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Gothic Short Stories (Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural) Paperback – 5 Sep 2002
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About the Author
Part of Wordsworth's Mystery & Supernatural series, featuring classic spine chilling tales, some previously unavailable for many years.
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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.
Some of the entries aren't even stories, but excerpts from longer works, or fragments where the context isn't known.
The introduction by David Blair is a thoughtful and knowledgeable analysis of the history of gothic fiction, and places each entry in its literary history context. However, the introduction may be too academic for casual readers.
The entries were selected for how representative they were for an aspect of gothic literature, and for their contribution to the development of the genre. They are presented in chronological order of publication, which emphasises the 'literary history' approach.
Authors are Anna Letitia Aikin, Nathan Drake, Charles Robert Maturin, Sir Walter Scott, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Nathanienl Hawthorne, Elizabeth Gaskell, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ambrose Bierce, M.R. James, Ralph Adams Cram, S. Carleton, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Richard Middleton, E.F. Benson, and of course the most prolific writer of all time, Anonymous. This is a superb line-up.
I really recommend this book to scholars of gothic fiction, dark fiction, horror fiction, 19th century fiction and literary history. On the other hand, if you just want to read some thrilling classic stories, this book wouldn't be a good choice.
The tales are presented chronologically, which makes it easier to see the trajectory of change in the genre. The anonymously penned "Spectre Bride" and Walter Scott's"Tapestried Chamber" are early highlights, the latter strikingly ahead of its time. Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Ethan Brand" too reinterprets cliche, for a memorable and powerful vignette, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman presents a wonderful descent into madness with "Yellow Wallpaper". There are big names here, from gothic mainstays Poe and James to leftt-field (but wholly appropriate) choices in Charles Dickens and R L Stevenson. The quality is pretty high throughout, and the chronological sequencing actually makes it a little easier to read as it goes on.
A fine collection then, that wouldn't be out of place if bound in leather and presented as special collection of the genre.
This is just the entertaining book to take on holidays. Better still, save these stories for a dark lonely winter's night!!!
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