Guy Boothby (1867-1905) was born in Australia but spent most of his career in England. A professional writer, his most famous work is the Dr Nikola series – a sequence of five novels about a criminal mastermind determined to take over the world with the help of the occult. Boothby was tremendously prolific. His writing career took up only the last decade of his tragically short life, but during this time he produced over fifty novels.
Presented here is one of a handful of overtly supernatural novels written by Boothby. First published in 1899, it is typically late-Victorian in its concerns about contamination by a foreign other from the fringes of occidental Empire – in this case the eponymous Pharos, a grotesque Egyptian with a talent for mesmerism, who harbours an astonishing and deadly secret. Also included are three of Boothby’s best-known ghost stories, taken from his collection The Lady of the Island (1904).
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.