One of my favorite romantic films is the 1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. That film, however, was based on a book, published only two years earlier with the same title, by R. A. Dick, pseudonym for Josephine Leslie. It’s a short novel, only 180 pages, and the movie is quite faithful to the book with only a few, understandable changes.
Mrs. Lucy Muir, often called little Mrs. Muir, is now a widow with two children (there is only one child in the movie). She has always lived, all her life, meekly adhering to the lifestyle that her husband and his family wanted. But now that he is gone, she has determined that she will direct her own life. She moves out from the home of her in-laws and decides that she wants to live by the seashore. Even the residents of her chosen town seem to expect that she will conform to a certain lifestyle and assume she will live in a respectable house in a respectable neighborhood. But Lucy falls in love with a most unsuitable place, an empty cottage, Gull Cottage, that is said to be haunted. No one’s been able to live there for ten years.
Undeterred, she rents the house and moves in with her two children. Sure enough the ghost manifests himself – as a voice – but she refuses to be frightened off. She has taken her own life into her hands and she is not about to let even a ghost swerve her from her decision. Instead the ghost, a sea captain named Daniel Gregg, who seems a bit lonely in the afterlife, is impressed by her and the two of them forge a unique friendship that lasts Lucy’s whole life, with the captain empowering Lucy to stand firm and live as she chooses.
I did enjoy the book, though it does not have the haunting, romantic beauty of the film and the story is more remarkable than the writing. The book is less a romance and more strongly emphasizes Lucy’s quest for independence; financial independence, but also independence in the eyes of other people. For various reasons, she is always being viewed as helpless by other people, like her sister-in-law, the rental agent, her children, even the town people. She is petite, a widow, does not push her weight around, has a sweet manner and people are always wanting to take care of her when all she desires is to be left alone and to let other people alone.
But she is lonely. As in the movie, there is that sense of the absence of a soul mate, someone she understands and who truly understands her. Daniel Gregg does understand her, though perhaps he has an unfair advantage because as a ghost he can read her mind and delights to break into her thoughts to give her unsolicited advice, which generally prompts a quarrel.
Unlike the movie, the captain is not an apparition; he is only a voice. She never sees him. There is a picture of him in the house that she suspects does not do him justice and one night she has a dream about him, but otherwise he remains a voice, with a great deal of personality and a tendency to use strong language. But the one thing that being a voice does allow in the the story is for Daniel and Lucy to achieve an extreme form of intimacy in their friendship that would be impossible if he had a physical body. He is almost one with her, being able to advise her on extremely personal matters and make personal observations. Though it is a bit one-sided, since there are many things she does not know about him, especially because he is a ghost and he declines to make too many comments about what the afterlife is like. But he does talk with her and tells her many things about his life and adventures.
In both the movie and the book, Daniel dictates his memoirs to Lucy, called Blood and Swash. He does this because she is in need of money. In the movie, she needs money simply to go on living in the house, but in the book it is because she needs to be able to provide for her children. However, what the book ends up doing in Leslie’s novel is not so much as meet an immediate need as it gives her the financial security she needs so that she can live her entire life, even when she is old and infirm, in Gull Cottage and not have to move in with anyone. It is the ultimate means to her independence.
But because Daniel is always saying that he does not view the things of the flesh in the same way, there is less romance and more friendship. He does still make the comment that he made in the movie about how much they missed by not being alive at the same time, but that is not quite as pivotal a scene as in the film. However, the book does retain that sense, when she dies, of having come home, as if she never really was at her ease while she lived on earth. She is united with Daniel and one can imagine that perhaps Daniel will at last find some peace in the afterlife, too.