Episode 27: 'The Waxwork' by A.M. Burrage
A.M. Burrage, son of one Burrage-of-letters and nephew to another, was a prolific writer of everything from boys' adventure stories and romantic fiction to (as Ex-Private X) war memoir, plying his trade in comics and magazines and occasionally between hard covers, but sadly without achieving either the financial stability or literary esteem he must have sought. His later life was dogged by poor health and he died aged sixty-seven.
It's hard not, then, to imagine Burrage identifying with the character of Hewson in his story The Waxwork: a sadsack unsuccessful journalist, barely scratching a living, and thinking a sensationalist piece about the "Murderers' Den" of the waxwork museum could be just the thing to turn his life around.
The short story - one of the three or four classic "ghost" stories he is chiefly remembered for - certainly proved successful for Burrage, earning him a place in Dorothy L. Sayers' Great Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror collection and becoming widely anthologised in the years that followed. After his death it was memorably filmed as an episode of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
It endures because of its setting - one of a handful of memorable horror stories involving waxworks - and grim denouement, but, while it is at the pulpier end of Burrage's supernatural fiction (others, like Playmates are more literary, and demonstrate the author's considerable range), I think he does some clever things with foregrounding in The Waxwork, quite subtly prepping us for some ambiguity in the closing paragraphs. Simply speaking, while a preferred ending is suggested, we are left with some doubts as to whether the explanation for Hewson's experiences are supernatural, psychological or corporeal.
As for biographical information about the author, I find, as usual, that I can do no better than point you to someone else who has done the legwork. To that end, I urge you to read "Who is A.M. Burrage?" over at the Great War Fiction blog.
The Waxwork is very well-known to readers/listeners of horror fiction. The next story coming up is, pardon the pun, a "deep cut"...
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