“The strange human craving for the pleasure of feeling afraid….”
(Virginia Woolf – The Common Reader)
We’re not of the kind to discriminate against anybody, so let us share our readings with this old guy relaxing in his armchair, or… is it a “she” ? This venerable person must have a lot of thrilling stories to tell us …
Indeed, there seems to be a good number of books devoted to tales of the supernatural in Wigtown’s bookshops… but we’re in Scotland !
Perhaps it has something to do with our landscape: seen in the right light (or should that be the wrong light?!) at the right time of year, Scotland’s deep dark lochs, rain-lashed moors and chill Glens covered by slow-moving mists can certainly seem eerie enough. Indeed Scotland’s geography has been providing writers with spooky inspiration for some time now. . .
It would not come as a surprise if we were to hear the sound of this old typewriter in the middle of the night …
By the way, Janice, since we happen to be in so good a company, let us try to discover more about ghost stories !
J’adore les histoires de fantômes !
On my bookshelves, there are some books of ghost stories that would give great delight to the ‘amateurs du genre’, just have a look at the covers ! Most of them are anthologies of tales written by eminent ghost stories writers coming from Great Britain and Ireland. The Victorian era seems to have been a very prolific time for that kind of literature. Newspapers and magazines used to publish ghost stories regularly then, especially at Christmas time.
Among the most famous ghost stories writers, let us mention first M.R. James who used to tell his thrilling tales to his students in a very stylish manner, the meetings taking place in the old panelled rooms of the University of Cambridge, on Sunday evenings, in the winter terms.
There are also J. Sheridan Le Fanu, from Dublin, who became a master in mystery and horror fiction, Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, Wilkie Collins, Amelia Edwards…,but there are many others and among them, Scottish authors like Margaret Oliphant whose best known book is entitled A Beleaguered City and Other Tales of the Seen and the Unseen. Her stories include The Open Door and The Library Window.
Nowhere but in Scotland will the writer of ghost stories find such appropriate settings for his spooky tales : moors, lochs and mountains, ruined castles and abbeys, unique landscapes and dramatic effects in an ever changing light. It’s all a question of atmosphere !
Some writers of ghost stories do specialize in the genre but most of them only write a few stories in the course of their literary career. Many great authors have thus tried their hand at ghost stories and with great success, like Charles Dickens ( A Christmas Carol), Walter Scott ( Wandering Willie’s Tale ; The Tapestried Chamber ; My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror) Stevenson (The Body Snatcher ; Thrawn Janet) and of course, Conan Doyle though not in his Sherlock Holmes stories (Lot No. 249).
I hate to disappoint you : this is not a story about Sherlock Holmes. In his entire career, Holmes never encountered a genuine spook, and that’s the only kind allowed in this book. In fact, he went so far as to express complete skepticism in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire : “Rubbish, Watson, rubbish ! What have we to do with walking corpes who can only be held in their graves by stakes driven through their hearts? It’s pure lunacy… This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. No ghosts need apply.” But, if you’ve read The Sussex Vampire, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane, and many more, you know very well that the adventures of Sherlock Holmes are macabre enough to satisfy the most Halloweenish appetites. Holmes himself possesses the brooding intensity and dramatic flair of a Gothic villain, as befits a descendant of Edgar Allan Poe’s detective, C. Auguste Dupin.
Henry Mazzeo (Hauntings – Tales of The Supernatural - “Lot No. 249″)
I would like to make special mention here of George Mackay Brown, the great Orkney bard, not only because he is my favourite Scottish writer but also because he has produced little gems in the ghost stories genre : Andrina, Beliah, Sara, The Drowned Rose, The Interrogator, Mr Scarecrow. But we’ll say more about Scottish ghost stories and ghost stories writers in the additional pages we intend to create in Scotiana.
In the meantime, here are some very interesting books I can recommend to our readers. As I do like to anticipate my readings by going through the contents of my books I’ve thought it could be a good idea to give our readers a list of the stories they are going to find in the following books.
Bonne lecture et à bientôt !
Forbes Bramble : Holiday
George Mackay Brown : Beliah
Elspeth Davie : The Foothold
James Allan Ford : A Kind of Possession
Antonia Fraser : Who’s Been Sitting in my Car ?
Clifford Hanley : The Haunted Chimley
Dorothy K. Haynes : The Curator
Angus Wolf Murray : The Curse of Mathair Nan Uisgeachan
Robert Nye : Randal
Iain Crichton Smith : The Brothers
Fred Urquhart : Proud Lady in a Cage
Gordon Williams : The Horseshoe Inn.
The Watcher by the Threshold
The Kings of Orion
The Far Islands
The Outgoing of the Tide
The Wind in the Portico
The Grove of Ashtaroth
The Green Glen
The Herd of Standlan
The Rime of True Thomas
A Lucid Interval
The Beggarwoman of Locarno – Heinrich von Kleist
The Entail E.T.A. Hoffmann
Wandering Willie’s Tale – Walter Scott
The Queen of Spades – Alexander Pushkin
The Old Nurse’s Story – Elisabeth Gaskell
The Open Door – Margaret Oliphant
Mr Justice Harbottle – Sheridan Le Fanu
Le Horla – Guy de Maupassant
Sir Edmund Orme – Henry James
Angeline, or the Haunted House – Emile Zola
The Moonlit Road – Ambrose Bierce
A Haunted Island – Algernon Blackwood
The Rose Garden – M. R. James
The Return of Imray – Rudyard Kipling
My Adventure in Norfolk – A. J. Alan
The Inexperienced Ghost – H. G. Wells
The Room in the Tower – E. F. Benson
One Who Saw – A. M. Burrage
Afterward – Edith Wharton
The Wardrobe – Thomas Mann
The Buick Saloon – Ann Bridge
The Tower – Marghanita Laski
Footsteps in the Snow – Mario Soldati
The Wind – Ray Bradbury
Exorcizing Baldassare – Edward Hyans
The Leaf-Sweeper – Muriel Spark
“Dear Ghost…” – Fielden Hughes
Sonata for Harp and Bicycle – Joan Aiken
Come and Get Me – Elizabeth Walter
Andrina – George Mackay Brown
The Axe – Penelope Fitzgerald
The Game of Dice – Alain Danielou
The July Ghost – A. S. Byatt