"With sudden shock the prison-clockSmote on the shivering air..."- Oscar Wilde (The Balled of Reading Goal, 1898)
I have broached this matter once before, when I posted a similar, but much briefer, message to the John Dickson Carr mailing list, in which I had set forth my reasons for suspecting that the greatest mystery writer who ever lived might have suffered from chronophobia – a suspicion that I based on his treatment of time and his depictions of clocks in his stories.
Douglas Greene professed skepticism, since Carr never exhibited any of the textbook symptoms that are listed for this condition, such as panic and terror, but I don't manifest these symptoms, either! It doesn't have to be extreme, like mine, which rarely goes beyond depressive bouts of nostalgia and a chronic intolerance for ticking clocks. Anyway, the matter wasn't definitely settled, one way or the other, but since we just entrusted another twelve-month period to the earth, I thought it was a perfect time to state my reasons for suspecting this to a broader audience – and see what you will make of it.
There was, first of all, his compelling sense of nostalgia and yearning for simpler times, which is probably why he turned to historical fiction when the 1950s rolled around – in an attempt to escape from a world that resembled his less and less with each passing year. This longing to slip through the cracks of time is reflected in the protagonists from The Devil in Velvet (1951) and Fire, Burn! (1957), who defied the then known laws of the universe and peddled up-stream in the river of time. I also think it's telling that he, more than once, compared events in his books with a Punch and Judy show (fond childhood memories clawing to the surface?).
Than there are the clocks and bells, often emerging as an allegory for death, the inevitable passing of time and usually closely associated with the demise of a character – and occasionally emblazoned with the face of the Grim Reaper himself!
Here's a list of examples:
1) The murder weapon from Death Watch (1935) is a gilded clock handle and features a macabre Skull Watch.
2) Marcus Chesney uses a clock handle as part of his psychological experiment, moments before he's murdered, in The Problem of the Green Capsule (1939).
3) A clock in a store window and the sound of church bells has an important bearing on two seemingly impossible murders in The Hollow Man (1935).
4) Another representation of death as a clock/time can be found in The Skeleton in the Clock (1948).
5) "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks," collected in a volume entitled The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes (1954), brings the great detective face to face with a man who smashes every clock he sees to pieces.
6) The victims from two stage/radio plays, "Thirteen to the Gallows" and "A Man Without a Body," were flung from the top-floor of a clock/bell tower.
7) In another radio play, "The Hangman Won't Wait," church bells are the first thing the falsely accused Helen Barton hears, when she regains her lost memory, in the condemned cell on the eve of her execution.
8) "The Villa of the Damned," yet another radio play, has a unique victim for an impossible disappearance act: time itself!
These are just the examples that I can remember, but I am sure more of them could be added to this list and I still find them, especially combined, very telling and think it gives my suspicion some credence. But I would like to know what you think: are these the ramblings of a basket case, who tries to project his own mental short comings on his hero, or the astute observations of a brilliant armchair psychologist?