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).