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Archive for the ‘Victorian’ Category

Finally a change from the seductive evil woman theme. This story is about a woman who was forced into marriage as a child to a boy who grew into a creepy, bad husband (and alchemist). The story is told by a guy who met the woman once when they were both children, and was enchanted by her otherworldly grace.

They meet again as adults and fall in love, the creepy husband is, understandably, unhappy, and predictably, tragedy ensues. The ending is unusually graphic and sad. No ghosts or anything, just a creepy husband.

Oh, and a creepy tongueless eunuch.

It’s not a bad story,  but it’s not my kind of thing.

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This story features a man, in love with a pure, sweet, normal girl, who finds himself tempted by an aggressive, evil, seductively beautiful, witty, worldly woman.

Just like The Stone Dragon.

And The Crimson Weaver.

Yes, this Gilchrist seems to have had something of a fixation. Was he surrounded by femme fatales who kept flinging themselves at him? It wasn’t like he was an international spy or anything like that; his main passion in life was topography.

The story itself is quite nice; it’s very short and doesn’t waste any time. It takes place in the early 18th century, and the main characters are a betrothed couple. The girl asks her fiance to undergo an ordeal to prove his love for her. He agrees, and she then orders him to spend a night in a house that is rumored to be haunted.

As you might expect, it turns out to be more than just a rumor.

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Notice: Don’t get your hopes up over the title, the eponymous stone dragon is a piece of garden decor. It probably is symbolic of something.

This story was, thankfully, much more readable than The Crimson Weaver. It takes place in the real world, so Gilchrist reins in the florid language, although he still manages to sound like an early Victorian despite writing at the turn of the century.

In the story, a wealthy Frenchwoman, living on a creepy, gothic, remote estate with two daughters, tries to bully her brother-in-law into arranging a marriage between his son and one of her daughters. The father refuses, and forbids his son from having any contact with the aunt. He goes against his father’s orders, though, and meets his two cousins; one anemic, passive and sweet, and the other active, independent, clever, brazen, and possessed of an aggressive beauty.

Luckily our hero chooses the right one for a wife; that is, the dull, lifeless one with no discernible personality.

The ending is sorta interesting. It’s a decent gothicky story. There is no supernatural element.

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So we’re finished with the Marjorie Bowen collection, and I was pleased to find two very good stories and two pretty good ones. As these things go, that’s an excellent rate of success.

Now, which author shall I review next? I have six books from the Wordsworth collection to choose from. I decided that the next author should be male, but oddly enough, out of the seven books that I have, six were written by women. Women did indeed write a lot of ghost stories in this period, but I don’t like most of them. I find that women tended to write sentimental, romantic stories through which wispy, beautiful, forlorn ghosts drift. MR James and I strongly disapprove of this kind of thing.

There are, of course, female authors who wrote good ghost stories. Bowen, for example, did not shy away from horror, and wrote some pretty grim stuff. Edith Nesbit, better known for her children’s fiction, wrote some great stories; a collection of hers is one of the upcoming six books. Violet Paget, under the pen name Vernon Lee, wrote her share of soppy stuff, but also a nearly perfect Jamesean piece, which I will write about at more length in the future.

At any rate, we’re going to be reading a lot of stories written by women over the next few months; I am sure that we will come across more than a few excellent ones.

That said, for the next book, I’ve selected the only one written by a man. A Night on the Moor & Other Tales of Dread by R. Murray Gilchrist (the R stands for Robert).

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This is a tale that might be told in many ways and from various points of view; it has to be gathered from here and there – a letter, a report, a diary, a casual reference. In its day the thing was more than a passing wonder, and it left a mark of abiding horror on the neighbourhood.

So begins Scoured Silk; an auspicious first paragraph if there ever was one. This is a horror story rather than a ghost story. Nothing in the least bit supernatural happens. But that’s fine, so long as it’s creepy.

It’s about a bachelor living in an old house in London. He moved there from the country with his young wife but she died soon after. 20 years later, he became engaged to a young lady, and the story begins 2 weeks before the wedding. The young bride-to-be is happy enough until she begins to notice the strange attitude her betrothed has toward his dead wife. I’m not going to say any more, because this is a fun, creepy story and deserves to be read. Bowen gets so much right here; the pacing is excellent, and you’re kept guessing right up to the denouement.

Spoilers

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Underneath the title of The Grey Chamber, it says “Anonymous” and “Translated from the French by Marjorie Bowen,” but I don’t doubt that Bowen was actually the author; this story does not read like any old French ghost story I’ve ever come across.

It’s a very nice little “haunted chamber” story. These stories are all basically the same; there is a guest room in an old mansion or castle that has a reputation for being haunted, and so it is never used. But one night, out of necessity or bravado, a guest passes the night there.

In The Grey Chamber, the lady of the house is away, and as there are no other rooms made up for guests,  the main character must be content with the Grey Chamber. This was, in long ago times, the bedroom of a beautiful young woman who had consecrated herself to God and was about to enter a convent. However, some villain, who had heard of her beauty, broke into her room and raped her. Since she was no longer a virgin, she was denied entrance to the convent, and in despair she killed herself. In the Grey Chamber, of course. And so, inevitably, the main character finds his sleep disturbed.

This story could have been pretty bland, since it plays so close to type, but in the end Bowen does some unconventional things to make the story quite memorable and actually somewhat disturbing. In some ways, the ending echoes a much superior story, the excellent Thurnley Abbey by Perceval Landon.

How? Spoilers after jump.

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This story had no ghosts at all, not one. Not even an is or isn’t it ghost.
Also it was very depressing, about a little girl who lives in a big old house with a cruel grandmother and her unkind servants. And the ending was miserable.

It was a pretty decent story as short fiction goes, but it was not my sort of thing at all.

Next, The Bishop of Hell!

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