Dick Donovan was a pseudonym of James Edward Preston Muddock – though he was better known as Joyce Emerson Preston Muddock. A well-travelled journalist, he wrote prolifically in a number of genres. The vast majority of his output were sensational detective stories in which “Dick Donovan” was the main character. So popular did this Glaswegian detective prove that Muddock issued later works under this pseudonym. Other works include the horror novel, The Shadow Hunter (1887), the ‘lost world’ novel The Sunless City (1905) and two volumes of supernatural tales.
Muddock’s life was the equal of any of his own fictions. During his travels as a journalist, he visited several continents, experienced the Indian Rebellion first hand, met cannibals and mined gold in Australia. He also married three times and fathered ten children! These and more details of Muddock’s life and career can be found in this article by Bruce Durie.
Tales of Terror (1899) was Muddock’s second collection of macabre stories, after Stories Weird and Wonderful (1889). Not all of the stories are supernatural. “‘Red Lillie'” is a sensational story about a lover’s promise; “With Fire and Death” is a gruesome (and very one-sided) account of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; while “The Pirate’s Treasure” is a pretty straightforward tale of piratical adventure. The majority of the stories do have a supernatural content, however, ranging from the vampire narrative “The Woman With the ‘Oily Eyes'”, to the traditional ghost stories of “The Corpse Light” and “The Spectre of Rislip Abbey”, the bloody Gothic horror of “The Cave of Blood”, and the folklore of “The Dance of the Dead”. Appropriately for the time of year, the collection also includes “The White Raven” – an effective ghost story set at Christmas.
This collection of short stories was published posthumously in 1899, at the behest of Dahlgren’s husband. The ebook I’ve provided here contains only those stories with a macabre or supernatural interest – the full collection contains no fewer than twenty-four stories, most of which fall outside the remit of this blog. Readers can, however, read the full collection at the Hathi Trust website. For information about Dahlgren’s life and her other work, see the biographical and bibliographical notice that accompanies her manuscript holdings at Georgetown University
Happily for lovers of supernatural fiction, the macabre or uncanny stories are probably the best in the collection. The title story is a tale of occult religious practices that blemish the life of a young Doctor’s wife; ‘Who Was She?’ concerns an inn haunted by the mysterious figure of a weeping woman, while ‘A Murder Mystery’ is a bizarre cross between A Tale of Two Cities and ‘Babes in the Wood’, with possible shades of Titus Andronicus. ‘The Fatal Boots’ is a macabre reflection on coincidence and destiny (a perennial preoccupation of Dahlgren’s). ‘My First Patient’ is a wonderfully hokey take on mesmerism, while ‘Earth-Bound’ concerns the otherworldly implications of a jealous husband’s spiteful final vow.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a Russian occultist, best known for forming the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophy is an esoteric religion, albeit one that shares several ideas with Hinduism and Buddhism. Still practised today, its central tenet posits the notion of a universal spiritual humanity based on a shared reclamation of ancient wisdom – an ur-knowledge once widely known but long-since lost. The society lasted until as recently as 2011, when it split into several smaller organisations. Blavatsky’s ideas were set forth in her densely written treatise The Secret Doctrine (1888).
Blavatsky’s Theosiophical outlook underlies her one collection of fictional writing, Nightmare Tales (1892), which foreshadows the ‘weird fiction’ tradition of horror in its hints that not all ancient knowledge is beneficial – some strands might be best left to lie.
The Theosophical society’s HTML edition gives the estimated dates of the stories’ original composition and the website also contains information about Blavatsky’s life and work. Paganini’s ‘Dance of the Witches’, which features prominently in ‘The Ensouled Violin’ can be heard (for free) at the excellent Classical Music Online.