Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Doom of the Darnaways - G.K. Chesterton

Author: G.K. Chesterton
Date: 1929
Setting: a ruined seaside manor house, somewhere in the UK
Availability: Read The Doom of the Darnaways on line, free

Story: Two painters, one local, one visiting, are thrust into the mystery of an historic family curse which visits every seventh generation with a murder. A painting of the first man to be the victim of the curse has been discovered by the local artist. Around the edge of the frame is lettered a rhyme which sets out the conditions of the fateful events. Indeed, the descendant seventh in line is recorded to have died by those conditions. Now, a young relative, the 14th in the family line has arrived from Australia. He is to marry his distant cousin, the lady of the house, which is a family contract. When he is found dead before he has a chance to marry the beautiful woman, it is assumed the fates have once again come into play.

This is one of the early Father Brown mysteries. The detective-priest is on the scene, and others look to him for comments on the events. They generally assume that his religion is akin to superstition and that he will readily accept the curse as the cause of the troubles.

Commentary: Chesterton wrote in the period of transition from Victorian romanticism to logical and more reasonable scenarios. This transitional mix brings us into the story at night to a ruined, gloomy stone manor house on a darkened seashore. Yet, the remnant of the family lives in the house in the dank and dismal lower level with the broken ruins above. The description of the scene is gothic enough to give anyone the chills. Yet, the two young men who are walking toward the house openly describe it as "creepy." This rather modern word breaks the spell of the Victorian description and puts us on notice that this is a story of contrasts.

Is there fatalism and a family curse at play, or something much more mundane and simple going on? Father Brown puzzles it all out. His role in this story is that of the unexpected voice of reason and logic, in a world where he is expected to be out-of-date and superstitious. The story appeared in a volume of similar stories entitled, The Incredulity of Father Brown. In each case the priest is cast as the marginalized victim of fanciful supernatural thought, but he turns out to be the one who presents the pragmatic and thoughtful solution to the crime.

Author info: Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1974-1936, was a British writer who was known for writing both fiction and non-fiction, poems and plays. He is the creator of the priest-detective Father Brown. He was the first President of the London Detection Club which set standards for the "modern" detective story. Many of his non-fiction works focused on apologetics of the Christian faith. For several years prior to his death he gave regular talks on the radio, and was a hugely popular public figure.

Language skills 6
Depth of meaning 6