Old, Dark Houses

“The Oaks” mansion in The Bat (1959, Liberty Pictures), one of several movies based on the book and play of the same name by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Click on the mansion, if you dare.

                                             Click on the picture

From the PBS web site, Masterpiece Mystery Casebook Index, here’s Ron Miller on that classic staple of mystery fiction, Old, Dark Houses :

When newly married Alice finally arrives at Carwell Grange, the sprawling country mansion that will be her new home in The Wyvern Mystery, she’s greeted at the front steps by a cluster of glum-looking servants.

“I’m sure I will like such an old, quiet place,” Alice exclaims, eagerly striding past the gloomy servants into the spacious entry hall.

If we all could tell her something right then, no doubt it would be, “Sure, you will, Alice. At least until the sun goes down.”

However, we can’t fault her innocence about “old dark houses.” In 1869, when J. Sheridan Le Fanu first published The Wyvern Mystery, people like Alice hadn’t read many thrillers like his — and there weren’t any movies or radio and television shows at all, let alone ones set in spooky old houses.

The tradition of the spooky old house goes back even further than Le Fanu. You can find it in Edgar Allan Poe, father of the modern mystery. In 1839, he wrote: “I know not how it was, but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.”

That would be The House of Usher. Poe was one of the first authors to give a house a physical persona, telling us it had “eye-like windows” that looked down upon the visitor, filling him with dread.

Read Entire Essay here

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