Ghosts, Vampires, and l'écriture-femme

The Nature of the Evidence

by May Sinclair


January 9, 2003

Re: May Sinclair

I read "The Nature of the Evidence" last night, but will to hold off writing about the story itself until after our facilitator for the week has posted. However, as I liked it very much, I'd like to say something about the writer.

May Sinclair was born in England in 1863 and died 1946. So she is one of these writers with her earliest memories and upbringing rooted in the Victorian period who also lived into our "modern" world. The Oxford Guide to British Writers emphasizes Sinclair's interest in Freud, and her work in psychoanalysis as a key to understanding her work. Sinclair was the first to use the phrase, "stream of consciousness" and she used it not of Joyce but of another writer of a superlong memoir novel, Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage. Sinclair was an active suffragette, protested against World War One but also worked with the Women's Freedom League and "Woman Writers' Suffrage Leader." She drove an ambulance during the war (this seems a typical woman's job near the front). Her early work includes her much respected novel, Mary Olivier: A Life (of which I own a Virago copy) and her account of her time near the front of WW1: A Journal of Impressions in Belgium (1915). She was once regarded as one of the most significant of "modern" writers.

Cheers to all,

Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] Secretary and May Sinclair

Fran--yes, I've seen parts of Secretary (on HBO) and I agree, it's the strength of the performances that makes it work. Maggie Gyllenhaal, in particular, has a wonderfully unconventional face, very alive and quick to change. I hope she continues taking risky roles.

Now about May Sinclair--because their lives occupy many overlapping years and they're born to the same generation, it may not be surprising to discover that May Sinclair and Mary Austin knew each other. Of Sinclair, Austin wrote in her autobiography, in several passages, most extensively in this one, full of dropped names:

341-342: [this is during Mary's 1922 trip to England] "I had it in mind to see a great deal of May Sinclair, and the Fabians and Bernard Shaw. I saw Miss Sinclair at Stow-on-Wold, where she made me very comfortable, driving me about the country, and especially to Stratford-on-Avon, where we were picked up by a small, plump, blonde woman in a bright blue car, who turned out to be Marie Corelli. Afterward, we went to London, where I met Mrs. Dawson Scott and Rebecca West, a number of young men, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, and Miriam Ryan, and Sir John Adcock, editor of the clever 'Bookman,' whom I liked immensely. We had a great deal of good talk, especially about the things Miss Sinclair knew about prayer and spiritual technique. We did not agree so well about books; Miss Sinclair was opposed to the idea that novels should be written about social problems; she thought that they should be about personal matters; but she talked freely about her own processes and the way she picked up her incredible knowledge of sex, out of the air, so to speak, especially her knowledge of men, of middle-class men. She brushed against one on the top of the bus, or passed one going or coming, and instantly she knew. But she was not in the least middle-class herself. The only middle-class weakness she had was for black cats.

"She told me a great deal about her youth, about her struggle with her mother, who was jealous of her sons, and put May to torment about them, so that I wondered how the English put up with one another. Through Miss Sinclair I met Evelyn Underhill, whose works on mysticism interested me greatly..."

Looking forward to reading "The Nature of the Evidence"--it's all printed out and waiting. Gotta love Gaslight etexts.

Penny R

Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] One more Austin mention of Sinclair

In Austin's unsigned autobiographical essay for The Nation ("Woman Alone," 1927), there's this passage, coming immediately after sentences in which she's describing how it was acceptable during her girlhood for her mother and herself to write assignments for her college-student brother to sign and submit...

"And lest any of the generation for whom the woman's right to the product of her own talent is completely established should think this an unusual situation, I recommend the reading of the current if out-moded novels of that period, such, for example, as the novels of Madame Sarah Grand or May Sinclair's "Mary Olivier." For the greater part of the nineteenth century, in fact, it was not only usual but proper for parents openly to deplore that their sons had not inherited talents inconveniently bestowed on their daughters."

Penny R

Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] The Nature of the Evidence - May Sinclair

Hello all... I would have posted ON my day (Jan 11th) however I was in a plane en route to Amman (Jordan) where Roger and I are spend the next 8 days... So I am up this am and here on our friends' machine getting this off to you all.

Quick apology about my silence recently, we were almost three weeks in Spain over the holidays and I found it very difficult to find public machines to use to read emails, let alone respond or get into dialogue. I will be home in Tbilisi after January 20th and we are both looking forward to getting back into our routines.

