View Full Version : "The Haunted Bookshop" by Christopher Morley

12-29-2004, 08:23 AM
Around 1960 when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I read my first "adult"
book, "The Haunted Bookshop" by Christopher Morley.

I felt very proud of myself for this accomplishment.
If I can remember from over 40 years ago, the novel is set in Brooklyn
in a used bookstore. The story is frequently discussing the pleasures
and virtues of pipe smoking. The owner of the bookstore even has a
club for men to come and smoke pipes and discuss books. This novel
praises literature and reading. The author suggests somewhere in it
that if everyone would only read certain books, then there would be
no more war in the world.

The emphasis on smoking pipes encouraged me to hide in the woods
and smoke. I was also encouraged in this activity by the frequent
mentions which Mark Twain makes regarding tobacco use in
Huckleberry Finn. Below are some links on Christopher Morley.
I went on to read the sequel to that novel, "Parnassus on Wheels"
which is about a travelling book store which is in a large wagon.

I chose these books because they were in our bookshelves at home,
and had appealing covers and illustrations. I was always fascinated
by ghosts and halloween and the supernatural, so I assumed from the
title "Haunted Bookstore" that there would be a ghost, which was

I imagine my parents acquired these books because they
had joined The Book of the Month Club. My mother allowed me to
join in the early 1960s and I chose "Travels with Charlie" by Steinbeck
and "The Old Man and the Sea" by Hemingway.

As I did my google.com search just now, I was delighted to discover that the text of "The Haunted Bookshop" is available for free download.


Christopher Morley's 1919 novel The Haunted Bookshop is an early
example of a genre of story found constantly in later books and films:
ordinary people who become amateur investigators of strange events
that just happen to surround them. There were amateur investigators
galore in novels by Green, Arnold Bennett, and Rinehart, and Christie
was soon to create Tommy and Tuppence (1922), not to mention The
Man in the Brown Suit (1924). Still, Morley's book anticipates future
examples of the genre with uncanny accuracy. His settings are far
more bourgeois, cheery, and commonplace, and his characters are far
more like completely ordinary American types, not being rich
members of Society. Such "everyday" characters will be more typical
of future amateur detectives.

Morley's novel contains that archetypal scene of the pulps to come,
the attempt to penetrate a house full of crooks. First sleuthing alerts
the protagonists that something is going on in a mysterious house.
Then there is sneaking up to the windows, and spying. Finally,
someone goes into the house... In what is usually cited as the first
hard-boiled private eye story, Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun Terry"
(1923), there is a raid on a house full of crooks. It is more violent than

Morley's story, but its is the same kind of tale.
Morley cites not other writers as sources for his characters and plot,
but rather the movies. His hero is always being compared with the
protagonists of films, and so are the plot developments. In 1918,
when his story was set, feature films were only 6 years old, having
emerged in 1912. Today, these early feature films are even more
obscure than the mystery novels of the era, being either tragically
lost, or buried in archives. It is very hard to compare the period's films
with Morley's book. Also, while the novel cites many books and
authors by name, film is generally just cited collectively as "the
movies". ("This situation is just like the movies", his characters are
always saying.) So if Morley had specific mystery films in mind, it is
going to be hard to trace them now, because there are few explicit
references. He does like and mention Dorothy Gish, and Charlie
Chaplin, however.

Still, whether Morley pioneered this genre, or simply adapted it from
other writers and filmmakers, the novel crystallizes the genre at an
early date, and gives a reference point for comparisons with later
books and films in a similar style.

Morley's literary style is very impressive. His abilities to describe
thought processes is especially wonderful. These passages should be
quoted in books on cognitive psychology. And in literary textbooks.

The descriptions of personal encounters, nature and Brooklyn are also

Morley's sincere pacifism, and his desire that the realities of W.W.I
not be glossed over in literature, are also impressive. His judgments of
art are less entirely reliable. I didn't like the badmouthing of Fatty
Arbuckle's films. Nor does the unfortunately racist Conrad seem so
entirely admirable today as he perhaps did in 1919, when Morley
treated him as one of his heroes.

Morley clearly loved domesticity. Here there are scenes of eating
meals and doing the dishes. Morley once set a whole one act play,

"Thursday Evening" (1922), in a kitchen. The set of the play is
supposed to be a realistic kitchen, complete with sink, etc.