Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 11: No 2) >> An Early Novel of Detection, Marie de Berniere >> Page 13

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Scholarship | 2003
Transcription As the mystery unfolds, readers discover (or surmise) that the house has
secret rooms and passages, a device now associated with "cheating" in detective
fiction, but in Simms's day surely no such stigma accrued to this new genre.
Brandon's interest in "the construction of houses for defence and security" has
made him an expert in "the most mixed, various, and wonderful problems of
architecture" (112-113). He suspects, therefore, that Marie's "dwelling is pierced
by secret passages, and that [her] chamber is accessible from without by avenues
which [she does] not dream of' (112). He habitually observes "the dimensions of
the walls, the spaces between them and the chimneys, the depths of fire-places, the
wainscoting, any apparent inequalities, or unnecessary enlargement of parts, any
want to symmetry and proportion or adaptation" (115). Brandon knows that "in
almost every large city, human ingenuity has wrought out the secret passage, and
opened the mysterious outlet. . . . Many houses, thus perforated, . . . exist in this
very place" (115). * Marie's chamber must be "admirably riddled with secret
avenues" (116), and Brandon eventually finds a hidden passage behind a "panel
adjoining the fireplace" and operated from it (151-154).
Just before a mysterious "visitation" of the ghost, Marie experiences a
soughing sound and a chill wind. In the only visitation fully reported by her,
It was after midnight. The room was in utter darkness.... My attention
was first caught by a low sighing sound, which seemed to rise just beside
my bed. . . . I experienced again that cold breath, as if from the grave,
which accompanied it before.... Oh! it had a deathly faintness, chilling me
to the heart, and as I felt it spread over me, I trembled at what I had to
expect.... [I heard then a rustling sound.] . . . and then the voice. (131-
132)
Town gossip ascribes madness to the heroine. The "madness," including the ball
when the Egyptian first appeared, all occurs at night in a single room—Marie's
chamber, an important detail. "That night [of the masquerade], Marie must have
transferred her couch to an upper room. This apartment was partly given up to the
guests: It was probably designed as a retiring room for the ladies" (147). Marie
finally confronts her tormentor in this very bed-chamber.
Because he is a skeptic, Marie's fiance Brandon concludes immediately that
the second Egyptian is not the ghost of her husband as the intruder portrays
himself to be: Brandon sets out an elaborate investigation, complete with ruses,
disguises, and surveillance, that finally traps and reveals the intruder. Intent that
"It is important not only to discover how your house is haunted, but by whom"
(116), Brandon keeps his investigation secret except to his sister, his fellow
Tennessean, and Marie; even so he tells only the Tennessean (who tells the reader)
whom he suspects to be the culprit.
Simms's is a tale of ratiocination, as Poe would call it, about the fiance's
unraveling the mystery, and if and when he can do that, Marie will renounce her
terrors and resume the engagement she has broken because of threats from the
supposed ghost of her husband. Brandon quickly perceives that the closet in which
Marie mixed the poison must hold the secret of the "ingenious, but monstrous
jugglery" (78) by which the Egyptian could be privy to her meditated crime. She
vows that she has never told anyone, not even Father Paul, her confessor since
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