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.
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.
Vernon Lee was the pseudonym of Violet Paget (1856-1935). She is best remembered today for her ghost stories and her essays on aestheticism. Indeed, the latter heavily informs the former, and her celebrated supernatural fiction is highly wrought, unashamedly decadent and dripping with the atmosphere of Renaissance Europe, which she so successfully captured in her non-fictional work. Born to expatriate parents, Paget spent most of her life on the continent, mainly in Italy where she lived for most of her life in a villa just outside Florence. She was a pacifist, a New Woman, an advocate of female same-sex passion, a democrat and an aesthete who developed a theory of aesthetics founded upon the idea that to consume a work of art is to develop an an intensely empathic connection with it. Her ideas were thus at the forefront of fin de siècle thinking – and make for a unique and memorable collection of stories.
The increasing interest in Paget’s supernatural fiction in recent in recent years is evidenced by the long-overdue publication of her complete supernatural tales (Ash Tree Press, 2002) and a scholarly edition of Hauntings (Broadview Press, 2006). The latter remains her best-known collection and is presented here as perfect reading for Hallowe’en!
“In ‘The Dead Valley’ the eminent architect and mediævalist Ralph Adams Cram achieves a memorably potent degree of vague regional horror through subtleties of atmosphere and description.”
Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) was a noted architect of collegiate and ecclesiastical buildings. Born in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire in December 1863, Cram was apprenticed to the architects Rotch and Tilden in Boston, before moving to Rome to study classical architecture. In 1887, he converted to Roman Catholicism. He designed or co-designed the Cathedral of St John the Divine and Saint Thomas Church (both in New York city) but is probably best known as the architect of Princeton University, a major example of his passion for the Gothic Revival in architecture.
Appropriately, given his penchant for the Gothic in architecture, Cram’s only major foray into fiction is the highly regarded collection of horror stories, Black Spirits and White (1895), whose name derives from Macbeth Act IV, Scene i. Of particular note is the final story in the collection, ‘The Dead Valley’, whose memorable climax was singled out by H.P. Lovecraft as a favourite moment in the history of supernatural fiction.
At last, the first lady of the Gothic makes a long-overdue debut on the blog. The last of her novels to be published in Ann Radcliffe’s lifetime, The Italian: or the Confessional of the Black Penitents was written in response to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796). Whereas Lewis’s novel employed a panoply of demons, ghosts and gore that bordered on camp, Radcliffe’s more subtle account of the machinations of the evil Father Schedoni puts into practice her preference for terror (the sublime stimulation of the nervousness or anxiety that foreshadows horrific events) over horror (the abject revulsion that inevitably greets the horrific reality of catastrophes and abominations directly observed). Presented in the form of an assassin’s confession, the resultant psychological drama is amongst the best the genre (and Radcliffe) has to offer.
Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was an experienced and highly-regarded naval officer, who had fought with distinction in the Napoleonic wars, during which career he also invented a maritime flag signalling system, which bears his name and is still widely used. As if this weren’t enough, he was also a prolific writer of fiction, wildly popular during the nineteenth century and hugely influential in the adventure genre. He is perhaps best known today for his children’s novels, Mr Midshipman Easy (1836) and The Children of the New Forest (1847).
The Phantom Ship (1839) is his only overtly supernatural novel. It is based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman – a ghostly vessel cursed to sail around the Cape of Good Hope for all eternity. The novel is a sort of sequel to the legend, in which Philip Vanderdecken, the son of the ship’s Dutch captain, battles to save his father from the curse. One particularly memorable section involves an insert story featuring a werewolf, which has been widely anthologised as ‘The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains’.