Tag Archives: Gothic

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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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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Ghostly Tales (1896) by Wilhelmina FitzClarence

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Wilhelmina FitzClarence (1830-1906), Countess of Munster lived a fairly standard peeress’s life – despite being an illegitimate granddaughter to William IV of England. As a young girl she travelled widely in Europe, eventually marrying her first cousin William in 1855. The couple lived in Brighton and had nine children.Wilhelmina’s first novel, Dorinda (1889), about a female art-thief, was praised by Oscar Wilde for its characterisation, although her second novel, social satire A Scotch Earl (1891), was less well-received. She also wrote numerous short stories and articles for periodicals, and published an autobiography in 1904.

Ghostly Tales (1896) consists of stories in a supernatural and/or Gothic vein and some (as in Isabella Banks’ Through the Night, which it in many ways resembles) are supposed to be drawn from stories recounted by its author’s family and friends. This is reflected in the milieu of the tales’ protagonists – the grand European tour, the marriage market and aristocratic country and town life. Although the collection contains several stories which fit easily into the traditional Victorian ghost story genre (most notably ‘The Ghost of My Dead Friend’) the volume contains a wide breadth of ‘weird’ or uncanny phenomena – from religious visions and animal telepathy to the narrator’s unsettling encounter with a mentally disturbed young man.

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Ghostly Tales [Kindle]

Ghostly Tales [Epub]

Ghostly Tales [PDF]

A facsilmile edition, containing a number of illustrations, can be downloaded for free from from the British Library.

The Witching Time (1885) edited by Henry Norman

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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.

The Witching Time [Kindle]

The Witching Time [ebook]

The Witching Time [PDF]

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.

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]