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AlisdairWoodMrPoynter2012

2012 illustration for "The Diary of Mr. Poynter" by Alisdair Wood.

"The Diary of Mr. Poynter" is a short ghost story by the British author M.R. James. It was first published in 1919 as part of the anthology A Thin Ghost and Others.

The story's protagonist is an antiquary from Warwickshire named James Denton. At the start of the story, Denton is in the process of furnishing a new house which he has recently had built for himself and the aunt who is his only living relative. From a London auction house, Denton acquires a four-volume diary which was written by a well-known antiquary named William Poynter who lived in Warwickshire nearly two centuries earlier. A piece of cloth is found in one of the volumes of the diary. There is a design printed on it which resembles human hairs. Denton's aunt finds the design very attractive so Denton has curtains made with the same pattern on them. Denton soon comes to dislike those curtains.

An abridged version of the story is read by Michael Bryant in the fifteenth episode of the British children's TV series Spine Chillers. The episode was first shown on BBC 1 on December 12, 1980.

Plot

The story opens in May of a year in the late 19th century. James Denton has traveled from Warwickshire to London. Redcomb Manor, Denton's ancestral home, was destroyed in a fire a few years earlier. A new Redcomb Manor has been built on the site of the old one. Denton is in the process of decorating the new home that he will share with his aunt, his only living relative. He has come to London to buy furniture. He passes by Robins's, an auction house which specializes in old books. He enters, hoping to find some books about Warwickshire there. The only item related to the county on sale that day is a four-volume diary which was written in Warwickshire around the year 1710 by a man named Poynter. Denton has to leave before the diary is put up for auction but he asks an acquaintance to bid for it on his behalf.

When Denton returns to his temporary home, his aunt rebukes him for having forgotten to buy any curtains in London. She is not happy to hear that he has been to Robins's because she dislikes the old books that he buys.

A few days later, Denton finds out that his bid for the diary of Mr. Poynter was successful. The diary arrives by post the following day. Denton is delighted to find that the Mr. Poynter who wrote the diary was William Poynter, a prominent antiquary who lived in Acrington in Warwickshire in the early 18th century. As well as documenting William Poynter's everyday life, the diary contains passages copied from books, descriptions of ancient artifacts and drafts of letters which Poynter sent. Denton's aunt sees him reading the diary. She does not like the look of the four old leather-bound books and thinks that Denton paid too much for them. She shows some interest in the diary, however, when she finds out that it was written by the well-known local man William Poynter. She picks up and opens another volume of the diary. She throws it down in disgust when an earwig crawls out of it.

Denton picks up the book which his aunt threw down to check it for any damage. Denton's aunt notices that there is a piece of cloth pinned to the page at which Denton has opened the book. She asks Denton to take out the piece of cloth so that she can look at it. Printed on the cloth is a design of ribbons and wavy lines which resemble human hairs. It appears that the lines would all join together at the top of the complete cloth. Denton is not very impressed by the design on the cloth but his aunt is. Denton says that it would be possible to have the design copied for the new curtains at Redcomb Manor. His aunt is very pleased with that idea.

A company in London copies the design and makes curtains with the pattern on it. On the curtains, all of the hair-like lines join together at the top. Denton requests that other curtains with the same design only be supplied to his friends on request and that the design not be mass-produced and put on sale to the public. The owner of the company says that the design would probably not be popular anyway. He says that the man who cut the blocks used to print the pattern called it evil.

By late October, all of the curtains have been made and installed in Redcomb Manor. Curtains with the design on them are put up in Denton's bedroom and several other rooms in the house. They are not, however, in Denton's aunt's bedroom. On the morning after the curtains are installed, Denton says that it was a bad idea to allow the company which made them to let all of the wavy lines join together at the top. He says that he had the feeling that something was peeping out of that part of the curtains at him at night. He also complains about how the curtains moved in the wind. His aunt says that there was no wind the previous night.

That night, a friend visits Denton at Redcomb Manor. At eleven o'clock, Denton goes to his bedroom but does not yet want to go to sleep. He sits in an armchair and reads. He notices that, unusually, his dog does not appear to have followed him to his bedroom. Denton puts his arm down by the side of his chair. He touches something hairy but it does not feel like his dog. The thing which Denton has been touching rises up. It is a human figure made entirely of hair. Denton runs from the room. The figure follows him. Denton feels its hand on his back. Denton makes it safely to his friend's bedroom.

The following day, Denton burns all of the curtains that he had made. He also moves out of Redcomb Manor and never returns. It is only after he has left Redcomb Manor that Denton reads the portion of William Poynter's diary which relates to the piece of cloth. The pages about the cloth had been glued together but Denton is able to open them without much difficulty.

The cloth had been made for Sir Everard Charlett. Its design imitated Sir Everard's own hair. Sir Everard Charlett was famous for his good looks, especially his beautiful long hair. He was also known for his drunkenness, debauchery and general bad behavior. He boasted about having hastened the death of his father. Sir Everard Charlett died suddenly in late October in a year in the last decade of the 17th century. He was found in a ditch in Oxford. All of the hair had been plucked off his head. Sir Everard was originally buried in Oxford. A few years later, his body was exhumed to be reburied in his native county. The coffin accidentally came open and was found to be full of hair.

See also

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