Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Mirror of Shalott (1907) by R.H. Benson

gothic cathedral

R.H. Benson’s supernatural fiction has been accused of being nothing more than thinly-veiled Catholic propaganda. This is only half true. For while his ghost stories present and promote an ontology that is rigidly Catholic,  it would be churlish to dismiss them as nothing more than mere dogma. In this second collection of uncanny tales, for example, the stories succeed through a carefully heightened sense of unease and mounting horror. Despite the underlying religious certainty, several of the tales also skilfully evoke the ‘cosmic’ horror of the weird fiction tradition, revealing an unseen world in which uncontrollable forces, immeasurably more powerful and more ancient than humanity, are locked in a constant struggle. As well as a writer of essays and fiction, Benson was an ordained Catholic priest and the stories take the form of ‘tales told at a symposium’ of priests, who pool their experiences of the supernatural in order to see if a consensus can be reached regarding the ‘point’ of these experiences in a divine schema. Unsettlingly, such a point is not immediately apparent and the narrators are left only with their faith in a merciful deity working ultimately for the benefit of humankind.

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Benson at the time of publication

Another intriguing feature of this collection is Benson’s determination to bring the process of oral storytelling to the fore and to emphasise its relationship to the impact of the stories on the listeners present. All three of the Benson brothers had been present at M.R. James’s ghost story readings, but Robert Benson’s tales differ from James’s in that they make the immediate (although, admittedly invented) context of the tales’ reception an intrinsic part of the tale itself and of its effect. This is an appropriate device given that the ‘ghost’ in many of the tales is not a visible spectre, but rather a malevolent atmosphere, doubt or dread – a lingering emotional response that has somehow become untethered from the events that originally inspired it and has taken on a life of its own…

A Mirror of Shalott [Kindle]

A Mirror of Shalott [Epub]

A Mirror of Shalott [PDF]

The collection first appeared in 1907 and this text is based on a 1912 reprint, which corrects several errors in the original printing and changed the subtitle slightly: the original subtitle was ‘tales told at an unprofessional symposium’.

Through the Night (1882) by Isabella Banks

Through the Night Cover (337x521)

Isabella Banks (born Isabella Varley and sometimes identified as Mrs G. Linnaeus Banks after her marriage to George) is best known for her novels and poems of life in the north of England, the most famous being The Manchester Man (1876).

Through the Night white woman (574x405)

This rare collection of Banks’s supernatural fiction was published in 1882. As well as several excellent Victorian ghost stories, the collection also includes entertaining accounts of folklore and the charming fairy tale, ‘Larry’s Apprenticeship’. This edition is based on the text of the first edition, specifically on the MS Word version prepared for the Salamanca Corpus digitisation project. The project aims to provide source documents for the study of British dialects. I extend my grateful thanks to Dr Javier Ruano-Garcìa, who produced the Salamanca transcription, and to Dr Maria F. Garcia-Bermeja Giner, the project leader, for permission to use their work. I have also consulted the text of the second ‘cheap’ edition, digitised by the Bodleian Library and available here.

Through the Night [Kindle]

Through the Night [Epub]

Through the Night [PDF]

Through the Night Cover piper's ghost (653x612)

Widdershins (1911)

ghost lady

Widdershins (1911) is a classic collection of supernatural stories by George Oliver Onions (1873-1961). Onions was a prolific novelist and poet, as well as a skilled illustrator and designer. This is his first of three collections of supernatural fiction and contains the first book appearance of the highly-regarded short story ‘The Beckoning Fair One’. ‘Widdershins’ is an occult term indicating a direction or movement counter to the course of the sun – i.e. anti-clockwise or lefhandwise – generally as a means of avoiding bad luck.

Widdershins [Kindle]

Widdershins [Epub]

Widdershins [PDF]

Frivola (1896)

Haunted Library

Augustus Jessopp (1823-1914) was a schoolteacher, cleric and antiquary, and was also a prolific writer of entertaining historical and antiquarian articles for various periodicals (most notably The Nineteenth Century). For readers of supernatural and Gothic fiction, however, Jessopp’s work is of interest mainly as a possible source of inspiration for the ‘antiquarian’ ghost stories of M.R. James. This is most obviously reflected by the title of ‘An Antiquary’s Ghost Story’, included in Frivola, a collection of essays published by Jessopp in 1896. The collection also includes an essay on ‘The Dying Out of the Marvellous’, which seems to encapsulate the ethos of the antiquarian ghost story, as well as ‘The Phantom Coach’. I’ve also included Jessopp’s essay on Hill-digging and magic (a possible source for James’s ‘A Warning to the Curious’) as an Appendix.

In addition to these pieces, Frivola also includes the powerful (but little-read) novella ‘Simon Ryan’ – a tale of religious mania with several Gothic elements.

Frivola [Kindle]

Frivola [Epub]

Frivola [PDF]

Critical edition:

The Phantom Coach and Other Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, introduced by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (Richard H.Fawcett, 1998). [The Introduction is available to read on Salmonson’s website]

A note on copyright:

The text is a collation of the first and second editions (1896 and 1907) and I explain my editorial choices in a textual note within the ebook. In this sense, the ebook offered here is a totally new edition of Jessopp’s collection, unavailable elsewhere. This makes it slightly different from the other books on offer at this blog. As with all the other files on this site, readers are free to use or distribute this ebook in any way they choose without my prior permission. This also applies to the individual pieces contained within the present ebook. If anyone wishes to reproduce the ebook in full, however, I would greatly appreciate if they could acknowledge this blog as a source.

Phantom Coach