Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R. A. Dick

For Halloween, I read a novel whose story people may remember from a 1947 movie of the same title starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison.

The book was The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R. A. Dick, which was the pen name of writer Josephine Leslie.

Frankly, I was expecting a lot more from it. There is nothing scary or even chilling about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. It is a genteel novel from 1945 written in a style better suited to the previous century.

Lucy Muir, a young widow with two small children, needs to find a less expensive place to live. She buys an English seaside house called Gull Cottage. The price is right because the place is said to be haunted by the original owner, Daniel Gregg, a ship’s captain who died in the house.

Instead of haunting Mrs. Muir, he is attracted to her, and she to him. He serves as her guide through life, helping her get rid of bossy relatives and unsuitable suitors.

The story is told in three parts: the young Lucy Muir, the middle-age Lucy, and the old Lucy who passes away and finally joins Captain Gregg on the other side, which is not a spoiler. Anyone could see that resolution coming from the earliest pages.

Gene Tierney & Rex Harrison
The author handles several things well: the appearances and disappearances of the captain, the visit by an overbearing woman, and the subtle death of Lucy Muir.

Although time is vague and the story is a fantasy, it was odd that in a book covering about 40 years of the main character’s life, from the early to the mid-20th century, no mention is made of any outside events, like World War I and World War II, which would have had an impact on Lucy Muir. But, I suppose I am being too literal and not playing the author’s game.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is short, easy to read, and not my kind of book.


  1. To be honest, I'm not really into Halloween...bah humbug. An American import I could well live without

    1. I take your point, Col, when it comes to fast-food joints. But Halloween? Your bah-humbug got me wondering if there is a story with a Scrooge-like character who doesn’t like Halloween? Maybe some modern-day Dickens will pick up on this idea.

    2. I'd take a cheeseburger over a trick or treater any day of the week!

  2. Well...not every ghost story is a horror story...a more sexual (and clearly time-divorced) sort of CASPER story, this one. I've yet to see the whole film, or a whole episode of the 1968 tv series, that I remember (perhaps as a small child), nor have I read the novel, nor the tv tie-in novel Alice Denham would later write. I suspect, indeed, Leslie meant to write a bit of escapism in the face of the war...or if not escapism per se, then simply something that wouldn't remind the reader so directly of the carnage...horror is about dealing fairly directly with death, in part, and afterlife fantasy of this sort might be a means of trying to soften the blow...
    I see Leslie wrote at least one other fantasy novel, much later, which Brian Stableford in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASY suggests is much more earnest or at least more grim, a pact with Satan story call THE DEVIL AND MISS DEVINE, where a woman has never fully agreed to the bargain wherein she is perpetually 30yo, and the tendency to outlive her husbands is growing wearisome.

    Of some interest to me is that the first edition, published as it was in 1945, apparently was the Ziff-Davis hardcover you have pictured...Z-D much better known as a magazine publisher (and for the last couple of decades as a website brand, briefly a television channel)...I wonder how many hardcovers they released. The UK edition appeared after the war, in 1946; she was a Scottish writer.

    1. Interesting thoughts on escapism during war time, Todd. Thanks for those. I did read a bit about Leslie, but don’t think I’ll be looking for any more of her work.