An Introduction to Best-selling Novel: The House of Dr. Edwards

Written by Chris Enss


Francis Beeding is recognized as the author of the psychological thriller The House of Dr. Edwards. Beeding, however, is the noms-de-plume of accomplished authors Hilary A. Saunders and John Palmer. Together the pair created the hair-raising mystery set in a castle at the end of a secret valley high up among the rocks and pines of Savoy. Released in 1927, critics referred to The House of Dr. Edwards as “compelling,” “intense,” and “a weird tale of strange events in which the reader must decide who is sane and who are the patients.”

The House of Dr. Edwards takes place in Switzerland and the house in question is a glorified lunatic asylum to which a recently graduated, young and enthusiastic Dr. Constance Sedgwick arrives for a six months’ probationary period as assistant to Dr. Edwards, her father’s old friend. An old peasant woman warns Constance not to go to the castle in the capacity of doctor or nurse. But Dr. Sedgwick disregards the woman’s advice for, after all, what is life made up of but experiences. She’s disappointed to find Dr. Edwards absent on a holiday and Dr. Murchison in charge.

Things start out badly and become rapidly worse until at last she makes her appalling discovery that Chateau Landry (the proper name of the asylum) is and has for some time been in charge of a dangerous lunatic who has the real Dr. Murchison imprisoned. Amongst his other sinister activities, the imposter is a great student of the black arts, witches, devils, etc. Poor Dr. Edwards finally returns, but not before considerable havoc and horror have been wrought by the lunatic in charge.

Director Alfred Hitchcock bought the movie rights for himself from the authors in 1941, then sold the rights to producer David Selznick to adapt the novel into a motion picture. Academy Award winning screenwriter, Ben Hecht, wrote the script for the film entitled Spellbound. Released in 1945, Ingrid Bergman portrayed Dr. Constance Sedgwick, known in the film as Dr. Peterson, and Gregory Peck played Dr. Edwards. The name of the asylum was changed from Chateau Landry to Green Manors and much of the references to the black arts found in the book were omitted from the screen version of the work.

In Hecht’s version of The House of Dr. Edwards, Gregory Peck’s character is suffering from amnesia. He is suspected of murder and, with no memory of the past, believes he might be guilty. Ingrid Bergman, as a psychiatrist who falls in love with him, desperately tries to save him from punishment for a crime she is sure he has not committed.  How she manages to reach into the recesses of his mind and bring forth bit by bit the baffling secret his temporary loss of memory has hidden from the police forms the basis of the fascinating mystery.

Spellbound was nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture.  The strange story of insane people and their oddities made The House of Dr. Edwards a best-selling novel.

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