Category Archives: Horror

All Souls’ Night (1933) by Hugh Walpole

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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’.

All Souls’ Night [Kindle]

All Souls’ Night [Epub]

All Souls’ Night [PDF]

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.

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The Joss: A Reversion (1901)

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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.

The Joss: A Reversion [Kindle]

The Joss: A Reversion [Epub]

The Joss: A Reversion [PDF]

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Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James

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Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), Biblical scholar, antiquary and mediaeval historian is also, quite possibly, the twentieth century’s most influential writer of ghost stories. His tales of leisured Edwardian gentleman-academics whose narrow-minded investigations bring them into contact with nameless horrors from the past are flat-out classics of the genre and their reputation was enhanced by several highly-regarded BBC television adaptations in the 1970s – adaptations that echoed the stories’ original conception as tales to raise a chill around the Christmas fire.

And yet, James never intended to publish his stories in book form. Despite having submitted his first two compositions, ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ and ‘Lost Hearts’ for publication in journals during the 1890s, his stories were by and large written solely for the entertainment of his academic colleagues and students. On Christmas Eve, James would emerge from his study clutching his hand-written manuscript, ready to address the acquaintances who had gathered in his rooms to hear this latest tale of terror read aloud over their late-night tipple. It was only with the death of a close friend, whom James had invited to illustrate the tales as a distraction from a final illness, that the tales gained a wider audience. James McBryde, the promising artist in question, died at a tragically young age and James decided to publish a selection of the ghost stories complete with McBryde’s illustrations as a posthumous tribute to his young friend. The stories were very well-received, however, and although James’s academic achievements hardly went unrecognised, it is for his ghost stories that he is best remembered today.

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Five volumes of James’s ghost stories were published during his lifetime: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925) and Collected Ghost Stories (1931) – the latter contained the entire contents of the previous four volumes, together with a few further pieces: ‘There Was a Man Dwelt By a Churchyard’, ‘Rats’, ‘After Dark in the Playing Fields’, ‘Wailing Well’ and ‘Stories I Have Tried to Write’. A further three completed stories remained uncollected during James’s lifetime: ‘The Experiment’, ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects’ and ‘A Vignette’. I have included all of these in the edition for this blog (see below) along with a selection of James’s writings on the ghost story genre. I got the latter from the always splendid ebooks@adelaide.

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A number of unpublished drafts were also left extant on James’s death. These haven’t been included in the ebook below for copyright reasons, but you can read them at the Ghosts & Scholars website – Rosemary Pardoe’s outstanding online resource for all things Jamesian. The drafts are ‘The Game of Bear’, ‘Merfield House’, ‘The Fenstanton Witch’, ‘Marcilly-le-Hayer’ and ‘John Humphreys’ (an early version of ‘Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance’). Rosemary Pardoe’s notes on these stories are also available. Three other related pieces by James have not been included, but can also be read online. These are the early story, ‘A Night in King’s College Chapel’, James’s scholarly article, ‘Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories’ and his children’s novel The Five Jars (1920).

Here are the download links for the ebook edition of Collected Ghost Stories I’ve prepared for this blog:

Collected Ghost Stories [Kindle]

Collected Ghost Stories [Epub]

Collected Ghost Stories [PDF]

Finally, readers might be interested to know that, in collaboration with Jane Mainley-Piddock and James Mussell, I am currently organising the first ever academic conference dedicated solely to James’s ghost stories. Information, including a call for papers, is available here.

The Death Mask and Other Ghosts (1920)

Theo Douglas was the pen-name of British writer Mrs Henrietta Dorothy Everett (1851-1923). This volume contains almost all of Everett’s  ghost stories. Much of her work had supernatural of fantastic elements – some of them very bizarre indeed – but it is for her short fiction that she is best remembered today and was admired at the time by fellow-writer of supernatural tales, M.R. James.

Modern reprints have added two uncollected stories to the original collection (‘The Pipers of Mallory’ and ‘The Whispering Wall’). The edition below is transcribed from the first edition, but I may add these stories at a later date.

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The Death Mask [Kindle]

The Death Mask [Epub]

The Death Mask [PDF]

 

Black Spirits and White (1895) by Ralph Adams Cram

“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.”

H.P. Lovecraft

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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.

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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.

Black Spirits and White [Kindle]

Black Spirits and White [Epub]

Black Spirits and White [PDF]

The Phantom Ship (1839) by Captain Frederick Marryat

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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).

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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’.

The Phantom Ship [Kindle]

The Phantom Ship [Epub]

The Phantom Ship [PDF]

Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin

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Charles Robert Maturin’s classic Gothic novel is a sprawling epic about a man who sells his soul to the Devil, wandering the earth in search of another poor unfortunate to take on his burden. The complicated tale-within-a-tale structure unfolds the plot through a series of haunting episodes in which various protagonists describe their encounters with the elusive Melmoth.

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Commonly held to be the last gasp of the first phase of European Gothic, the novel really does have it all – live burials, the horrors of the inquisition, Faustian pacts, mysterious manuscripts, lunatics, damsels in distress and banditti aplenty. Not, perhaps, what you’d expect from the pen of an Irish clergyman (even if the deliciously OTT condemnation of Catholicism makes some sense given Maturin’s Hugenot background and Protestant affiliations). The Church seems to have agreed – leading to an ironic situation in which writing was simultaneously the bar to Maturin’s advancement in the Church and the means by which he supported his wife and family.

Until recently, a properly formatted, unabridged electronic version of the novel did not exist – so kudos to whoever produced the fantastic transcription at Project Gutenberg Australia, on which this version is based!

An inquisition torture chamber

An inquisition torture chamber

Melmoth the Wanderer [Kindle]

Melmoth the Wanderer [Epub]

Melmoth the Wanderer [PDF]

The Inquisition holds court...

The Inquisition holds court…