Ghosts, precognition, suicide, and the afterlife are all themes in these thrilling stories by Britain and America's greatest Victorian women, proving their talent for creating dark, sensational, and horrifying tales of the supernatural. This anthology showcases some of the best and most representative work by female writers during this period, including Emily Bronte, Mary Braddon, George Eliot, and Edith Nesbit, as well as Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Riddell, Louisa Baldwin, Mary Penn, Violet Quirk, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Editor Mike Ashley provides valuable insight into the authors' lives. Each story still has the ability to shock, frighten, and show how Victorian women perfected and developed the Gothic genre.
An interesting, if somewhat mixed, collection of stories. Most of them are atmospheric and engaging; one is the most dreadful piece of writing I have ever forced myself to read!
My favourite was Luella Miller by Mary Wilkins Freeman, a story of evil that is totally unaware of and unconcerned with the devastation it causes.
The Shadow in the Corner by Mary E. Braddon is a more "conventional" ghost story, but the most chilling and poignant of the collection.
Elizabeth Gaskell's The Old Nurse's Story is the most engaging in terms of the narrative voice and, again, very effective.
The worst of the bunch, and the most cloyingly self-indulgent and mawkish piece of prose I have had the misfortune of enduring, is the final tale, The Presence by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. These final 10 pages lost the book a star from my rating! Why the editor included it with the other excellent stories he chose baffles me.
The omission by the book's editor of the publications and dates when the stories first appeared is odd and something that could easily have been included.
All-in-all, a well-worth-reading, if slightly flawed, collection.
I have to admit that I found some of the stories in this book extremely interesting and other were so-so. There was a handful of writers that I added to my list of To Read and thankfully Amazon had quite a few of their works as free e-books. The back stories of a lot of these writers was just as interesting as the stories in this book. Quite a few of these women bucked the societal rules and did their own thing -- sometimes through necessity and others just because they wanted to live their life on their terms. You have to remember this was a time when women were still considered "possessions" of either their family or their husbands. They didn't possess any rights so to be a writer was consider risque at best and scandalous at worse.
This is an interesting collection of works by English and American women. With the exceptions of “The Old Nurse’s Story” and The Lifted Veil” (both of which I have already read), these are little-known and hard to find short stories of the macabre.
This book was rated four stars until I got to the last story (The Presence). I don't know what the editor was thinking to add that at the end! The Presence is the internal monologue of a woman while the rest of the collection contains narrated stories. It doesn't fit; I had trouble reading it.
Otherwise, a good collection of stories that were well written and mildly ghostly.
Ok, ok: Rebecca's review swayed me into upgrading my rating from two to three stars. I was frustrated by some of the editor's choices, but many of the stories are were memorable enough to hold the collection together. I particularly enjoyed Mary Wilkins Freeman's "Luella Miller" for its witchy premise and its narrator's distinctive voice, which made me feel included in the intimate act of spinning a spooky yarn over the kitchen table.
Others were ruined for me by the editor's decision to clump stories with similar plots back-to-back (someone moves into a new home, only to slowly find out the home is... haunted!). After a while, this plot seemed formulaic and boring, despite how well the stories would stand on their own individually.
I would have liked more discussion from the author about the social and historical context of these stories; without this, some stories that aren't as strong (Emily Brontë's "The Palace of Death) seem included without merit and are easily forgotten.
The stories in this collection are variable but they are all fascinating in their different ways. I think women are often much better at writing about the supernatural than men are. There is one story in here that I particularly recommend. It is called Sir Nigel Otterburne's Case by Louisa Baldwin.
If, like me before I read this story, you have never heard of Louisa Baldwin, don't be put off by that. She was a remarkable woman from a remarkable family. She was painted many times by the Pre-Raphaelite painters and was mother of a British Prime Minister.
Her story is eerie, deeply atmospheric and gripping. It also has a terrific climax. If you have any imagination at all, you will certainly be stimulated by this.
If these had all been written by the same author, I would probably have given it 2 stars, but one or two of the stories really are better than that. This collections is definitely for the reader specifically interested in the genre of victorian supernatural stories. There is some variety in the stories themselves but by&large they are written about the same kinds of characters (for example all of the protagonists are are more or less from the same income bracket, the same place in society, have the same level of education etc.): literate victorians with enough income for considerable leisure time. There are no stories from the maid's perspective or the duke or duchess. Not surprisingly, they all have very similar experiences & perspectives on those experiences.
I rated this book one star higher than everyone in my book group. They felt that the editor could have done a better job at just about everything, from compiling the stories to providing some historical and literary context to the pieces in his little write-ups that prefaced each selection. I agree with all their grumbles, but I have decided that the stories themselves earned a solid three stars from me. Only one or two are actually creepy, but many of them are well-written and entertaining. My favorites were "The Shadow in the Corner" and "The Lifted Veil."