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Short Story Monday: Virago Book of Ghost Stories, part one

October 26, 2009

ViragoBookofGhostStoriesSorry that I’m double-posting today! But it’s my usual day for talking about short stories (thanks to John Mutford’s Short Story Monday feature), and since I’m 100 pages into The Virago Book of Ghost Stories ed. by Richard Dalby and have yet to talk about any of the stories, I’m worried about falling too far behind!

I’ve read 12 stories (two of them micro-style) so far, and while they haven’t all frightened me, I have definitely enjoyed them all. These are my kind of R.I.P. short stories…all with ghosts, perhaps a bit gothic, and on the quiet, gentle side of scary. Plus, the introduction by Jennifer Uglow was a fascinating exploration of why some many women authors have written ghost stories. Here’s a bit I’d love to hear your thoughts on:

Ghost stories, however, often turn out to be more than games, and burying myself enjoyably in these ghoulish tales, I am haunted (in more way than one) by the way in which the wraiths seem to emanate from women’s lives, from their longings, their anger, their fear and their struggles. Women bring to their writing the qualities of their particular experience, their history of living on the margins.

The collection began with one of my favourite authors, Edith Wharton (have you read her short story “Roman Fever”? Go read it now). “The Eyes” is a psychological ghost story, and as you might expect from Wharton it revolves around how the choices we make affect our lifes. It had a classic, comfortable set up: a group of friends are around a fire and decide to tell each other ghost stories…

Seen through the haze of our cigars, and by the drowsy gleam of a coal fire, Culwin’s library, with its oak walls and dark old bindings, made a good setting for such avocations; and ghostly experiences at first hand being, after Murchard’s opening, the only kind acceptable to us, we proceeded to take stock of our group and tax each member for a contribution.

While the first seven stories are apparently standard, when they finally prevail upon their older host himself to tell a story, it is a disturbing one about eyes that have haunted him and deprived him of sleep at crucial crossroads in his life. I won’t go into more detail, but it was quite enjoyable. And if I’ve peaked your interest, you can read it online for free.

The next story, “The Violet Car” by Edith Nesbit (best known for her children’s books), was one of my favourites so far. The opening cracked me up (especially since I’d just read a ridiculously over-written story from Poe’s Children); it begins with a paragraph of very flowery and metaphor-laden description of the moors, then changes to the second paragraph and this:

I am unaccustomed to literary effort-and I feel that I shall not say what I have to say, or that it will convince you, unless I say it very plainly. I thought I could adorn my story with pleasant words, prettily arranged. But as I pause to think of what really happened, I see that the plainest words will be best. I do not know how to weave a plot, nor how to embroider it. It is best not to try.

Our honest narrator is a nurse, who ends up in the Moors after being sent to take care of a mental patient. The house she arrives at is the home of an elderly couple, and soon she realises she’s not sure which one is mad. Isn’t that a great set up? It’s a pretty short one, so I won’t say more about it, but I loved it! And because I love you all as well, I found a free copy for you to read online (it’s in PDF format).

rip4Henrietta Everett’s “The Crimson Blind” was a marvelous haunted house story, that involves both boys seeking adventures, and later house owners who don’t believe in all that supernatural nonsense. As with so many childhood pranks, it begins with a dare. Ronald has come to visit his cousins, and since he is shy and Scottish, they’ve been teasing him when they find out he believes in ghosts.

“Would you like to see one? Now give a straight answer for once” -and Jack winked at his brother.
“I wouldn’t mind. Then, more stoutly: “Yes, I would like-if I”d the chance.”
“I think we can give you a chance of seeing something, if not exactly a ghost. We’ve got non Highland castles to tot out, but there’s a house here in Swanmere said to be haunted. Just the thing for you to investigate, now you are on the spot. Will you take it on?”
It would have been fatal to say no, and give these cousins the opening to post him as a coward.

While the plot isn’t new, the writing was great, and I really enjoyed reading it. :) You can read this one online for free as well, once again in PDF format.

“The Token” by May Sinclair has a wonderful opening line:

I have only known one absolutely aodrable woman, and that was my brother’s wife, Cicely Dunbar.

Doesn’t that make you want to keep reading?! It’s a story of confused love, and a sad ghost, and it’s short and sweet. :) I’ve found this one available for free online as well for you (at this rate, you’ll all be able to read this anthology via the internet! hehe).

Now we come to my other favourite of those I’ve read so far: Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadowy Third.” It involves another nurse, although she is new to the profession and easily impressed. And her assignment is to stay in a city, not go to the moors, and take care of a surgeon’s ailing wife. Actually, I can say that this is my definite favourite of the ones I’ve read so far; I keep thinking backing to it and smiling. It’s exactly the kind of ghost story I love! I don’t want to say anymore about it, for fear of giving something away, so go read it for free for yourself. I definitely want to read more of Glasgow’s work in the future! (She was the first author in the book I’d never heard of before.)

