Sunday, 6 March 2011

Madam Crowl's Ghost

In judging the quality of this collection of ghost stories by Sheridan Le Fanu I think it's worth mentioning that this particular collection was compiled by M.R. James to bring together all of Le Fanu's anonymously published supernatural short stories. It's not a collection of his best work, far from it. Le Fanu's writings throw up all sorts of obstacles for the more ordered reader wishing to read all of his back catalogue. Many of these stories appeared uncredited in Le Fanu's own Dublin University Magazine or Dickens' famous periodical All the Year Round. James' included notes are invaluable to anybody embarking on a Le Fanu reading list. Though Le Fanu's penchant for publishing his stories, ideas and characters many times, often revised in small ways, completely rewritten, or subsumed into other works, tests even James' extensive study of his works. These stories are often set in the author's native Ireland or in the North of England, some very close to where I live in Lancashire. The English setting, mostly in his later works was an attempt to appeal to the larger English market. Exploiting the English market was probably one of the factors resulting in some of the revised publications.
Le Fanu is rightly acknowledged as one of history's finest writers in the genre of the ghost story. Though none of his very best are included here. His stories are often characterised by a slow build up of atmosphere through the use of highly evocative language, with the supernatural elements often included sketchily or by implication. It's a formula that he made himself master of, though this collection does highlight some of his shortcomings. His syntax sometimes becomes meandering. His habit of transcribing regional dialects directly into the dialogue does add local flavour but more often renders the text almost indecipherable. Sometimes his story structure is undermined by the inclusion of little extras tagged onto the endings. There is still much to be admired. My favourite story from this collection is 'An Account Of Some Strange Disturbances In Aungier Street'. Very creepy. though even this does sport some of those extras I mentioned or as Le Fanu would have it some 'valuable collateral particulars'.

Stories included are:

Madam Crowl's Ghost
Squire Toby's Will
Dickon the Devil
The Child that Went with the Fairies
The White Cat of Drumgunnoil
An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street
Ghost Stories of Chapelizod
Wicked Captain Walshawe of Wauling
Sir Dominick's Bargain
Ultor de Lacy: A Legend of Cappercullen
The Vision of Tom Chuff
Stories of Lough Guir

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