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Richard Dalby – Virago Book of Ghost Stories

Posted by demonik on September 1, 2007

Richard Dalby (ed.) – The Virago Book of Ghost Stories (Virago, 1987)

Richard Dalby – Preface
Jennifer Uglow – Introduction

Edith Wharton -The Eyes
E. Nesbit – The Violet Car
Henrietta D. Everett – The Crimson Blind
May Sinclair – The Token
Ellen Glasgow – The Shadowy Third
Marjory E. Lambe – The Return
Margery H. Lawrence – The Haunted Saucepan
Mary Webb – Mr. Tallent’s Ghost
Enid Bagnold – The Amorous Ghost
Marjorie Bowen – The Accident
Marjorie Bowen – A Persistent Woman
Phyllis Bottome – The Waiting-Room
Catherine Wells – The Ghost
Eleanor Scott – ‘Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?’
E. M. Delafield – Sophy Mason Comes Back
Hester Gorst – The Doll’s House
Edith Olivier – The Night Nurse’s Story
Winifred Holtby – The Voice of God
Cynthia Asquith – The Follower
F. M. Mayor – Miss De Mannering Of Asham
Stella Gibbons – Roaring Tower
D. K. Broster – Juggernaut
Elizabeth Bowen – The Happy Autumn Fields
Pamela Hansford Johnson – The Empty Schoolroom
Elizabeth Jane Howard – Three Miles Up
Rose Macaulay – Whitewash
Elizabeth Taylor – Poor Girl
Elizabeth Jenkins – On No Account, My Love
Rosemary Timperley – The Mistress in Black
Norah Lofts – A Curious Experience
Fay Weldon – Breakages
Elizabeth Walter – Dual Control
Sara Maitland – Lady With Unicorn
Lisa St. Aubin De Teran – Diamond Jim
Angela Carter – Ashputtle

Notes on the Authors

A real change of pace – I’ve been on a diet of Not At Night‘s and Charles Birkin for a fortnight – but this is a truly special collection. No surprise to see Lady Cynthia Asquith’s groundbreaking Ghost Book‘s so well represented, but I certainly wasn’t expecting three (admittedly, non-sadistic: Asquith’s own The Follower would have suited the series admirably) from Birkin’s Creeps to make the cut. I was a little disappointed to see that Marjory Bowen was represented by two 150 word vignettes … until I read them: The Accident, in particular, is terrific, an E.C. strip in microcosm.
It’s very difficult to pick a ‘best’ from such a strong, varied selection, but if pushed, I’d probably opt for Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Three Miles Up which has one of the most jaw-dropping finales in this -or any other – form of literature.
Mind you, I could’ve done without Whitewash and A Curious Experience, and I’m still trying to figure out how Lady With Unicorn sneaked in …

Some tasters/ spoilers:

Cynthia Asquith – The Follower:Mrs. Meade is plagued by a Hyde-like figure who she first encounters leering and gesticulating at her outside Baker Street Station. Soon he has taken to following her, and with each meeting her terror mounts. He is seen gloating over the body of a little girl who’s been run down, then, as a taxi-driver, he nearly brings about the death of his passenger – Mrs. Meade – by driving the cab into railings. She recovers, but is sent to a nursing home to recover. She’s not the only patient …

Hester Gorst – The Dolls House: The narrator buys a Georgian Dolls house at an auction immediatly and begins to suffer from nightmares in which he becomes “A rake … coming home very late and very drunk”, ascending the staircase of the original for his recent purchase. It becomes apparent that his dream-self is one some terrible errand, and he convinces himself that this is the murder of a woman. Best friend Jack offers to spend the night with him to see what he gets up to when he’s asleep …

Elizabeth Walter – Dual Control: Told entirely in dialiogue – and a very hostile exchange it is too – between Eric, a ruthless businessman on the make, and his alcoholic wife, Freda, as they drive to and from the Bradey’s party, having knocked down a girl on the way. The girl, Giselle, arrived at the same party, seemingly none the worse for wear, but as they drive home they encounter her again at the scene of the accident, blood pouring from a terrible wound ….

Edith Bagnold – The Amorous Ghost: While his wife is away, two of the maids hand in their notice after discovering a woman’s underclothes in the master’s room. That night, he watches transfixed as a figure half-materialises in a chair with her back to him, slowly slipping out of her clothes. It’s with great relief he hears his wife return, undress and slip into bed beside him. It must be freezing outside because she’s cold enough to chill the entire room ….

Stella Gibbons – Roaring Tower: Clara’s parents disapprove of her lover, and pack her off to Aunt Julia in Cornwall to recuperate. Clara is instrumental in releasing the trapped spirit of a ghostly bear, imprisoned in a pit at the base of the roaring tower, so named after the tormented creature’s bellows for assistance.

Marjory E. Lambe – The Return: A murderer returns to the house of his victim, an old miser who once employed him and who he surprised while he was counting his treasure. The skinflint’s spectre (or his guilty conscience) provide his undoing. When he is recognised in The White Horse and Bessie the barmaid raises the alarm, the old boy’s son decides to look over the house. The burglar, when faced with the unexpected visitor, sees “the white hair … streaked with blood, the skin yellow across the skeleton face … the bloodless lips … drawn back into a grin of pure triumph.”

Marjorie Bowen – The Accident: Murchinson and Bargrave are involved in a car smash. When Murchinson sees the ‘grey whisp’ that is his enemy emerging from the wreckage, he gloats: “So you were killed, you silly fool!”

Pamela Hansford Johnson – The Empty Schoolroom: Maud remains behind with M. Fournier and Marie during the school holidays and encounters the sobbing ghost of an ugly girl in a dunces cap. She had been mistreated and humiliated by the embittered headmistress and now it is time to exact revenge …

Marjorie Bowen – A Persistent Woman:After yet another blazing row, Temple decides to leave his wife, Sarah. She clings to him with a greater tennacity than either would have thought her capable.

Margery H. Lawrence – The Haunted Saucepan: London, around St. James’ Palace. Anybody who eats anything prepared in the saucepan suffers the most horrible pains consistent with the pangs suffered by those poisoned with arsenic. Connor,Trevanion and a borrowed dog conceal themselves in the kitchen overnight to catch who or what has been setting it on the boil. The denouement is predictable, but the story has some wonderfully atmospheric touches and Strutt, the butler, is a trip.

Fay Weldon – Breakages: Poltergeist activity in the unhappy household of the vicar and his “barren” wife. David’s prize possessions are forever being broken and mended by Dierdre, who prays that he won’t notice the cracks. When he does, the ensuing flare-up is enough to decide her to pluck up the courage and leave, especially as it is now known that his impotence has been responsible for their childlessness. When she goes, her room destroys itself. David remarries. The second time is as joyless as the first.

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