Arthur Machen’s “The White People”
While drinking my beer in an empty bar this weekend I read Arthur Machen’s “The White People”. That’s a creepy book. CREEPY. Once you get past the standard Machen frame of two Victorian weirdoes talking about “evil” and get into the found manuscript, the story gets weird.
Very, very weird.
That part, The Green Book, is written by a girl remembering her encounter with “the White People”. (And yes, haha, I get it, funny funny, but even that joke might make for an interesting postcolonial story riffing on this story.) Who or what the White People are is left confused. Maybe they’re fairies, maybe they’re Roman statues hidden away in the English woods, or maybe they’re her nurse and others using/abusing the girl. You don’t know, and the girl isn’t specific. But something happened, and, what’s more unsettling, the girl is in collusion with it. She’s not a passive victim, nor a dupe, but a willing victim, working with these unknown forces, and you’re swept along by her rambling, run-on narrative, and lost within it.
All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes. I only do this at night in my room or in certain woods that I know, but I must not describe them, as they are secret woods. Then there are the ceremonies, which are all of them important, but some are more delightful than others–
It’s a disturbing little story no matter how you read it. You can see it as mundane sinister (the nurse “corrupting” the girl) or as supernatural sinister. Either way it’s well worth a Halloween read.