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Night Visitors: Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story Hardcover – 1 May 1977

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (May 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571111130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571111138
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 14.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,752,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Why were so many ghost stories published between 1850 and 1930? Why were readers so eager to be scared, and why did such writers as Dickens, Stevenson, Kipling and Henry James find artistic satisfaction in writing them? "Night Visitors" explores these questions, looking for explanations in the underlying anxieties of the age, as well as of the individual writers. The mysterious and unknown capacities of the mind, the duality of the soul, the nineties obsession with diabolism, the dangers of science, mesmerism, and drugs, were all recurrent themes, dramatized in supernatural tales such as "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde", Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray", and "The Turn of the Screw". Contributions were also made by writers whose reputations rest exclusively on their ghost stories, among them Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and M.R. James. Beginning with a summary history of the ghost story up to the mid-nineteenth century, "Night Visitors" goes on to provide a more detailed account from the 1880s up to the First World War, the impact of which, coinciding with Freud's radical explorations of inner fears, helped to send the ghost story into decline. Walter de la Mare was to be its last and greatest exponent. The book ends with an epilogue on ghosts in the work of Hardy, Yeats and Eliot.


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Format: Hardcover
I loved this perceptive analysis of the history of the ghost story, not only for its insights into lots of my favourite chillers, but as another reviewer says, it offers huge encouragement to get onto Project Gutenberg and seek out long forgotten examples of the ghost story. In some ways this is a developmental history of the genre, from the re-tellings of folk tales of Stevenson and Scott, through the fashions for decadence and hallucinogenics, to the restrained psychological tales of the 20th century. My favourite chapters were those on the two Jameses (how coincidental is it, that two of the greatest proponents share a surname?) Henry James, was of course a master of atmosphere, of the shadowy English twilight, while M R James achieved menacing, terrifying effects in short and crisp prose. A thrilling discovery was the bounty of Kipling’s early stories, particularly those malaria inspired tales written in India when a clerk, as the colonial experience is one that seems to lend itself particularly to hauntings. Walter de la Mare has always struck me as a deeply underrated writer, so an analysis of his ghost stories was well overdue. In fact there are dozens of little gems, from Hawthorne and Vernon Lee to Thomas Hardy’s poems and offerings from Yeats and Eliot.
Unfortunately this book is now so rare and expensive that I could only obtain it from a library. However, I would dearly love to possess it and photocopied my favourite pages. I’ll leave you with a stanza from Kipling that sums up the mood of the book, that I copied out (from ‘The House of Suddhoo’):
‘A stones’s throw out on either hand
From that well-ordered road we tread,
And all the world is wild and strange;
Churel and ghoul and Djinn and sprite
Shall bear us company tonight,
For we have reached the Oldest Land,
Wherein the Powers of Darkness Range.'
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Format: Hardcover
-----------------------------------
Sections:

1850 - 1930
Dickens, Stevenson, Kipling, Henry James...
Duality of soul,
Diabolism
Dr Jekyl & Mr Hyde,
Dorian Gray,

Sheridan Le Fanu, Machen, Blackwood, James...

A detailed account from 1880s to WW1.

Hardy, Yeats & Eliot. and more...

-----------------------------------
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x941b409c) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x941b5aec) out of 5 stars "Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs." 23 Aug. 2010
By ealovitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Potential readers should know that this author has a very Freudian view of the ghost story. The Viennese psychoanalyst is more in evidence than many of my favorite English supernatural authors, including E.F. Benson, whose stories she dismisses as "competent examples of the form, although lacking in any depth."

The author also skips lightly over the Victorian ladies whose ghost stories are still in print today, e.g. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, E. Nesbit, and Mrs. Riddell.

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the most deeply analyzed stories in this book, and it doesn't even have a ghost. Edgar Allen Poe is also prominently featured, although he didn't write ghost stories (and wasn't English).

M.R. James is given a respectful chapter, and the author classifies his ghost stories into "one of these three basic patterns, 'Bluebeard', 'Faust' or the spirits of revenge." 'Bluebeard' equates with excessive curiosity. 'Faust' refers to devilish pacts and the disastrous consequences for those who make them. 'The Mezzotint' and 'The Haunted Dolls' House' are given as examples of 'the spirits of revenge.'

Rudyard Kipling's supernatural stories get prominent mention, and the author spends a chapter on occult stories involving 'The Scientific Spirit', e.g. mesmerism, drugs, and psychic doctors.

The only chapters I found to be rather dull were those concerning 'psychological ghost stories,' many of which may or may not contain a ghost. Henry James and Vernon Lee are cited as leading examples of this subgenre, along with Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

"Night Visitors" is quite well written and should appeal to anyone who is interested in the evolution of English ghost story, although I think the author's emphasis on Freudian psychology is a bit misplaced, and many of the stories she analyzes are not really ghost stories.

I also disagree with her thesis that the ghost story has been in decline since World War I. This ignores the very chilling work of authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Robert Aickman, among others.

Try "Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood by Jack Sullivan if your interest is more focused on literature that is entirely devoted to ghosts.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x941b5e70) out of 5 stars Fascinating Insights 8 May 2015
By Martine Bailey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I loved this perceptive analysis of the history of the ghost story, not only for its insights into lots of my favourite chillers, but as another reviewer says, it offers huge encouragement to get onto Project Gutenberg and seek out long forgotten examples of the ghost story. In some ways this is a developmental history of the genre, from the re-tellings of folk tales of Stevenson and Scott, through the fashions for decadence and hallucinogenics, to the restrained psychological tales of the 20th century. My favourite chapters were those on the two Jameses (how coincidental is it, that two of the greatest proponents share a surname?) Henry James, was of course a master of atmosphere, of the shadowy English twilight, while M R James achieved menacing, terrifying effects in short and crisp prose. A thrilling discovery was the bounty of Kipling’s early stories, particularly those malaria inspired tales written in India when a clerk, as the colonial experience is one that seems to lend itself particularly to hauntings. Walter de la Mare has always struck me as a deeply underrated writer, so an analysis of his ghost stories was well overdue. In fact there are dozens of little gems, from Hawthorne and Vernon Lee to Thomas Hardy’s poems and offerings from Yeats and Eliot.
Unfortunately this book is now so rare and expensive that I could only obtain it from a library. However, I would dearly love to possess it and photocopied my favourite pages. I’ll leave you with a stanza from Kipling that sums up the mood of the book, that I copied out (from ‘The House of Suddhoo’):
‘A stones’s throw out on either hand
From that well-ordered road we tread,
And all the world is wild and strange;
Churel and ghoul and Djinn and sprite
Shall bear us company tonight,
For we have reached the Oldest Land,
Wherein the Powers of Darkness Range.'
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