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Savor this supernatural feast
on January 16, 2007
For the sake of atmosphere, read "Victorian Ghost Stories" with a candle to light your way through its mysterious passages.
A very large candle.
There are thirty-five stories within its four-hundred-and-eighty-nine pages, and you must read them all before dawn.
Actually, you should savor this supernatural feast one story at a time. Its editors, who are both scholars of occult literature, collected the best of the best from the Golden Age of ghost story writing. If you are already a reader of the phantasmagoric, some of the anthology will be familiar, e.g. "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street," "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," or "John Charrington's Wedding."
There are also lesser-known tales of vengeful ghosts, haunted houses, and "things in a dead man's eye," the latter courtesy of Rudyard Kipling's "At the End of the Passage."
According to the editors' introduction, one of their aims for this anthology was to "map out the development of the Victorian ghost story from circa 1850...it is in the 1850s that the distinct, anti-Gothic character of the Victorian ghost story begins to emerge." Which is not to say that the Gothic emphasis on moldering sepulchres is altogether missing. Try "The Tomb of Sarah" by F. G. Loring, whose story begins with the memorial inscription:
"SARAH. 1630. FOR THE SAKE OF THE DEAD AND THE WELFARE OF THE LIVING, LET THIS SEPULCHRE REMAIN UNTOUCHED AND ITS OCCUPANT UNDISTURBED TILL THE COMING OF CHRIST."
Of course, the story's protagonist believes he has an excellent reason for disturbing the dead. Or in Sarah's case, the Undead.
Make certain your candle is not burning low before you start "The Tomb of Sarah," or any of the other tales in this haunting collection.
A sampling of the stories:
"Father Macclesfield's Tale" (1907) by Monsignor R.H. Benson--This author was a lesser-known brother of the famed E.F. Benson, and private chamberlain to Pope Pius X. This story is narrated by a priest who is called to the death-bed of a man who could not tolerate the thought of annihilation.
"The Kit Bag" (1908) by Algernon Blackwood--The private secretary of a criminal lawyer accidentally takes home the kit bag of a brutal murderer to pack up for a Christmas trip to the Alps.
"An Eddy on the Floor" (1899) by Bernard Capes--The warden of one of His Majesty's prisons invites a young doctor to accept a post at the prison. The new physician soon learns that a certain empty cell was not only bolted, but screwed shut from the outside. All of the prisoners are afraid of it.
"The Old Nurse's Story" (1852) by Elizabeth Gaskell--A young girl goes to work as little Rosamund's maid at Furnivall Manor, a very grand mansion located at the foot of the lonely Cumberland Fells. Rosamund's distant relative, eighty-year-old Miss Furnival is a proud, cold spinster with many secrets to hide.
"At the End of the Passage" (1890) by Rudyard Kipling--A very atmospheric tale of four English Civil servants who are trying to cope with the dust, heat, and disease of an Indian summer. One of them admits that he can't sleep. In fact it terrifies him to even think of falling asleep.
"John Charrington's Wedding" (1891) by E. Nesbit--A much-collected Victorian ghost story. It's bad enough when brides are accidentally locked into chests or pursued by demon lovers, but when the groom is overheard telling his fiancée, "My dear, my dear, I believe I should come from the dead if you wanted me!" watch out!
"The Body-snatcher" (1884) by Robert Louis Stevenson--"To see, fixed in the rigidity of death and naked on the coarse layer of sack-cloth, the man whom he had left well-clad and full of meat and sin upon the threshold of a tavern, awoke, even in the thoughtless Fettes, some of the terrors of the conscience." Two medical students venture into a graveyard to find a subject for dissection.
"Thurnley Abbey" (1908) by Perceval Landon--The new owners of Thurnley Abbey invite one of their friends to stay overnight, without telling him that he will be sleeping in the haunted bedroom. Believing the creature that appears at his bedfoot to be a hoax, the angry guest tears it apart bone by bone.