Friday, June 24, 2011

Some English Ghost Stories part 2 (contains spoilers)

The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood (1906).
The two protagonists, Blackwood, and his elderly aunt, deliberately enter the empty house in search of ghosts. They search through each room (it is, of course dark and there are the usual candles and shadows and noises). The first encounter is a man's cough just as they step inside the front door - but the cougher is nowhere to be seen. After that there are further sightings: once the figure of a woman in the shadows, and then another time a face peers closely into Blackwoods. The most impressive part of the hauntings, however, are the noises on the floor above. The ghost goes from room to room, obviously searching. The aunt is terrified, so terrified, in fact, that her face becomes young again.

The climax to the story comes as they are ascending the stairs towards the noise. There are screams and the sound of two people hurtling down it, the one giving chase much heavier than the first. They sweep past them but their candle does not flicker. There are more screams in a downstairs room, and then the sound of someone throwing another over the stairs and that person landing on the hall floor below.

The aunt and nephew then escape through the front door, followed all the time by someone they don't dare turn around to see.

The Cigarette Case by Oliver Onions. (1911)
The story is introduced by the offer of a cigarette case. This reminds a man called Loder of something that happened in his youth. He was on holiday with a man called Carroll in Provence. There is a long lead up to the two of them going on a walk in a village. They discover an English aunt and niece walking in front of them. They talk, and are invited to the Englishwomen's house for a cigarette. They have a wonderful hour and then leave. When they tell the man they are staying with about this he denies there is such a house in the village. The next morning Loder finds he has lost his cigarette case, so the Frenchman takes them back to call at the house, but they can't find it. As a joke he shows them and old delapidated place which shares some of the features. They go in and realise it is the same place. There is no explanation.

Rose Rose by Barry Pain (1911).
An artist paints a model. She leaves for the night. The next morning, knowing she is often unreliable he arrives at his studio early and leaves the door open while he fetches cigarettes and a paper. To his surprise, Rose Rose is already waiting for him. He paints for an hour and is interrupted by the feeling someone has touched the back of his neck. When he looks back to the model she is gone. He then realises that she can never have been there because the door is locked. He decides he has been working too hard, and then discovers that Rose Rose died in a motor accident the night before. He then changes character, moves studios and becomes isolated. When a friend calls on him he tells him to come back in an hour. The friend decides to leave him alone.

The final paragraph relates how he later commits suicide and leaves a blank canvass with the message 'I have finished it but I can't stand it any more.'

The Confession of Charles Linkworth by E.F. Benson (1912)
A man who murdered his mother (the lead-up to the crime is fully described, which is interesting in itself) is found guilty and hanged. He does not confess, even though he is given ample opportunity. The next day the doctor of the prison (who is not only a man of independent means but of a 'sensitive' (to the supernatural) nature) hears a phone ring faintly in his house. When he lifts the receiver he hears faint whispers. When he rings the operator and asks to be put through to the number that has just rung him, he reaches the prison and the warden answers. No one has used the phone all night. The next day, back at work, becomes aware of a presence in the suite of rooms where the man was hanged (including a hanging man, dimly lit). The warden also confirms he was aware of a presence. The doctor tells the warden to give the ghost ample opportunity to use the phone tonight. That evening the ghost, who is indeed the murderer, says he needs to speak to the chaplain. The next night, after some convincing, the chaplain speaks to the ghost on the phone, but since the chaplain still believes it is a hoax, the doctor asks the ghost to provide evidence. The ghost duly appears in front of them (suitably described). Tha chaplain, now convinced, absolves him of sin. The ghost vanishes leaving the rope on the carpet. In a nice touch, the servant, when asked to pick up the rope, cannot see it.

On the Brighton Road by Richard Middleton (1912).
A tramp wakes along a frosty roadside. He is making for Brighton. He comes across a boy. The boy is on the road too, and has been for six years. When the tramps remarks that he could have died sleeping in the cold last night, the boy asks how does he know that he didn't? The boy then says how he has died several times but returns each times as a tramp. The boy eventually becomes ill and a motorist, who turns out to be a doctor, declares he has pneumonia and takes him to hospital. The man carries on alone. Later, after sleeping in a haystack, the boy catches up with him. When the tramp asks him about the pneumonia he says he died of it that morning.

Bone to his Bone by E.G. Swain (1912).
The writing in this story is particularly elegant and smooth. A vicar leaves a library to his successors in the vicarage 'forever'. One of these successors, 150 years later, loves this library of books so much that he sleeps in an adjoining room. Visitors in the other adjoining room often think they hear the vicar wandering around in the library at night, but the vicar puts the sounds down to 'something' wrong with the windows, furniture and so on. One Christams eve, when he can't sleep, the vicar wanders into the library to read. Someone hands him the matches in mid air. He finds one book 'The compleat gardn'er' open on the stand. He follows instructions revealed by odd sentences in the book telling him to go outside and dig by the Ilex. By the Ilex he finds a spade, which refuses to budge until he is determined to dig with it. Digging reveals a human radius. He reburies the radius in consecrated ground, returns to the library to find the book back on it shelf.


Anonymous marly youmans said...

I have read others by some of this batch of writers but do not seem to remember these four stories. (Might just be the ever-dumping-info brain!) I'm wondering what percentage of them were like M. R. James and wrote only ghost stories... Of course, he became a college tradition in writing his stories, so maybe that's sui generis. Dunno.

Completely forgot that I have a ghost story coming up in a September anthology. Ghosts by Gaslight: Stories of Steampunk and Supernatural Suspense Edited by Jack Dann and Nick Gevers:

1."The Iron Shroud" by James Morrow
2."Music, When Soft Voices Die" by Peter S. Beagle
3."The Shaddowwes Box" by Terry Dowling
4."The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder As Experienced by Sir Magnus Holmes and Almost-Doctor Susan Shrike" by Garth Nix
5."Why I Was Hanged" by Gene Wolfe
6."The Proving of Smollett Standforth" by Margo Lanagan
7."The Jade Woman of the Luminous Star" by Sean Williams
8."Smithers and the Ghosts of the Thar" by Robert Silverberg
9."The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn's Balloons" by John Langan
10."Face to Face" by John Harwood
11."Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism" by Richard Harland
12."The Grave Reflection" by Marly Youmans
13."Christopher Raven" by Theodora Goss
14."Rose Street Attractors" by Lucius Shepard
15."Blackwood's Baby" by Laird Barron
16."Mysteries of the Old Quarter" by Paul Park
17."The Summer Palace" by Jeffrey Ford

Sun Jun 26, 04:01:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Oooh, sounds good Marly! An impressive collection of authors, too. You've often remarked on how much reading I manage to do in comparison to your good self - and I think here is the answer! You are writing instead! :-)

The introduction to this collection, by Michael Co and R.A. Gilbert, is interesting too, and on the front coverflap it does mention that some were specialists, like the splendidly-named Algernon Blackwood, whereas for people like Henry James it was just one of the many sorts of writing he tried.

Sun Jun 26, 09:49:00 am  
Blogger Guillaume said...

I love The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories. I discovered so many great authors with it.

Fri Oct 16, 09:25:00 pm  

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