Monday, 25 July 2011

Victorian Ghost Stories

Excellent selection of 35 ghost stories from the Victorian age, chronologically compiled here dating from 1852-1908. The stories included have been selected as much for aspects of innovation or for the part they played in influencing stylistic developments within the genre than their actual quality. Though there are some great ghost stories here and barring three or four stories are generally of very good quality.
Along with the stories are a comprehensive list of all ghost story collections published during the half century of years following 1840, full source details for the 35 stories and an introduction by editor Michael Cox.
Highlights for me include:
The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell. It's probably the best written ghost story here with superb characterisation, lush prose and as a ghost story endlessly imitated even today.
An Account Of Some Strange Disturbances In Aungier Street by J.S.Le Fanu. One of his best and the veteran of countless anthologies.
The Open Door by Charlotte Riddell. Not particularly scary but a well written example of its type and introducing a rare detective element.
The Captain of the Pole-star by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Eery arctic tale coloured by Doyle's own experience of life on a steam-whaler.
The Kit-bag by Algernon Blackwood. Only Blackwood could imbue such an innocent inanimate object with such a deep sense of malevolent dread.
The only ones I'd have left out would be:
An Eddy On The Floor by Bernard Capes which although suitably macabre is also a shade too long compared to the other entries and probably the least accessible due to its convoluted syntax.
Miss Jeromette And The Clergyman
- a very weak effort by Wilkie Collins.
The Tomb of Sarah by F.G.Loring - Nice story but very much a vampire tale.
Reading these in order shows how the genre developed. It's a genre that in the Victorian era was very much designed to be read aloud at the fireside after dinner and ever associated with mid winter and Christmas. It goes through phases of doomed love triangles, vengeful victims, tragic victims of accident defeating mortality to see their loved ones a final time, portentous warnings, cursed objects and places, spiritualism, tragic reenactments etc.
There will probably never be a definitive collection of ghost stories. The editor could easily have selected 35 alternate stories and still pleased this reader as much. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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