Category Archives: Folklore

Legendary Tales (1830) by H. Fox Talbot

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This collection of stories in verse and prose was published in London in 1830 by James Ridgeway. Most of the pieces contain supernatural elements and all of them are in the tradition of the Gothic “first wave” of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Talbot translated or adapted them from various sources which had themselves collected them from the folklore of various European countries. The fashion for such stories is attested in Talbot’s correspondence (which you can read at the excellent website from which much of this biographical information is drawn) in which he states that he has written them to be published specifically to coincide with the London “season”.

Talbot was born in 1800. His father was William Davenport Talbot, who died when his son was only months old. Talbot’s mother, Elisabeth Theresa, remarried in 1804 to Captain Charles Fielding, who came to occupy in Talbot’s affections the place of his biological father.

Talbot is a well-known figure to historians of nineteenth-century culture, but not for his literary ventures (Legendary Tales is his only literary work). Rather, he is known as a pioneer of photography. While he was not the first to create a method of producing light-fast and permanent photographic images, Talbot is credited with the invention of the negative-positive process of reproducing pictures – that is, the method by which one negative is used to produce several positive reproductions. The image below, of a window of the family estate at Lacock Abbey, taken in 1835, is the earliest known surviving camera negative.

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In 1844-46, Talbot was also responsible for the first commercially-published photo-illustrated book – The Pencil of Nature, which is both a book of photographs, and a book about the process and art of photography, then a cutting-edge science.

While Talbot is well-known as a pioneer of photographic reproduction, his volume of Gothic tales relies on the mind’s eye in its evocation of the supernatural sublime and is an enjoyable reminder of the fashionable tastes of early-nineteenth-century society.

Legendary Tales [Kindle]

Legendary Tales [Epub]

Legendary Tales [PDF]

I have made very few edits to the text and have largely retained the original’s somewhat erratic use (or non-use) of speech marks and the convention of capitalising random nouns. In some cases, adjusting the settings of the e-reader display from ‘portrait’ to ‘landscape’ will ensure that poems with longer lines display correctly.

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Kalee’s Shrine (1886) by Grant Allen and May Cotes

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This intriguing, but little-known ‘imperial Gothic’ novel begins in dramatic fashion when an anglo-Indian infant is made a votary of Kalee, vengeful goddess of the Thugs. Years later, the baby has grown into beautiful Olga Trevelyan. But it soon transpires that Kalee’s nefarious influence still lurks in Olga’s unconscious mind, waiting to be reawakened.

V0045118 Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

As with many an ‘imperial Gothic’ novel, the theme of reverse colonisation – the fear that England’s subjugated realms might possess the strength to fight back and overthrow the imperial centre – looms large. For me, the theme of mesmerism, an ancient supernatural force embodied in a threatening foreign other, and a peaceful English seaside setting is also heavily redolent of Dracula. I don’t know if Stoker had read Allen’s novel, but it wouldn’t surprise me! Unlike Stoker, however, Allen’s staunch sense of the rational (he had begun life as an evolutionary biologist) leads him to obfuscate the supernatural element, inventing a number of pseudo-scientific explanations that cast doubt on the paranormal elements of the book. Even so, the tale ends on an unsettling note of ambiguity, which implies that even if modern science is strong enough to combat effects of supernatural evil, it may not be able to explain it away.

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Nothing is known of ‘May Cotes’, beyond the fact that she was the young woman (possibly Anglo-Indian) who first came up with the original idea for the story. She contacted the folklorist and historian Andrew Lang, who suggested she collaborate with Grant Allen. Allen himself was a prolific author of fiction, particularly famous for his New Woman novel The Woman Who Did (1895) and for speculative works like The British Barbarians (1895) – both of which appeared as part of John Lane’s infamous ‘Keynotes’ series of 1890s fiction. Kalee’s Shrine (1886) is little-read today, but deserves to be rediscovered – especially by readers interested in late-Victorian or imperial forms of the Gothic.

Kalee’s Shrine [Kindle]

Kalee’s Shrine [Epub]

Kalee’s Shrine [PDF]

EDIT: A recent update to Allen J. Hubin’s definitive bibliography of crime fiction reveals more information about the elusive May Coates.