Enough excuses... The Nature of the Evidence. I really liked this piece quite a lot (and I agree that Gaslight is a great URL! What a terrific find!). I am always interested in the "voice" in women's writing. As I have mentioned, Jeanette Winterson's work, "Written on The Body"... a love story involving a married woman, and her lover (the narrator) whom the reader cannot truthfully tell whether (s)he is a man or woman. Fascinating and beautiful. So how does this relate to our tale? I am intrigued by a woman writing a story in a voice that is not "necessarily" a woman's, in fact, for the time it was written I could assume it was meant to be read as though it was a man relating the story. Marston is our protagonist but the likelihood that the person who had to "tear [the story] from him" was a woman , I believe, is a stretch. All the more intriguing.

The story involves the death of Marston's love, Rosamund, and her subsequent "re-claiming" of his love after her death. The new (second) wife Pauline is obviously a beauty and the attraction is given as sexual/physical... The ghost of Rosamund will not allow Marston (Edward) to consummate the second marriage and does so in a completely non-threatening, but very effective, way.

I found the tale somewhat believable - something that I am not accustomed to in any story involving the supernatural or any sort of "ghost" stories. I believe that someone like Marston could have had this experience and come to believe firmly that Rosamund still existed (in her particular 'form').

Lastly, I marvelled at the way the story ended with the exclamation of what "passion" truly IS (according to Marston whom, assumedly, experienced something more profound than just a sexual experience). Since I am only familiar with May Sinclair through the last couple of posts about her and other's impressions of her, I am not educated enough to explore more of her interest in writing this story or the reactions (if any) to this story by either aquaintences or the reading public. It would be interesting to know how readers reacted. I think of the 1920s as a time of great experimentation and progressive behavior (women smoked and drank and relationships between men and women seemed to be a great deal less inhibitive and more open in many senses). Perhaps this was right in line with the times and perhaps my assumptions about voice are all off (perhaps it WAS obvious to a reader that the narrator was a woman).

In any case... I enjoyed this story immensely and am glad it was included in our ghost stories.

Sa'alam Alaikum - Rachel


January 12, 2003

Re: "The Nature of the Evidence"

I thought it an interesting story when considered from the angle of love versus what? sex. We are supposed to understand that the narrator and Rosamund loved one another, were congenial; that she submitted utterly to him in the sense that she structured her existence around his. She is also presented as sweet and good, innocent and (by implication therefore) kind. But the narrator does not marry again for love but rather sex. He has this physical necessity. Just to make sure there's no "unfaithfulness" (by which is apparently meant emotional not carnal fidelity) he marries someone we are to take as cold, mean and hard, a cool materialist.

It seems though that our ghost has misunderstood. She doesn't seem to realize Marston is not betraying her, and won't let the new wife replace her physically and sexually.

A sardonic light is thrown on Marston's idea about his non-betrayal. It also seems Rosamund was not all that unselfish and self-effacing -- or at least her ghost is not inclined that way.

The title is a double entendre. It at first seems to refer to the nature of the evidence for proving there has really been a ghost there. But I incline to think that it also refers to the nature of the evidence about Marston's and Rosamund's relationship. Her ghost won't accept his rationale for remarrying -- which then also means his understanding of his marriage to Rosamund.

It is a story about sex in the sense that sex with the new wife is what the old wife won't permit. This is another story about a second wife, about someone trying to replace a previous woman and the previous woman is just not going to lay down and be silently dead. We've talked about this earlier I seem to recall.


Date: Mon, 12 Jan 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] Sinclair's "The Nature of the Evidence"

On Monday, January 12, 2004, at 09:07 PM, Ellen Moody wrote:

It is a story about sex in the sense that sex with the new wife is what the old wife won't permit.

Yes, and this is explicit--no softpedal--if it was the marriage Rosamund's ghost objected to, she would have interfered with the wedding. No, it's the sex, for certain.

I really enjoyed the strong color coding of the women--Rosamund, all soft rosebud pink and gold and virginal pale, "a curious pure sweet beauty," set against Pauline Silver ("Appalling Silver," I read it), and her impure "hard, black, white, and vermilion" lascivious handsomeness (handsome lasciviousness?). The child-woman vs. the divorcee.

Compared to the other dead loves we've read now...I may have missed one or two, but Emma Jossylin, Gertrude, and Rosamund...Rosamund is by far the most malicious. Emma just wants to get a confession of past wrongs--she's not returned to interfere with a further romance; Gertrude, well, she wants her living lover to honor the commitment he offered, even beyond death, but (to my mind, as I explained last week) she's more single-minded than vengeful, and dancing him to death is just a way of keeping them together forever, Gertrude's only goal. But Rosamond--she want to keep Marston from sex with his second wife, and does so by interfering most insistently, and in the end by scaring Pauline away and taking Marston for herself, in an embrace that cannot be explained, and is thus all the more creepy: "You haven't the faintest conception. You'd have to get rid of your bodies first..."