“The Return” by Marjory Lambe is my least favourite so far. It’s very short, only four and a half pages, and it feels like it’s the middle bit in a story that’s missing its beginning and ending. So I felt a bit confused throughout, and at the end I was still unsure of it. I’ve never read Lambe before; have any of you? If so, can you recommend something of hers for me to read? (I like to give authors a second chance.) I couldn’t find a copy online, otherwise I was going to ask y’all to go read and explain it to me. :)

Margery Lawrence’s “The Haunted Saucepan” amused me. It was definitely gothic, in the vein of Lady Audley’s Secret, but with a hint of Jeeves and Wooster as well. That combination totally works for me! I can’t find this one online either. But here’s an excerpt from the guy telling the story, so you can see how he talks:

The address was just what I wanted, the rent almost increidbly low-I jumped into a taxi and rushed round to see it, feeling sure there must be a catch somewhere, but it was a delightful flat, nicely furnished and as complete in every detail as you could wish. I was cautious and asked all shorts of questions, but as far as the agent knew it was a straightforward deal enough-the lady was staying abroad indefinitely, the previous tenants had gone. …Why did they leave? I wanted to know … but the agent played with his pencil and assured me he didn’t know. Illness in the family made them decide to leave very suddenly, he belived. ..Well, at any rate, a week’s time saw me settled in, with my faithful man Strutt to do for me-you know Strutt, of course-one of the best fellows that ever lived?

Doesn’t that remind you a bit of a toned-down Bertie?! Not to mention the rather fantastic title of the story. ;) But, as we all know, when you find a wonderful place at a much lower rent than it should be, there is probably something supernatural afoot, and that’s exactly what happens in this story. Lawrence is another author I hadn’t heard of before reading this anthology, and she’s now on my TBR list!

Well, I’m quite tired out, so I’ll save the others that I read for next Monday. :) Suffice it say, if you enjoy classic ghost stories, you should definitely try to get your hands on this anthology! I LOVE it, and the modern cover (the one I’ve used in this post) is SO gorgeous, I’m thinking I might have to buy this with a gift certificate I’ve been saving! I’m also especially happy knowing there’s a companion anthology (The Virago Book of Victorian Ghost Stories) waiting for me when I finish this one.

What’s your favourite ghost story?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2009 12:49 pm

    I’m soooo looking forward to this book! My husband bought it for me for my birthday earlier this month. He knows I’ve been enjoying ghost stories and thought I’d enjoy this one with all women authors. He is so sweet. I didn’t know about the Victorian Ghost Stories companion. I’ll be looking for that one in the future! All of this ghost-storiness is making me want to squeal with happiness :o)

  2. October 26, 2009 1:48 pm

    What a great post…yet another book to add to my wishlist

  3. October 26, 2009 2:05 pm

    I had to order the DVD from England because they did not have it in Finnish stores. Finnish stores never have good DVDs.
    I haven’t read the book yet either, I bought it a while ago, I hope I have time to read it soon.
    I hope you enjoy the book, you must tell me what you think if you read it! :)

  4. historyofshe permalink
    October 26, 2009 2:21 pm

    I like the quote about women being horror authors and I can totally see it being true. This is especially true for Mary Shelley’s times when women were most definitely second class citizens– where else could they publicly get out there frustrations than in a book?

    Great post!

  5. October 26, 2009 3:15 pm

    This sounds great, will check out some of those stories when i have some time. I’m reading the Virago Book of Witches at the mo, witch stories from across the world. So far they have all been very short but generally very good.

  6. October 26, 2009 4:05 pm

    This one seemed to be a popular one during the read-a-thon and based on your review above, I can see why! Sounds like one I should pick up.

    How funny that you liked I, Coriander better than The Red Necklace! Maybe it’s based on which you read first? Or, to be honest, I must admit that I am pretty biased towards any books that take place during the French Revolution…

  7. October 26, 2009 6:26 pm

    I’ve this book in my pile and I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Eva! :)

  8. October 26, 2009 6:41 pm

    I love Edith Wharton!
    What a great review! I’ll have to add this to my list.

  9. October 27, 2009 7:23 am

    this sounds like a good collection to read! Thanks for the review.

  10. October 27, 2009 5:48 pm

    Terri, that’s so wonderful of your husband! I think you’ll really enjoy it. :)

    Tracee, I’m glad you liked the post!

    Milka, Well, you have the DVD now!

    HistoryofShe, isn’t it an interesting quote?! I agree; thinking about women throughout history makes me sad. :(

    Katrina, that sounds like fun! I think Virago must do the best story anthologies.

    Aarti, I already e-mailed you about I, Coriander, ;) Definitely give this anthology a try!

    Melody, you’ll like it! :)

    Allie, isn’t Wharton awesome!?

    Serena, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  11. October 27, 2009 9:13 pm

    I’ve been looking for a good “scary” book to read for this Halloween season……. this one sounds like a dandy!

  12. October 28, 2009 1:35 pm

    I love a good anthology of Ghost Stories!

  13. October 28, 2009 4:35 pm

    I find this cover kind of comical, except for the guy hanging in the corner, which is sufficiently creepy.

  14. October 29, 2009 5:13 am

    This looks like a terrific collection of ghost stories! Thanks for the review and for the links to online stories.

    I’d never read anything by Edith Wharton until just a few weeks ago when Roman Fever was one of the first short stories I studied for a lit class on the use of plot and alternating perspectives. I just fell in love with the style of writing, so I am hoping to find some more of her work to check out.

  15. October 31, 2009 8:49 pm

    Cipriano, I hope you enjoy it. :)

    Chris, this one is definitely that!

    JT, I love line drawings; that’s why I like it. :)

    Joanne, I’m glad you enjoyed it! Isn’t “Roman Fever” marvelous?


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