The nights are getting shorter, darker and colder, at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. We just passed Halloween (previously the Celtic festival of Samhain), when the barrier between our world and the realm of ghosts and spirits melts away and supernatural types return from the grave to threaten our orderly existence.
In other words, ‘tis the season for ghost stories and terrible tales.
We dipped a toe into the icy water here recently with our tag-team Scottish flash fiction adventure featuring the restless ghosts of tragic Alanis McLeish and her twin baby daughters (go here for Kay’s fabulous final instalment and links to the rest of the tale).
That tempted me to re-read Jenny Crusie’s Maybe This Time, her smart, scary homage to Henry James’s influential 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, complete with isolated, crumbling gothic setting; orphaned children; sinister housekeeper; and murderous ghosts. Thank heavens for the Crusie-heroine-turned-temporary-governess.
Maybe This Time whetted my appetite for Victorian horror. Click here for an interesting feature in Atlas Obscura explaining why the Victorian era was such a boom time for scary stories. It seems to be linked to the rise of the periodical press which fuelled a demand for genre fiction, combined with a period of rapid technological advancement in which things which had previously seemed impossible suddenly became real and normal.
Then yesterday, with uncanny serendipity, I found Victorian Tales of Terror, a recently republished anthology of carefully curated period fiction edited by Hugh Lamb. There are sixteen spine-chilling stories by famous (Dickens, de Maupassant) and little-known authors, male and female, English, European and American.
A word about the editor, Hugh Lamb, from his biography on www.hughlamb.com:
The seventies were something of a renaissance for horror and supernatural fiction in Britain, including a new lease of life for the horror anthology. One of the foremost among the anthologists enjoying this output was Hugh Lamb, responsible for bringing more long-forgotten authors back into the light than any other editor of the time.
Weary of the constant reprinting of such well known stories as ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ and ‘The Signalman’ to satisfy the new desire for supernatural short stories, Hugh decided to gather the lesser-known stories and authors he had unearthed in his own quest for fresh reading material. Using the inter-library loan service and the Joint-Fiction Reserve of London libraries, Hugh had accumulated an impressive collection of tales. In fact, this turned out to be an inspired method for searching old editions and unearthing rare treasures ripe for republishing. He estimates that around 5,000 books crossed his path this way.
And a word about the 2019 edition of Victorian Tales of Terror. The anthology, which was first published in the 1970s but had fallen out of print, was re-published by Hugh Lamb’s son, Richard, as a memorial to his father who died earlier this year. I think that’s a wonderful and fitting tribute. I hope the anthology finds lots of new fans.
So…did you read or watch anything scary lately?