The Statement of Stella Maberly

The Statement of Stella  MaberlyMichael Dirda at The Washington Post:

Thomas Anstey Guthrie (1856-1934) — better known by his pen name F. Anstey — once ranked among England’s most celebrated writers. Never heard of him, you say? Well, you know his novels, or at least the central ideas that drive their plots. Before turning to “The Statement of Stella Maberly,” Anstey’s neglected tour de force of psychological horror, let me tell you about some of his more characteristic work, his humorous fantasies.

In 1882, Anstey— only in his mid-20s — published his first novel, “Vice Versa.” In it, the stout, conventional businessman Mr. Bultitude and his 14-year-old son Dick discover that an ancient talisman has inadvertently caused them to exchange bodies. Most of the action involves Mr. Bultitude and his horrible experiences at a boys’ boarding school, as he tries desperately to undo the transformation. Dick, however, would really prefer to let things stand: After all, he now possesses the money, leisure and opportunity to indulge every boyish whim. The result is one of Victorian England’s great comic classics, the source for several later topsy-turvy novels, plays and movies, most notably “Freaky Friday.”

The 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie ” derives, in part, from Anstey’s “The Brass Bottle” (1900), in which a well-meaning “Jinnee”— an elderly fellow named Fakrash — causes all sorts of mischief and havoc in the life of hapless architect Horace Ventimore.

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