Phil, my dear boy, really — what’s the matter? Why don’t you answer? Have you seen the eyes?’ Frenham’s face was still hidden, and from where I stood behind Culwin I saw the latter, as if under the rebuff of this unaccountable attitude, draw back slowly from his friend. As he did so, the light of the lamp on the table fell full on his congested face, and I caught its reflection in the mirror behind Frenham’s head.
Given to me as a Christmas present in 2014, this is a lovely little book (sub 60 pages), with a delicious cover and heavy paper inside.
A group of men gather to tell each other ghost stories. Upon urging by Frenham (the current favourite and one of the youngest in the group), Culwin, who has played the host of the evening, shares his own story to Frenham and the unnamed narrator. In doing so, he inadvertently reveals more about himself, and the things he regrets about his past.
Culwin is staying with an ageing Aunt, and spends time with his cousin Anna Newell. Despite finding women unattractive generally – and his Aunt and Cousin in particular – Culwin finds himself proposing marriage to Anna, with the event to take place after his suddenly decided upon visit to Europe. That night, Culwin wakes up in darkness to be haunted by a pair of eyes at the foot of his bed. He is unable to sleep and escapes to town and finally to Europe, where he thinks he has escaped the eyes.
His time in Europe expands from a few months to several years, and soon a young man (Gilbert Noyes) presents himself to Culwin, with a letter of introduction from Anna. Culwin’s interest is piqued – here is a figure of beauty, and sexuality, even with his lack of writing talent. Culwin mentors him for the best part of a year, hoping that the writing talent will become evident. It’s when Culwin lies about the man’s future that the eyes return haunting Culwin until he tells the truth.
For such a short book, there are lots of questions….At the purest level, Culwin had formed with Noyes one of those non-sexual intense friendships between two men that is evident across much Victorian literature. However the choice of words used, imply that Culwin’s interest is deeper, posproably sibly sexual, whether or not it was acted upon. Is his relationship with Frenham at the same point? Does this relationship explain the rather ambiguous ending?