So, in a twist on the usual idea that bodies are the source of our fiercest animal passions, Sinclair proposes here that only *freed* from our bodies is truly intense passion is possible. Rosamund was half-way to ethereal in life; in death, she's full-force ethereal, and finally has the power and passion she lacked in life. Pauline, being mere flesh, and seen by Marston as mere flesh, is no competition. This all fits with Sinclair's interest in spiritualism (mentioned in Mary Austin's autobiographical passage I posted yesterday).

As Rachel pointed out, we never know the narrator's gender, but we know a lot of other things: the narrator doesn't have a high opinion of Marston's mental capacities, and thus believes the story because "he's incapable of inventing anything." The narrator is persistent--"I had to tear it from him bit by bit." The narrator knew the three characters involved, in life (including Rosamund, before her passing). And the narrator has a curiously intimate, informal tone, as if this story is told over late-night drinks in the corner booth at a cozy bar. We readers are part of the telling, with the repeated references to "you"--an effective strategy to draw us into the uncanny tale.

I recalled that the narrator of "The Readjustment" was also unnamed (but we knew she was a woman), and close to the situation before and after the wife became the ghost. She also has a pretty low opinion of the husband's capacity for understanding--so much that, in that case, she steps in and sends the ghost away herself, with the explanation that Sim as a "common man" can't really satisfy the ghost's emotional needs anyway.

Penny R

Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2004
Subject: [Womenwriters] Sinclair's "The Nature of the Evidence"

Hello all,

Welcome back, Rachel and Diana. I've enjoyed all the postings about May Sinclair and 'The Nature of the Evidence' - I liked the story very much too, and am now keen to read more by her.

Penny wrote:

I really enjoyed the strong color coding of the women--Rosamund, all soft rosebud pink and gold and virginal pale, "a curious pure sweet beauty," set against Pauline Silver ("Appalling Silver," I read it), and her impure "hard, black, white, and vermilion" lascivious handsomeness (handsome lasciviousness?). The child-woman vs. the divorcee.

I had noticed this colour coding too and was quite disturbed by the way that Rosamund seems to conform to the "Angel in the House" type beauty. The fact that she is dead, and so her picture is filtered through memory, makes her seem even more pure and demure, with that "grave, contemplative innocence".

By contrast, as Penny says, Pauline seems to be all black, white and red - hard, sexy, colours. Through most of the story, she seems to be cast as the bad woman - the one who is impure, "lustful", driven by sexual desire.

But then, in that ending which I agree is truly creepy, Sinclair turns all this upside down and makes Rosamund the one who is lustful and passionate, drawing her husband into that unimaginable sexual liasion and preventing him from consummating his second marriage. So this author ends up questioning the stereotypes of the "good" and "bad" woman rather than just reinforcing them. All the same, there is nothing very positive in the portrayal of Pauline.

On the gender of the narrator, a point Rachel brought up, my feeling was that, although it's unstated, there's an impression it's a man, to have Marston confiding in him in such a matey sort of way. I'm not sure of the reason for the extra layer of the anonymous narrator who had the story told to him - but often ghost stories do seem to have this extra layer, to distance readers from the action more.

As with 'The Cold Embrace', I especially like the title of this one. As Ellen said, it suggests the evidence about Marston and Rosamund's marriage, as well as about the existence of an afterlife and ghosts.

All the best,


January 13, 2003

Re: "The Nature of the Evidence:" Necrophilia or Sex After Death

What I'm adding is contained in my title. After reading Penny and then Judy's postings, particularly Judy's last paragraph, I realized that at the end of the story what happens is sex after death. This is our first sexy necrophiliac story. The reversal comes full circle: the utterly innocent wife becomes vampiric and no one can come near sex with her. I'm reminded of Lucy in Stoker's Dracula. Sinclair brings out what is overtly denied (and therefore as Freud usually has it all is the more real) or slid around in novels as far as as Mysteries of Udolpho:

I take it there had been, behind that shut door, some experience, some terrible and exquisite contact. More penetrating than sight or touch. More--more extensive: passion at all points of being.

Perhaps the supreme moment of it, the ecstasy, only came when her phantasm had disappeared.

He couldn't go back to Pauline after that.

I took it the narrator is a man and we again have a displacement which makes what we read both possibly a lie and subjective without any way to test its having happened.

It is not our first necrophiliac story though: In The Beleaguered City a man feels he is having sex with his wife because he so loved her and knows such anguish because he lost her. However, although we are to feel physical passion or carnality is involved, it's not emphasized. The love and longing are emphasized. In "The Nature of the Evidence" the sex is. This makes it a hard and sardonic story -- and maybe also a peculiarly modern and post-Freudian one.


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