Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some English Ghost Stories part 1 (contains spoilers)

I have decided to read a few ghost stories, and since the Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (bought many years ago) has just resurfaced on one of my bookshelves, I've been having a look at a few of these. I'm devoting my little study to the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
The Friend of the Friends by Henry James (1896).

The story is introduced by a man who has sorted through the papers of a woman (who has recently died) looking for publishable material. He hasn't found any because he says, although she writes well, she is too indiscreet. He presents the ghost story as evidence.

The story comes in parts. In the first part is described how a young woman acquaintance of the would-be author sees her father just as he is about to die although the father is hundreds of miles away. The second part relates how the author also knows a young man whose mother appeared to him in similar circumstances. She then points out that the two share many similarities and wants them both to meet but this never happens. The next part describes how they never meet. In the next section the man proposes to the narrator and in consequence she becomes determined that they should meet. The female ghost-viewer then comes round to the woman's house at an arranged time to see the man, but he does not turn up. She does, however, see his picture and his address is on the back. The female ghost-viewer then dies. The finance then admits to having seen the woman after all - on the night she died. The narrator then becomes convinced, rightly so, that the man has fallen in love with the ghost and that he sees her regularly each night. The marriage is called off and six years later he also dies - for no good reason, except, perhaps, to be with her.

The story evolves very slowly, and there is a feeling of distance from the protagonists - and yet some of it is quite passionately conveyed.

The Red Room by H.G. Wells (1896).

A man of 28 declares (to three old people) he has never seen a ghost, and that he is prepared to sleep over night in the Red Room, which is haunted. The three old people have a decayed and sinister character. The room is along a convoluted way and shadows and sounds play an important role and contribute to the build up of atmosphere.

When he is about to enter the room there is reference to 'something' his predecessor found. Then a revelation that this person had also died after seeing something and falling down the stairs. There is also reference to earlier hauntings.

He searches the room which also causes the atmosphere to build. The shadows cause him to imagine the presence of something. He lights more candles - but still a brooding atmosphere. Candles then start to go out and difficult to relight. They then go out as he watched - as if nipped out. Fight between candles going out and lighting them. Frantic at horror of darkness.

He then falls and only light left is the fire. This is then quenched. He then screams and runs to the door. However he can't find the door, batters himself before being hit on the head.

He wakes in daylight with his head being bandaged by an old man. He can't remember at first where he is, then after he does has to agree the room is haunted. They ask him who is the ghost - and he answers 'Fear'.

The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs (1902).

This, I would say, is a perfect ghost story.

A happy family scene - father, mother and son - is established at the start. They receive a visitor. The visitor tells them about the monkey's paw and warns them not to use it. The father does anyway in the midst of much hilarity. He wishes for £200. Atmosphere builds using shadows, weather etc. Next day all seems well and they laugh at their terror. Son goes off to work. Later a stranger comes to the house and tells them the son is dead, having been caught in machinery. They are offered £200 compensation. Post-burial, the wife realises they have two wishes left. She begs the father to wish his son alive again. This he eventually does. That night comes knocking at the door. The woman is about to answer when the father makes his last wish and the banging stops. The lane is empty.

The Lost Ghost by Mary E Wilkins (1903).

A woman visits her friend with gossip. A house has been vacated. This leads to one of the friends describing an incident in her own past when she lodged in a haunted house and so has every sympathy. The haunting was in the form of a small child with a pale face but a purple body inside a white trailing night gown, and only ever spoke to say 'I can't find my mother.'. The ghost was a helpful one: gathering wood, picking out raisins, picking up clothes, drying the dishes but even so the lodger and the two women (one a spinster, the other a childless widow) who were renting out the room hated her visitations.

The ghost was of a child who had died in the house a couple of years before, having been abandoned by her flighty mother - who had locked her in her room and left. The child had died of hunger and thirst.

The ghost is finally seen running away with the childless widow ( who is a kindly, motherly sort) - whose body is found in her bed with her arm outstretched, as if she is being pulled.

This reminds me a little of a Dr. Who episode in which a child in a second world war gas mask keeps asking for his mother.

'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You my Lad.' by M. R. James (1904)

A professor goes to play golf on his own on holiday by the coast. He does not believe in the supernatural. An archeologist colleague asks him to look up a Templer site in the area. He comes across it by accident and digs up a whistle. That night he cleans it and blows on it. Immediately a strange wind starts up. The next day another man at the hotel, the Colonel, with whom he plays golf and bridge, tells him that in Scandinavian countries and the East coast of England there is a superstition that whistling calls up the wind. The professor scoffs at this.

Meanwhile there are unexplained happenings. The professor's other bed in his double bedroom is disturbed even though he hasn't used it, and a young boy is scared witless by someone waving from the professors room. The professor also dreams of a man running along the beach pursued by a spectre. There are also noises in the room which the professor dismisses as rats.

That night the professor wakes to find a spectre in the other bed. It becomes obvious that it is blind, and only when the professor makes a noise does it come over to him and try to force him out of the window. With this he is rescued by the Colonel who has forced himself into the room. Since the whistle is clearly to blame this is thrown away in the sea.


OpenID diebooth said...

You've picked out some of my all-time favourite ghost stories here! The Red Room, The Monkey's Paw (we've actually recently posted a pastiche of that one on Re-Vamp) and Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You.

I think I need to check out The Lone Ghost though - even your write up of it is quite chilling, "whose body is found in her bed with her arm outstretched, as if she is being pulled." Shudders!

I think I mentioned the really disturbing adaptation of Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You? It's here on Youtube:


Thu Jun 23, 10:13:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Die! Methinks it was much easier to write horror before electricity - all those shadows and candles burning out :-)

I shall check out revamp in a mo. I've been out all day and just come in.

Thu Jun 23, 07:50:00 pm  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

"Die" is conveniently named.

I dearly love James and James on ghosts...

Much easier before cell phones with their silly music and easy access to family and friends.

Thu Jun 23, 11:37:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, Marly, 'Die' is rather good, isn't it?

I like the mannered-but-not-too mannered style. It adds to the tension.

Yes, cell phones - or 'mobiles' as we call them over here - are a real blow to many a modern crime writer too, I should think...

Fri Jun 24, 10:21:00 am  
Anonymous marly youmans said...

Yes, it must be annoying to have to always get rid of the purse or knock the dang thing out of the victim's hand or something!

Sat Jun 25, 02:58:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

If the character were someone like me it would be easy: constantly forget to charge the thing up. I (don't) do this so often I sometimes feel it's hardly worth my possessing one.

Sat Jun 25, 05:23:00 pm  

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