The novel is narrated by Dr. Armiston (no first name ever given) who becomes involved in the deaths of two men, both of whom die under suspicious circumstances in their homes. Both men had been host to a mummy that because of a strange wager has been making the rounds in several private houses for a period of two weeks. So far each man who has hosted the mummy has died. The bet was dreamed up in order to scoff oat the curse attached to the mummy, but in light of the deaths it seems to be true. Inexplicably, the group insists on continuing with the ritual of hosting the mummy. Dr. Armiston is asked to join the group after serving a consultant in finding the causes of death for the two men.
The bet was begun by a subset of a group known as the Plain Speakers, a private social club whose members enjoy the luxury of uninhibited truthful conversation on any subject. The only rule being that all talk must be straightforward - plain spoken - with no habits of evasion, circumlocution so often resorted to in polite society when one is faced with potentially embarrassing topics. The subset of these Plain Speakers are known as The Open Minds and they gather in secret to tell stories of unusual encounters with paranormal and seemingly inexplicable events. When Professor Maundeville tells a tale of his mummy and the s curse it seems to carry one of the members devises the bet that each man must live with the mummy under his roof for a fortnight in order to dispel the supernatural legend and prove Maundeville wrong. The host is selected by dealing out a deck of cards and the one who ends up the ace of spades takes home the mummy for two weeks.
|Eveleigh Nash, 1912 - the rare 1st ed.|
(courtesy of Sotheby's auction catalog)
Reading the novel is a constant surprise for the title seems to have nothing to do with what Stephens is really after with his characters. Armiston and Professor Maundeville become the focus with the professor increasingly taking on a sinister aspect. He seems to have uncanny talent for magic and performs breathtaking illusions at a birthday party to the delight of the children but unsettling Armiston who sees it as an almost supernatural gift. When Maundeville begins to talk of his experiments in rejuvenation and strength enhancing drugs Armiston finds himself becoming seduced to "the lure of the hypodermic".
It seemed to me that this summer the prolongation of life became what I am inclined to call more shriekingly fashionable than ever. To turn one's face to the wall and die decently seemed the last thing possible.
(illus from The Bookman, June 1868)
The Mummy has been long unavailable and is one of those books that has achieved ultra rare status in the used book market. In this 21st century renaissance of reissuing extremely hard to find books Valancourt Books has once again rescued a noteworthy novel from Limbo. The Mummy is their latest reprint and can be purchased in handsomely designed hardcover, paperback and digital editions. This new edition, the only reprint in nearly a century, includes an informative introduction by Mark Valentine covering almost all of Stephens' work with some enticing details on four of his other novels. For those who like their genre fiction unclassifiable I highly recommend this unusual book. A mix of detection, other worldly mystery, and social criticism The Mummy is an extraordinarily resonant book in our age of the relentless pursuit of the fountain of youth, both literally and metaphorically.