The Lancashire Witches (1848) by William Harrison Ainsworth

Witches 7William Harrison Ainsworth’s fictionalised account of the Pendle Witch trials, which occurred in his native Lancashire during the 16th century, adds a number of overtly supernatural elements. As a result, the novel had a significant impact on the traditional appearance of the witch in the popular imagination, including the trademark black clothes and pointed hat.

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The novel is based on Thomas Potts’s The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster (1603), an edition of which had recently been edited by Ainsworth’s friend, the antiquary James Crossley. Crossley’s edition of Potts’s book is available to download here.

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The illustrations on this page are by John Gilbert.

The Lancashire Witches [Kindle]

The Lancashire Witches [Epub]

The Lancashire Witches [PDF]

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Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Stories (1923) by Sheridan Le Fanu

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This is a posthumous collection of ghost stories by Sheridan Le Fanu which, at the time of publication, remained uncollected since their original appearance in various Victorian periodicals, most notably the Dublin University Magazine and Charles Dickens’s All the Year Round. The collection was edited by M.R. James, upon whose fiction Le Fanu was a great influence. As well as selecting the stories, James also provided an introductory note, a bibliography and a brief bibliographic introduction to each story in the collection. The original title was ‘Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery’, but I’ve shortened it here in order that it might better fit the screen of an e-reader.

Madam Crowl’s Ghost [Kindle]

Madam Crowl’s Ghost [Epub]

Madam Crowl’s Ghost [PDF]

James’s collection led to a revival of interest in Le Fanu studies and he would no doubt have been pleased to know that an open access journal dedicated to the author is published twice yearly.

Most of Le Fanu’s short fiction can be read online here. More of James’s own thoughts on Le Fanu’s writing can be found in his unpublished lecture on the author, available at the Ghosts & Scholars website.

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Through the Night (1882) by Isabella Banks

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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).

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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]

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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

Tales of Terror and Wonder by M.G. Lewis and Others

NPG D12778; 'Tales of wonder!' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

This is a compendium of late-eighteenth-century Gothic ballads, published in 1887 and comprising the contents of two collections: the anonymous Tales of Terror (1801) and M.G. Lewis’s collection, Tales of Wonder (1800). The style and subject matter of the poems will be familiar to all readers of Gothic literature from this period, being full of maidens in distress, brave knights, medieval trappings, ecclesiastical ruins and an array of ghosts, demons, goblins and sprites. Some of the pieces are not for the faint-of-heart – the word ‘gore’ appears twenty times across the two collections! Indeed, Lewis’s writing approaches knowing self-parody at times and his approach is often as blackly comic as it is horribly gruesome. There is more than a hint of this in the image above – James Gillray’s cartoon “Tales of wonder!” (1802) – which lampoons the presumed reading public to which Lewis (pictured below) catered. For an insightful analysis of the cartoon, see the first chapter of E.J. Clery’s The Rise of Supernatural Fiction (Cambridge University Press, 1995). The illustration at the bottom of the post depicts a scene from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Glenfinlas’, which Lewis included in Tales of Wonder.

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Textually, these volumes have proved notoriously problematic for scholars. Henry Morely, who edited this compilation for his ‘Universal Library’ series provides an introduction which, while charming in its biographical details, is entirely spurious in its description of the tales’ bibliographical history. I have used Morley’s texts, which are by far the most conveniently available in the public domain, but have corrected the dates of the individual collections. For a useful discussion of the tales and their publishing history, see Douglass H. Thomson’s annotated edition of Sir Walter Scott’s related Apology for Tales of Terror (1799), with which the anonymous Tales of Terror (1801) is often confused, as well as Thomson’s essay on the tales, ‘Mingled Measures: Gothic Parody in Tales of Wonder and Tales of Terror.

Tales of Terror and Wonder [Kindle]

Tales of Terror and Wonder [Epub]

Tales of Terror and Wonder [PDF]

Critical edition:

Lewis, M.G., Tales of Wonder, edited by Douglass H. Thomson (Broadview Press, 2009)

If anyone knows of a critical edition of Tales of Terror, I would love to hear from you, so that I can add the details to this post – see the contact form at the top of the blog.

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