Tag Archives: antiquarian

Christmas Ghost Stories

 winter landscape (1811)

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.

Enjoy – and feel free to share with friends!

Christmas Ghost Stories [Kindle]

Christmas Ghost Stories [Epub]

Christmas Ghost Stories [PDF]

 

 

Spook Stories by E.F. Benson

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E.F. Besnon was a prolific writer of fiction across several genres, from the ‘new woman’ novel, Dodo (1893) to the waspish social comedy of the Mapp and Lucia series. He also wrote several popular collections of ‘spook stories’, including the two collected here: Spook Stories (1928) and More Spook Stories (1934) – both volumes are included in the download below.

These were the only two of Benson’s supernatural collection to include the phrase ‘spook stories’ in the title, although Benson used this term to refer to all of his supernatural output. Even so, this blanket appellation hides the diversity of his supernatural fiction, which ranges from the comic, to the genuinely chilling. Pastiche is also a keynote here, with one of the stories, ‘The Hanging of Alfred Wadham’, being an obvious parody of the Catholic stories of Benson’s brother Robert, whose Mirror of Shalott can be downloaded elsewhere on this site.

Spook Stories / More Spook Stories [Kindle]

Spook Stories / More Spook Stories [Epub]

Spook Stories / More Spook Stories [PDF]

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Weird Stories (1882) by Charlotte Riddell

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A classic of Victorian supernatural fiction, this collection contains some of the best of Riddell’s ghost stories. Although it does not contain her complete supernatural writings, it was her only published collection of exclusively supernatural fiction. A bibliography of her supernatural writings can be found at the excellent Guide to Supernatural Fiction.

Born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1832, Charlotte Elizabeth Cowan was a prolific writer of novels and short stories and her income from writing helped to maintain her married life with the civil engineer Joseph Hadley Riddell, who was often in debt. When Riddell died in 1880, Charlotte became the first pensioner of the Society of Authors, who paid her £60 a year from 1901 until her death from cancer four years later. Charlotte Riddell began writing under the pseudonym F.G. Trafford, but subsequently adopted the Victorian convention of publishing under her husband’s name as Mrs J.H. Riddell.

The stories themselves tend to belong to the sentimental Victorian ghost story tradition, in which ghosts are seldom malevolent but rather are intent on rectifying some unfinished business, such as exposing an injustice or attempting a reconciliation. What distinguishes them is a fine capacity for description – both of landscape and of individual characters, which are vividly evoked and are often as compelling in themselves as the supernatural problems that beset them. More information on Riddell can be found at Michael Flowers’s dedicated website and at the useful Wikipedia page.

Weird Stories [Kindle]

Weird Stories [Epub]

Weird Stories [PDF]

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wunderschoen/2986677765/

Carnacki, the Ghost Finder (1913) by W.H. Hodgson

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Cover of the 1913 edition

William Hope Hodgson’s tales of the occult detective Carnacki first appeared as a five-part series in The Idler in 1910. This was followed by a further story (‘The Thing Invisible’) in The New Magazine in 1912. In 1913, all six tales were collected in book form as Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. This ebook edition includes the original 1913 volume, together with three further stories which were included in the 1947 edition of the collection as well as the revised version of ‘The Thing Invisible’ from 1948. For more on the textual history of the stories, as well as Florence Briscoe’s original illustrations from The Idler, visit Marcus L. Rowland’s website.

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Illustration by Florence Briscoe, illustrating a scene from ‘The Gateway of the Monster’

The stories are narrated by Carnacki, a detective specialising in alleged hauntings and other sinister or seemingly impossible goings-on – aided only by his encyclopaedic knowledge of ancient lore and the application of his trusty ‘electric pentacle’. Although the stories are narrated by Carnacki, the ghost-hunter’s narrative is relayed to readers at second hand via an un-named frame narrator – one of several of the detective’s close friends, who gather periodically at Carnacki’s home at Cheyne Walk on the Chelsea embankment to hear an account of his latest case.  Carnacki’s open-minded approach to the supernatural is particularly refreshing in that it is uniquely double-edged – never ruling out a supernatural explanation, he is nevertheless equally determined to find a rational explanation if one exists. Consequently, first-time readers never know for sure at the beginning of the tale whether the events narrated will prove to be genuine manifestations or clever hoaxes.

Carnacki the Ghost Finder [Kindle]

Carnacki the Ghost Finder [Epub]

Carnacki the Ghost Finder [PDF]

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Cover of the 1947 edition

In Ghostly Company (1921) by Amyas Northcote

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Amyas Northcote’s collection of ghost stories, his only published fictional work, was published by John Lane in 1921 (although the first edition is dated 1922). Northcote was the son of a wealthy Tory politician, Sir Stafford Northcote. After emigrating to America and marrying, he returned to England in the early 1900s and became a Justice of the Peace in Buckinghamshire. He died suddenly in 1923.

Despite producing only a handful of stories, his single collection is strikingly varied – ‘The House in the Woods’ and ‘The Young Lady in Black’ evoke the sentimental Victorian ghost stories of Margaret Oliphant and Isabella Banks, while the similarly titled ‘In the Woods’ is firmly in the tradition of the Pan-worship fashionable in the early twentieth century; ‘Mr Mortimer’s Diary’ might have come from the antiquarian mind of M.R. James, while the longest tale in the collection, ‘Mr Oliver Carmichel’ resembles a retelling of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde along theosophical lines. My personal favourite is ‘The Late Mrs Fowke’ – an unusual and highly effective werewolf story.

In Ghostly Company [Kindle]

In Ghostly Company [Epub]

In Ghostly Company [PDF]

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A Mirror of Shalott (1907) by R.H. Benson

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R.H. Benson’s supernatural fiction has been accused of being nothing more than thinly-veiled Catholic propaganda. This is only half true. For while his ghost stories present and promote an ontology that is rigidly Catholic,  it would be churlish to dismiss them as nothing more than mere dogma. In this second collection of uncanny tales, for example, the stories succeed through a carefully heightened sense of unease and mounting horror. Despite the underlying religious certainty, several of the tales also skilfully evoke the ‘cosmic’ horror of the weird fiction tradition, revealing an unseen world in which uncontrollable forces, immeasurably more powerful and more ancient than humanity, are locked in a constant struggle. As well as a writer of essays and fiction, Benson was an ordained Catholic priest and the stories take the form of ‘tales told at a symposium’ of priests, who pool their experiences of the supernatural in order to see if a consensus can be reached regarding the ‘point’ of these experiences in a divine schema. Unsettlingly, such a point is not immediately apparent and the narrators are left only with their faith in a merciful deity working ultimately for the benefit of humankind.

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Benson at the time of publication

Another intriguing feature of this collection is Benson’s determination to bring the process of oral storytelling to the fore and to emphasise its relationship to the impact of the stories on the listeners present. All three of the Benson brothers had been present at M.R. James’s ghost story readings, but Robert Benson’s tales differ from James’s in that they make the immediate (although, admittedly invented) context of the tales’ reception an intrinsic part of the tale itself and of its effect. This is an appropriate device given that the ‘ghost’ in many of the tales is not a visible spectre, but rather a malevolent atmosphere, doubt or dread – a lingering emotional response that has somehow become untethered from the events that originally inspired it and has taken on a life of its own…

A Mirror of Shalott [Kindle]

A Mirror of Shalott [Epub]

A Mirror of Shalott [PDF]

The collection first appeared in 1907 and this text is based on a 1912 reprint, which corrects several errors in the original printing and changed the subtitle slightly: the original subtitle was ‘tales told at an unprofessional symposium’.

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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