Posted by: Tom Owen | August 14, 2009

“The Upper Berth” (1886) – F. Marion Crawford, SPS 1870

“The Upper Berth” – Short Story

I first read F. Marion Crawford’s story “The Upper Berth” in elementary school in a ghost-story collection.  I still remember the nightmares – this story will scare the bejeezus out of you.  This post is adapted from his Wikipedia entry.

Francis_Marion_Crawford

Image: Wikipedia.

Biographical Notes
Francis Marion Crawford (August 2, 1854 – April 9, 1909) was an American writer noted for his many novels, especially those set in Italy, and for his classic weird and fantastic stories.

In 1879 he went to India, where he studied Sanskrit and edited in Allahabad The Indian Herald. Returning to America in February of 1881, he continued to study Sanskrit at Harvard University for a year and for two years contributed to various periodicals, mainly The Critic.

In December of 1882 he produced his first novel, Mr Isaacs, a brilliant sketch of modern Anglo-Indian life mingled with a touch of Oriental mystery. This book had an immediate success, and its author’s promise was confirmed by the publication of Dr Claudius (1883).

In May of 1883 he returned to Italy, where he made his permanent home. Over one half of his novels are set in Italy. He wrote three long historical studies of Italy and was well advanced with a history of Rome in the Middle Ages when he died. This accounts perhaps for the fact that, in spite of his nationality, Marion Crawford’s books stand apart from any distinctively American current in literature.

Career
The Saracinesca series is perhaps known to be his best work, with the third in the series, Don Orsino (1892) set against the background of a real estate bubble, told with effective concision. The second volume is Sant’ Ilario [Hilary] (1889). A fourth book in the series, Corleone (1897), was the first major treatment of the Mafia in literature, and used the now-familiar but then-original device of a priest unable to testify to a crime because of the Seal of the Confessional; the novel is not one of his major works, having failed to live up to the standard set by the books earlier in the series.

Image: Wikipedia.

Image: Wikipedia.

Crawford himself was fondest of Khaled: A Tale of Arabia (1891), a story of a genie (genius is Crawford’s word) who becomes human, which was reprinted (1971) in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of the early 1970s.

Several of his short stories, such as “The Upper Berth” (1886; written in 1885), “For the Blood Is the Life” (1905, a vampiress tale), “The Dead Smile” (1899), and “The Screaming Skull” (1908), are often-anthologized classics of the horror genre.

Trivia
He is mentioned in Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night (edited by Maxwell Perkins, SPS 1902):  “Until one o’clock Baby Warren lay in bed, reading one of Marion Crawford’s curiously inanimate Roman stories …”

Read for Free
“The Upper Berth,” a story about a haunted room on a schooner, is available from Project Gutenberg:  http:/www.gutenberg.org/etext/22246

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