Wilhelmina FitzClarence (1830-1906), Countess of Munster lived a fairly standard peeress’s life – despite being an illegitimate granddaughter to William IV of England. As a young girl she travelled widely in Europe, eventually marrying her first cousin William in 1855. The couple lived in Brighton and had nine children.Wilhelmina’s first novel, Dorinda (1889), about a female art-thief, was praised by Oscar Wilde for its characterisation, although her second novel, social satire A Scotch Earl (1891), was less well-received. She also wrote numerous short stories and articles for periodicals, and published an autobiography in 1904.
Ghostly Tales (1896) consists of stories in a supernatural and/or Gothic vein and some (as in Isabella Banks’ Through the Night, which it in many ways resembles) are supposed to be drawn from stories recounted by its author’s family and friends. This is reflected in the milieu of the tales’ protagonists – the grand European tour, the marriage market and aristocratic country and town life. Although the collection contains several stories which fit easily into the traditional Victorian ghost story genre (most notably ‘The Ghost of My Dead Friend’) the volume contains a wide breadth of ‘weird’ or uncanny phenomena – from religious visions and animal telepathy to the narrator’s unsettling encounter with a mentally disturbed young man.
This is an anthology of stories and poetry published as T. Fisher Unwin’s Christmas annual for 1885. It was edited by Sir Henry Norman, a politician, journalist and author, who also edited Tales in Mid-Ocean the following year (available to read here). As the title implies, the collection features pieces appropriate for the twilight of the year, with most featuring prominent Gothic or supernatural elements. Highlights include Anne Crawford’s Vampire story, “A Mystery of the Campagna” (published under the pseudonym “Von Degen”); the humorous ‘explained supernatural’ tale, “The Spectre of Strathannan”- and an unusual foray into the Gothic from American realist William Archer.
Mary E. Penn is an enigmatic figure – nothing whatsoever is known about her other than the fact that she wrote several stories for late-Victorian periodicals, most notably The Argosy, a monthly miscellany associated with the sensation novelist Ellen Wood (not to be confused with the American periodical of the same name). Penn’s fiction encompassed supernatural and criminal themes and the last story definitely attributed to her appeared in 1897. More details about Penn and her stories can be found here.
In 1999, Richard Dalby resurrected Penn’s ghost stories for inclusion in his Mistresses of the Macabre series, published by Sarob Press. In the Dark and Other Ghost Stories (the second in the series) featured seven stories definitely attributed to Penn, and one which was published anonymously, but which Dalby ascribes to Penn on stylistic grounds. For this edition I’ve used the texts as published in The Argosy, most issues of which are available online. A linked index to each volume can be found here and is well worth having a browse for more hidden gems of Victorian genre fiction.
Guy Boothby (1867-1905) was born in Australia but spent most of his career in England. A professional writer, his most famous work is the Dr Nikola series – a sequence of five novels about a criminal mastermind determined to take over the world with the help of the occult. Boothby was tremendously prolific. His writing career took up only the last decade of his tragically short life, but during this time he produced over fifty novels.
Presented here is one of a handful of overtly supernatural novels written by Boothby. First published in 1899, it is typically late-Victorian in its concerns about contamination by a foreign other from the fringes of occidental Empire – in this case the eponymous Pharos, a grotesque Egyptian with a talent for mesmerism, who harbours an astonishing and deadly secret. Also included are three of Boothby’s best-known ghost stories, taken from his collection The Lady of the Island (1904).
Fergus Hume is best known for his first novel, the Melbourne-set detective story The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886). He was, however, an extremely prolific writer, churning out more than fifty books of detective and fantastic fiction over the next few decades. Although none of these achieved anything like as great a success as his first book, which became a publishing phenomenon, he remained fairly popular and is still a favourite with many modern-day devotees of detection, his reputation having benefited from several cheap electronic reissues and the advent of Project Gutenberg.
Hume followed up Hansom Cab with a Gothic shocker, Professor Brankel’s Secret (1886). This short novel was first published in Melbourne in an edition specifically produced for sale at railway bookstalls. It’s a fairly obvious rip-off of elements of Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but it also foreshadows some of the Edwardian weird fiction of Edward Heron-Allen, with its story of a German professor who becomes obsessed with finding the missing ingredient for a potion which he believes will grant him mystical abilities.
The original edition is extremely rare – but Hume later included the novella as a sort of ‘B feature’ to his murder mystery The Lone Inn (1894) which is, if not widely available, then at least not quite as scarce!
Best known for The Beetle (1897), Richard Marsh was a hugely prolific fin de siècle writer whose output includes several highly entertaining works characteristic of the late-Victorian mode of the Gothic. This novel, first published in 1901, begins with a haunted house and ends with a truly bizarre story of an Englishman’s transformation or, as the subtitle has it, his ‘reversion’. The nature of this horror is revealed gradually through multiple narrators, initially focussing on Mary Blyth, whose unfair dismissal from her job as a draper’s assistant turns out to be one of the least terrible events in what transpires to be the most horrific week of her life!
The novel deals in typical fashion with characteristic late-Victorian fears about racial degeneration and contamination by a foreign other. The setting too is highly characteristic, depicting London as a labyrinthine metropolis at the heart of Empire, in which mystery lurks behind the façade of every building and down every dark alley – the London of Bram Stoker, Arthur Machen, Conan Doyle and Stevenson – and is a must-read for any fans of the period’s Gothic tales.
Bernard Cape (1854-1918) was a prolific writer in various genres, but is best remembered today for his highly effective supernatural fiction. Capes took full advantage of the boom in periodical literature which made it possible, for the first time on a large scale, for people to become full-time professional writers – an occupation that had previously been, on the whole, an avocation for those already possessing a private income. He died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Largely forgotten in the following decades, his ghost stories were rediscovered by anthologists in the 1970s.
Wikipedia has interesting bibliographical information on Capes and many of his works are available via the Internet Archive. The always useful Supernatural Fiction Database has information on Capes’s supernatural fiction. His complete supernatural fiction was published by Ash Tree Press in 1998 as The Black Reaper ed. Hugh Lamb. This is long out of print in physical form, but can be bought on Kindle and at other e-bookstores. Below are formatted texts of Capes’s most famous anthology, At a Winter’s Fire (1899). Enjoy, and have a merry Christmas!