“Deep Moat Grange” shows Crockett’s mastery of yet another genre. His narrative pace barely slackens culminating in a sensational ending; his writing is shot - through with powerful figurative language that adds a strong pictorial dimension to plot and characterisation.
Crockett subtlety differentiates the “voices” of his various narrators. Joe’s voice is highly conversational; Elsie (as written in diary form) provides an observational account of what happens. Joseph Yarrow’s, Aphra Orrin’s and Miser Hobby’s stories take the form of a letter, a confession and a legal testimony respectively, each with its concomitant language and different style.
Young Joe Yarrow is a close literary cousin of Adrian Mole who would delight readers some 80 years later – naïve in experience but pretentious in his opinion, not least of the opposite sex: “She always had her hair tied behind her head with a blue ribbon, and then falling all in a mess about her shoulders. It wouldn’t stop still, but blew out every way with the wind, and was a nuisance. I would have had it cut off, but Elsie wouldn’t. It was yellowy coloured.”
The scenes involving Joe and Elsie are most amusing; those with Joe and Harriet Caw (very much a prototype Pandora) are even funnier. Crockett’s handling of Elsie’s jealousy of the Caws (Harriet and her sister Constantia) is nuanced in its portrayal and entertainingly credible in its psychology.
“Mad” Jeremy is psychopathically scary from the outset. On spotting Joe and Elsie on the other side of the moat he “jerked out a big ‘gully’ knife, and rushed to the canal bank, leaped into the middle, driving the black scum of water everyway, and almost before we could think he was upon us”. Other characters are scarier still, less overtly evil but subtly screening their callousness towards human life in what is the very personification of horror.
Dr. Islay Murray Donaldson in her seminal literary biography, “The life and times of Samuel Rutherford Crockett”, tersely describes “Deep Moat Grange” as “perhaps his worst book”. Donaldson is surely wrong in a judgment that reveals more about her literary taste than Crockett’s substantial achievement in writing Gothic horror.
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