Tag Archives: late-victorian

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.

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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 John Kendrick Bangs

water ghost               ghosts i have met

 

John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922) was an American writer, mainly of humorous fiction, and editor of the popular Harper’s Weekly, as well as the New Metropolitan Magazine. In 1904, he became the editor of Puck, a successful American humour magazine.

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Amongst his prolific output are many volumes of supernatural novels and stories, mainly in keeping with his predilection for humour and parody. His short supernatural fiction appeared in three story collections, pictured above and published between 1894 and 1901. Facsimiles of the fully illustrated first editions can be seen here and here. The illustrations from Over the Plum-Pudding can be seen here.

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“I thought a mile was the proper distance” [Illustration from ‘The Flunking of Watkins’s Ghost’]

 Collected Ghost Stories [Kindle]

Collected Ghost Stories [Epub]

Collected Ghost Stories [PDF]

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John Kendrick Bangs, shortly before his death in 1922

 

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]

Kalee’s Shrine (1886) by Grant Allen and May Cotes

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This intriguing, but little-known ‘imperial Gothic’ novel begins in dramatic fashion when an anglo-Indian infant is made a votary of Kalee, vengeful goddess of the Thugs. Years later, the baby has grown into beautiful Olga Trevelyan. But it soon transpires that Kalee’s nefarious influence still lurks in Olga’s unconscious mind, waiting to be reawakened.

V0045118 Kali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

As with many an ‘imperial Gothic’ novel, the theme of reverse colonisation – the fear that England’s subjugated realms might possess the strength to fight back and overthrow the imperial centre – looms large. For me, the theme of mesmerism, an ancient supernatural force embodied in a threatening foreign other, and a peaceful English seaside setting is also heavily redolent of Dracula. I don’t know if Stoker had read Allen’s novel, but it wouldn’t surprise me! Unlike Stoker, however, Allen’s staunch sense of the rational (he had begun life as an evolutionary biologist) leads him to obfuscate the supernatural element, inventing a number of pseudo-scientific explanations that cast doubt on the paranormal elements of the book. Even so, the tale ends on an unsettling note of ambiguity, which implies that even if modern science is strong enough to combat effects of supernatural evil, it may not be able to explain it away.

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Nothing is known of ‘May Cotes’, beyond the fact that she was the young woman (possibly Anglo-Indian) who first came up with the original idea for the story. She contacted the folklorist and historian Andrew Lang, who suggested she collaborate with Grant Allen. Allen himself was a prolific author of fiction, particularly famous for his New Woman novel The Woman Who Did (1895) and for speculative works like The British Barbarians (1895) – both of which appeared as part of John Lane’s infamous ‘Keynotes’ series of 1890s fiction. Kalee’s Shrine (1886) is little-read today, but deserves to be rediscovered – especially by readers interested in late-Victorian or imperial forms of the Gothic.

Kalee’s Shrine [Kindle]

Kalee’s Shrine [Epub]

Kalee’s Shrine [PDF]

EDIT: A recent update to Allen J. Hubin’s definitive bibliography of crime fiction reveals more information about the elusive May Coates.

The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean (1886) edited by Henry Norman

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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).

The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean [Kindle]

The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean [Epub]

The Broken Shaft: Tales in Mid-Ocean [PDF]

Two contemporary reviews