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Interesting from a historical perspective.
on 25 September 2010
The earliest story is from 1773 but I was, frankly, gob-smacked by how modern the language was to a long-time horror reader. In common with all the stories in this book, there is nothing to make you stumble in the reading. For this alone, I have bought a bucket load of Wordsworth titles. While most of these texts are available at Project Gutenberg, the convenience of a paperback for a couple of quid is hard to beat.
The first few stories, our 18th century example included, are mundane to modern eyes. They may well be the first examples of suddenly slamming doors and strange spirits glimpsed from the corner of your eyes, but that doesn't mean they were good. They're not bad but a typical story progresses from "We saw something strange" to "We mostly escaped by the skin of our teeth" with much rapidity.
By Poe's "Berenice" (1835) things pick up considerably. This was the first time I every actually read this story in its entirety, despite writing a pastiche a while back. It's an extraordinary tale, and very well told. Still creepy as.
In short order, and directly after we have Dickens (fair), Le Fanu (gorgeous), Nathaniel Hawthorne (excellent) and Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Tale" which is an archetypal ghost story, familiar to anyone who has read any such in the past fifty years, but it was written in 1852.
It's a bit of a conceit that the the stories are presented in date order. I think they could have fared better if listed differently. The middle era is loaded with epic writers whose words are beautiful on the eye.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is the classic work that should have show-cased this collection. It is an astounding study in post-natal madness.
On top of that are stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, M.R. James, E.F. Benson and Ambrose Bierce.
Aside from the first couple of clunkers this is a captivating collection. If you are, as I am, an aspiring writer, you will find a bounty of rich language in these stories.