When Allen Upward’s five-story occult detective series appeared monthly in The Royal Magazine, from late 1905 to early 1906, it went by the title “The Ghost Hunters.” I dropped this rather bland title when I edited the tales for From Eerie Cases to Early Graves: 5 Short-Lived Occult Detective Series. At first, I simply dubbed that section of the anthology “Allen Upward’s Jack Hargreaves and Alwyne Sargent,” since this was in keeping with the other author/character section titles.
As I was working on the pieces, I realized I was making a mistake — and being outright sexist — for placing Hargreaves before Sargent. Granted, he is the narrator. He is the realtor who earns a reputation for turning haunted houses into profitable properties. He is Sargent’s boss.
But Hargreaves is clearly the Watson to Sargent’s Holmes. She does the brain work, since she’s clairvoyant. She puts her health at risk to help restless spirits and to expand our understanding of the paranormal. She, ultimately, solves the occult mysteries. To be sure, Upward wants us to see that it’s the partnership that matters, just as Arthur Conan Doyle does with Holmes and Watson. Furthermore, Hargreaves is far from the idle sidekick that Watson occasionally finds himself to be. But a reader might easily sense that Sargent could’ve done occult-detection work without Hargreaves. And probably not the other way around.
Was Allen Upward deliberately challenging the gender dynamic reinforced by Conan Doyle’s well-established pair by cleverly making his lead detective a woman? Did he advocate women’s suffrage or participate in any other of his era’s movements for greater gender equality? There were some male authors of his generation who did so — for instance, Hamlin Garland comes to mind. However, I haven’t found anything to support the claim that Upward was among those authors.
All I can say is that, like Garland, Upward knew his stuff when it came to psychical research. When working on From Eerie Cases to Early Graves, I found myself footnoting a fair number of his references to the era’s thinking about hauntings and about how clairvoyants can play a key role in resolving them. Hereward Carrington’s chapter titled “Haunted Houses and Their Cure” does a good job of explaining this, too, though it was published a few years after Upward’s series.
Find out what other authors/characters join Upward’s Sargent and Hargreaves on the page for From Eerie Cases to Early Graves: 5 Short-Lived Occult Detective Series. In addition, my reading of the first Sargent and Hargreaves adventure is featured on this weekend’s episode of Tales Told When the Windows Rattle. You’ll find it on this page — where you’ll also find links to the podcast version — or on the YouTube channel. Regarding the latter, I’m hoping to win the hearts of a full 100 subscribers before the end of Season Two. After all, a fella can dream.
(Posts identified as “The Scarlet Pencil” chronicle my meandering through the misty and mysterious quagmire of editing anthologies for Brom Bones Books.)