost World, The Poison Belt, and Tales
of Long Ago.
Next time on Doings of Doyle…
We return to a different Goresthorpe Grange in ‘Selecting a
Ghost: The Ghosts of Goresthorpe Grange’ (1883), Conan Doyle’s pastiche of the
genre. You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Selecting_a_Ghost
Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan
Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support
the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.
Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com).
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/