Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was a prolific and hugely popular writer who wrote in many genres, and whose early realist novels were nurtured by a friendship with Henry James. He also wrote popular fiction for a juvenile readership, along with historical romances for older readers. His career as a writer was a refuge from an emotionally traumatic youth and young manhood, in which he grappled with an unhappy school life, latent homosexuality (including an early and powerful crush on fellow ghost-story writer and mentor A.C. Benson) and a waning religious faith that put paid to his father’s ambitions for his son to join him in a clerical career. Walpole earned critical and commercial success as a professional writer, but this was only one aspect of an eventful, if tragically short life – so much so that it’s hard to summarise here. His Wikipedia page is worth a look for his wartime activities alone, and I shall certainly be reading more by Walpole in the future, beyond the supernatural stories, which were the only part of his life and work I had so far been familiar with.
Since his death, Walpole has come to be recognised as a master of the supernatural tale and a staple of ghost story anthologies. His 1933 collection All Souls’ Night contains sixteen examples – including such well-known stories as ‘The Little Ghost’, ‘The Silver Mask’ and the werewolf narrative ‘Tarnhelm’.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Unfortunately, this work is not in the public domain in the U.S.A. – in order to comply with United States copyright legislation, readers in that country should not download the ebook. The book is available to purchase from Valancourt Books, in an edition which includes a scholarly introduction by John Howard.
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.
John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922) was an American writer, mainly of humorous fiction, and editor of the popular Harper’s Weekly, as well as the New Metropolitan Magazine. In 1904, he became the editor of Puck, a successful American humour magazine.
Amongst his prolific output are many volumes of supernatural novels and stories, mainly in keeping with his predilection for humour and parody. His short supernatural fiction appeared in three story collections, pictured above and published between 1894 and 1901. Facsimiles of the fully illustrated first editions can be seen here and here. The illustrations from Over the Plum-Pudding can be seen here.
“I thought a mile was the proper distance” [Illustration from ‘The Flunking of Watkins’s Ghost’]
The first of four festive ebooks I’ve prepared for the blog, this is a collection of Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories with a Christmas (or at least a wintery) setting. There’s nothing startlingly new here – all of these tales have been widely anthologised before – but they’re just the thing for the darkest nights of the year.
This special anthology was published in 1885 (dated 1886) by T. Fisher Unwin as that year’s Unwin’s Christmas Annual. It is formed of seven stories, together with an introductory chapter setting up a framing narrative by Henry Norman (pictured above), which is returned to at the end of each subsequent tale. This connecting narrative concerns a group of travellers on a transatlantic crossing. When their ship, the Bavaria suffers a ‘broken shaft’, they are forced to remain becalmed mid-ocean, telling stories to pass the time.
As well as being an entertaining collection of late-Victorian short fiction in its own right, the annual represents the original publication of three classic supernatural stories – ‘The Upper Birth’ by F. Marion Crawford, ‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson and ‘Marjory’ by F. Anstey. The other stories in the collection are; ‘The Action to the World’ by Walter Herries Pollock, ‘My Fascinating Friend’ by William Archer, ‘Riley, M.P.’ by Tighe Hopkins and ‘Love and Lightning’ by Henry Norman. A charming literary-historical feature is the caricatured versions of the writers, who figure as themselves in the framing narratives. Crawford is referred to as ‘the Novelist’, Stevenson as ‘the Romancer’, Pollock as ‘the Editor’ and Archer as ‘the Critic’ while, as a contemporary review from the Princetonian (the Princeton University newspaper) points out, ‘Beatrice’ and ‘the Eminent Tragedian’ are easily identifiable as Ellen Terry and Henry Irving (this anonymous review, together with another from the Saturday Review, is included below as a curiosity).