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Andrew Lytle: A Name for Evil

This is Lytle’s ghost story, about a haunted house (and, yes, it was made into a poor film). Henry Brent, a writer, buys a run-down farm house, which had earlier been in a collateral branch of his family. He and has wife, Ellen, plan to restore it and live an agrarian life. As he makes clear at the beginning, he is not just buying a house but he is also buying history. However, Henry meets Major Brent, a long dead ancestor of his, who had first built the house. He decides not to tell his wife about the Major. Initially he is not too concerned and, when he has an opportunity to sell the farm at a slight profit, declines to do so. But, as in The Turn of the Screw, to which this novel is often compared, the evil influence of the Major becomes stronger or, rather, Henry thinks it does. As we see everything through his eyes, it is not clear how much is happening and now much is Henry’s imagination. What is clear is that, in Henry’s eyes, the Major wishes to stop Henry’s plans and harm Ellen. When Ellen becomes pregnant, Henry decide to move her into the town. The move is delayed by a snowstorm, with tragic consequences for the couple.

As a ghost story, it is certainly a good tale. Lytle cleverly makes the nature of the Major ambiguous. Is he there? Does Ellen see him? Or is he merely a figment of Henry’s imagination? And, if he is there, is he really evil, determined to thwart Henry’s plans and harm Ellen? Lytle leaves all that open, just as Henry James does and the novel is better for it.

Publishing history

First published 1947 by Bobbs-Merrill