“Mount Pleasant” by Marie-Louise Buxton is a short story published in 2006 about a young girl named Elisabeth. She and her family have just moved into a big house, Mount Pleasant, and the story follows their first time there. A whole lot of interpretation and understanding of the story is left to the reader. “Mount Pleasant” is narrated through Elisabeth, who is about 7 years old, and the text is constructed true to the narrator’s age. This causes a confusing composition led by the intuitive thoughts of a child and an uncertainty of fact and fiction, purpose and coincidence.
Still the text is thorough and leaves an impression of intelligence. The language supports this contrast. The text’s enhancement of the childish southern American slang (baby-like nicknames such as Sudsy and Babby and the use of apostrophes in words as freezin’ and ‘Lisabeth), the metaphors and the clear colloquial language are all very child-like features. But there are also hypotaxis, long and elegantly written sentences and many adjectives, making good and often intelligent writing.
The plot is not at all linear it jumps around in time and surroundings, making the story lack a clear focus and leaving it up to the individual to decide what the theme and core of the story is. “Mount Pleasant” starts in medias res with Elisabeth being in the attic of the new house. She knows she is not allowed to be there, but with her curiosity, mixed with a childs general lack of respect for authority, she ends up there anyway. Elisabeth finds an old photograph of a young boy in a cabinet in the attic, bringing it with her when she returns to the ground floor.
The mother does not approve of the picture, but the father suggests it is a picture of somebody who lived there before them and puts it on the mantelpiece next to pictures of the family. The rest of the text, the reader is presented to the everyday life of Elisabeth and her sister, Lena; both the idyllic play and the walks to town in the daytime and the cold, scary nights at home. The sisters show a resistance towards going home, but it is unclear whether it is because of the wish to keep on playing or the fright to be home at night or, probably, both.
A general dislike of the attic and the photograph from the attic is visible through the text. The mother is not comfortable with the photograph being downstairs (“If I see that bloody picture again at tea time, I’ll fire it straight into the bin”, l. 52-53) and Big Alec, who’s helping with the house, runs down the stairs, pale and uncomfortable, when returning from working on the attic. The dog is also nervous, constantly standing by the staircase, not wanting the kids to go upstairs, but still too afraid to follow them all the way up.
Mysterious things are happening in connection with the attic, things fall down from their shelves and the sisters are hearing footsteps from the attic at night. Somehow the picture is connected with these signs of ghosts. The family is not wealthy in spite of the big house (“[the nuns] give me and Lena bumpy woolen jumpers what they knit for the poor kids – and Mammy isn’t proud, she always takes them” l. 86-88) but the mother does a lot to keep the house and the kids proper.
Still the children freeze at night, their clothes are itchy and do not fit and an ice cream is unaffordable. How they can afford the big house is not mentioned but it could be interpreted a sign of a general view of the house as haunted. It is not clear when or where the story is played out, but hints such as the southern slang, the buildings around the house (the nunnery and a tub shop) and the clothes of Elisabeth make an impression of the 20th century’s Southern America. The family situation is peculiar.
The mother is aggressive and tyrannizes the other members of the family. The kids obey her most of the time, but more of fright for punishment then out of respect (“I don’t want Mammy to shout at me again today – and when I get mucky, she rubs me red raw in the bath – so I bunch up my skirt” l. 29 and 30) and when Elisabeth has the opportunity, she is disobedient and follows her own interests in spite of her mother’s clear authority. The father is gentler towards his daughters and the evening they spend alone with him is described purely positive.
The family seems to have some ghosts of their own shown in the father’s joy of gambling at the mother’s role and bad mood. They never speak openly about the fear of the ghost, making it believable that the supernatural powers are purely an object of Elisabeth’s mind. Still, the story provides enough hints to make it a possible understanding of the story that it concerns a family trying to handle living with the presence of something paranormal – maybe as a deliberate choice of prioritizing because of their lack of money.
Towards the short story’s end a proof of the shared belief of something mystic in the house is given. After the sisters and their two cousins have played in the attic, Elisabeth gathers courage and throws the photograph of the boy down in the grate to be burned the next day. That night the house shows all signs of being haunted. The window blows up, the storm outside makes the whole house creek, Elisabeth feels the presence of somebody in her bed and terrified she waits for the grip of an “old hand, dry and creased” (l. 74) – curiously identical to the description of the photograph in page 2, “dry and creased like the palm of an old hand” (l. 54-55) – but nothing ever happens. The next day the mother puts the photograph back on the mantel “from where it must have dropped down the last night” (l. 179). “Mount Pleasant” ends up with another suggestion of proof, no conclusion and the feeling of coincidence that, through the child’s narrative, is continuous throughout the story.