One of my favourite books, when I was a student, was Thorne Smith’s Jovial Ghosts. This introduced the character Topper, a middle aged, middle class banker, with a healthy interest in ladies’ underwear. A follow up title Topper Takes A Trip, took him to the Mediterranean (where all good Americans go when they die, so we’re told).

Topper spawned a couple of feature films and a TV series. Roland Young was an excellent Topper, but Leo G.Carroll, in the TV series, had far too much gravitas for my taste. Topper was always accompanied by those Jovial Ghosts, a quintet of wobbly ectoplasms bent on enjoying life to the full, even though they hadn’t got any. Topper, being too too solid flesh, was always the fall guy, the one who could not de-materialise when the cops arrived!

Marion Kirby was the love interest, accompanied by her husband, from whom death – in the same car-crash- had not her parted, and the Colonel and his wife came along with a ghostly dog, which could never quite manage to entirely materialise.

What I want to write about today has nothing to do with Topper, or with Thorne Smith, except for the matter of the Ghosts, in this case, not jovial, but Glad!

Glad Ghosts is the D.H.Lawrence story I went on to read after having left St.Mawr (see previous blog). It’s another long short story, of probably c14,000 words, covering 35 pages of the Collected Tales, and is placed in the last quarter of that chronologically organised collection. I thought at first that it might follow the pattern of St.Mawr, with the first half dozen pages skating over a great deal of time in which not much happens. A first person account, it tells of the narrator’s friend, Carlotta Fell, who marries Lord Lathkill, who goes off to World War One, and who returns changed. This experience, in real life, must have been so common and so apparent during the inter-war years that we should not be surprised at its frequent occurrences in the literature of the period – that A.E.Coppard in around two hundred published short stories makes only, I think, two references to the war, and those brief asides, is the more remarkable.

The story is organised in three broad sections: the first sets up the background to the friendship, and reveals the ill-luck of Carlotta’s new family, the second – a mere couple of pages, mostly of conversation- arranges a post war reunion, and the following twenty seven pages tell the story of an evening spent in Lord Lathkill’s house.

Here the ghost is introduced, though references to ghosts have already been made. Lawrence assembles a country house cast – Lord Lathkill himself, and his mother, Carlotta and the narrator, and the curiously detached and uncommunicative houseguests, Colonel Hale and his wife, who join the family for dinner. Twenty pages is a long time to spend on an evening meal – although in the novel The Shooting Party, Isobel Colegate must do at least as much. She is dealing though with several pairs of guests, and a larger family. Lawrence sticks to his five, plus the narrator. Servants are occasionally referred to.

The ghost is said to haunt one of the rooms, and it is into this room that the narrator is settled. The ghost is female, benign, and a blessing to those for whom she appears. All this is established before we meet the Colonel and his wife, who are present for the meal, and the following night. My reading of the story made those first six or seven pages quite long, and dare I say it, tedious, but the following twenty five or so I read much more quickly. I found them compelling.

It is conversation, in the main, which develops into long passages of thinking aloud, mostly by Lord Lathkill, and of thinking internally, on the part of the narrator. Their subject is love, and, perhaps not surprising, it being Lawrence, the expression of heterosexual, physical love. The Colonel and his wife are subdued and uncommunicative. Lord Lathkill and Carlotta, and especially she, depressed to the point of despairing. Though they are the living, they seem to the narrator, to be among the dead. Lord Lathkill’s mother believes she is in touch with the dead, and mediates between the dead first wife of the Colonel and himself, further preventing him, and his present wife, from truly living their lives.

As the conversation develops a series of reversals, of feelings and understandings affects the protagonists, leading to life changing, life enhancing events. The narrator is visited by the ghost. To tell more would be to give away too much, though the story is better than one read only to find out what happens. In this story, it is not so much what happens that we want to know, as to experience an almost physical understanding of what loving and being loved might mean to us. The eponymous ghosts are those of us who live with that experience, having moved from a position of lacking, and of knowing that we lack it.

It’s difficult not to feel that Lawrence is writing about himself, but then, when we are dealing with what are in essence developing definitions of love between individuals, our own concerns are likely to be the ones we are interested in. I picked up a copy of Aristotle’s Poetics recently – in one of the Wigtown bookshops – and was reminded of that Character-Thought-Action triangle I have tried to grasp before. In Glad Ghosts, and the more so as the story progresses, we are very much in the territory of Thought. The whole story has been contrived, I suspect, to allow these speculative, revelatory discussions to develop, and to allow Lawrence to tell us his own desired outcome, his aspirations for earthly love as it were. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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