THE CHARACTERS: The story in The Devil Snar'd (1932) is almost entirely told from Grace's point of view. What begins as a tale of a stubborn woman trying to work out marital difficulties with her writer husband soon gives way to a story of obsession, jealousy, morbid imagination and revenge. The house at Medlar Farm is the site of a horrible crime of passion. Philip is thinking of using the story of the murder of an unfaithful husband that backfires as the basis for his new novel. He's unwilling to discuss his work, but Grace finds the manuscript and begins to read his novel as it progresses. She begins to see too many parallels between her life with Philip and the story of Susanna's life. She feels compelled to visit Susanna's grave before it is forever lost when engineers building a reservoir will submerge it and the neighboring church.
The relatively small cast of supporting characters include Mrs. Mace (the landlady and neighbor), a chemist, a doctor and some minor servants. The novel is almost entirely dominated by Grace and her eventual merging with the personality of long dead Susanna, either an accused murderess or a victim. One is never really sure which is true until the final pages.
QUOTES: In the big house it was not [sane and normal] -- the maladjustment between herself and Philip seemed to affect everything.
The loneliness penetrated deep into her being; the shut-up church, the empty house--were far more emblematic of solitude than the lonely land and water. The people who had lived here, been buried here, had left behind them a heritage of utter desolation.
She was so horrified by this lurid illumination which was worse than any darkness, that she tried, for the first time in her life, to pray, to honestly send up an appeal for help to some high and merciful Power. She could not do this, but she could check the horror which had been breaking on her -- and she remained for a while mute and immobile, crouched below the corner..."
She remembered a horrid experiment which she had once read of: a mouse and a scorpion were once set by some inquisitive man of science under a glass bell, where finally, after a dreadful duel, the timid beast killed the poisonous insect (sic). The same story, of course, as that of the man and the toad. It was her story.
"How fond you are of that word decent," smiled Mrs. Fielding. "What does it mean, nowadays, I wonder?"
|Marjorie Bowen, circa 1939|
(photo by Howard Coster,
courtesy of National Portrait Gallery)
EASY TO FIND? This is a true rarity. I was lucky to stumble across a copy being sold for the unheard of price of £3.99 from a UK bookshop who clearly hadn't a clue what they were selling. Currently there are only two copies for sale from online booksellers each priced at $300 or more. This short novel was first published by Ernest Benn Ltd. as part of their "New Ninepenny Novels", a short-lived experiment in mass market paperbacks comprised of stalwart bestselling writers in genre fiction categories of mystery, romance, adventure and fantasy. There is one UK reprint issued by Cassell & Co in 1933 that includes The Devil Snar'd along with Dr. Chaos, another of Bowen's short (and very scarce) horror novels written under the Preedy pen name. There is no US edition at all.
The Devil Snar'd is so startling and arresting in its use of Gothic imagery and horror motifs I cannot understand why it hasn't been reprinted in over 75 years. Probably because it's so damn hard to find. I'm very willing to offer up my copy to any enterprising publisher interested in reviving this minor Gothic masterpiece. It deserves rediscovery by a wide audience appreciative of macabre fiction.