Jilly: Victorian Tales of Terror

It’s that scary time of year.

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.

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Jilly: Books That Go Bump in the Night

Books That Go Bump in the NightDo you enjoy ghost stories?

The rest of the year I’d say thanks, but no thanks. This weekend, whooo! The whole Halloween/All Souls/Samhain/chill in the air/approaching darkness vibe just cries out for a spooky story.

According to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, ghosts and ghost stories are a cultural universal. Around the world we’ve been telling ourselves variants of the same stories since time immemorial. Victims of violent crime seeking vengeance, like Hamlet’s father or Macbeth’s liege lord. Innocent Girls Done Wrong, like Giselle. Horrible examples like Scrooge’s late business partner, Marley.

If you enjoy traditional, chilling, scare-you-so-much-you’ll-be-afraid-to-turn-out-the-light type stories, you might like to check out this list of classic stories courtesy of the Guardian.

If, like me, you’re a bit of a wuss and prefer more fun and less stress with your seasonal helping of ghostliness, I’d like to offer you the following recommendations: Continue reading