Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Some uncanny tales

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d5599 (Published 07 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5599
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

The writer Arthur Machen (1863–1947) wanted to be a doctor but failed at the first hurdle, and his parents were too poor to fund further attempts on his part. Perhaps his thwarted wish to join the profession explains why his stories are so heavily populated by doctors.

Machen wrote tales of the uncanny that enjoyed a considerable vogue in the 1920s and have had their literary admirers, John Betjeman and Jorge Luis Borges among them; but, except by a coterie of devotees, he is largely forgotten now.

The strange thing about Machen’s uncanniness is that it exerts its influence largely by physical means. For example, in The Novel of the White Powder (hands up all those who …

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