“Humorous Ghost Stories” by Dr. Dorothy Scarborough, 1921, Introduction & TOC

The Sanguine Woods


The Humorous Ghost

Dorothy Scarborough, PhD, 1921

Lecturer in English at Columbia University, and author of the essay: The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction,* and editor of the anthropology: Famous Modern Ghost Stories.”

The essay below was printed in 1921 as the Introduction to the anthology G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press.


The humorous ghost is distinctly a modern character. In early literature wraiths took themselves very seriously, and insisted on a proper show of respectful fear on the part of those whom they honored by haunting. A mortal was expected to rise when a ghost entered the room, and in case he was slow about it, his spine gave notice of what etiquette demanded. In the event of outdoor apparition, if a man failed to bare his head in awe, the roots of his hair reminded him of his remissness. Woman has always had the advantage…

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Steampunk—Extraordinary Tales of Victorian Futurism, ed. Mike Ashley

Table of Contents

4 • Foreword: Brit Boffin Delivers Steampunk’s Pure Quill! or After Such Knowledge, What Thrills? • (2010) • essay by Paul Di Filippo
7 • Introduction: When Steampunk Was Real • (2010) • essay by Mike Ashley
10 • Mr. Broadbent’s Information • (1909) • short fiction by Henry A. Hering
26 • The Automaton • (1900) • short fiction by Reginald Bacchus and C. Ranger Gull [as by Reginald Bacchus and Ranger Gull]
46 • The Abduction of Alexandra Seine • (1900) • short story by Fred C. Smale
62 • The Gibraltar Tunnel • (1914) • short fiction by Jean Jaubert (trans. of Le tunnel de Gibraltar)
80 • From Pole to Pole • (1904) • short story by George Griffith (variant of From Pole to Pole: An Account of a Journey Through the Axis of the Earth; Collated from the Diaries of the Late Professor Haffkin and His Niece, Mrs. Arthur Princeps)
106 • In the Deep of Time • (1897) • novelette by George Parsons Lathrop
154 • The Brotherhood of Seven Kings: The Star Shaped Marks • (1898) • short fiction by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace (variant of The Star Shaped Marks)
182 • The Plague of Lights • (1904) • short fiction by Owen Oliver (variant of The Plague of Lights: A Tale of the Year 1906)
196 • What the Rats Brought • (1903) • short story by Ernest Favenc
208 • The Great Catastrophe • (1910) • short fiction by George Davey
220 • Within an Ace of the End of the World • (1900) • short story by Robert Barr
234 • An Interplanetary Rupture • (1906) • short fiction by Frank L. Packard (variant of An Inter-Planetary Rupture)
248 • The Last Days of Earth • (1901) • short story by Geo. C. Wallis (variant of The Last Days of Earth: Being the Story of the Launching of the “Red Sphere”) [as by George C. Wallis]
262 • The Plunge • (1916) • short fiction by George Allan England

The Dreaming Sex—Early Tales of Scientific Imagination by Women, ed. Mike Ashley


Table of Contents

1 •  ”Speak if you can,” she implored: “Just one word!” from The Five Senses • (1909) • interior artwork by Fred Leist
11 • Introduction: The Dreaming Sex: Early Tales of Scientific Imagination by Women • essay by Mike Ashley
15 • The Blue Laboratory • (1897) • short story by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace [as by L. T. Mead]
40 • The Mortal Immortal • (1833) • short story by Mary Shelley
55 • The Moonstone Mass • (1868) • short story by Harriet Prescott Spofford
72 • A Wife Manufactured to Order • (1895) • short story by Alice W. Fuller
82 • Good Lady Ducayne • (1896) • novelette by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
111 • The Hall Bedroom • (1903) • short story by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman [as by Mary Wilkins Freeman]
129 • The Curious Experience of Thomas Dunbar • (1904) • short story by Francis Stevens [as by G. M. Barrows]
143 • The Sultana’s Dream • (2010) • short story by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (variant of Sultana’s Dream 1905) [as by Roquia Sakhawat Hossein]
156 • The Five Senses • (1909) • short story by E. Nesbit [as by Edith Nesbit]
175 • Lady Clanbevan’s Baby • (1915) • short story by Clotilde Graves
186 • Monsieur Fly-by-Night • (1915) • short story by Muriel Pollexfen
210 • The Ultimate Ingredient • (1919) • short story by Greye La Spina
229 • The Miracle of the Lily • (1928) • novelette by Clare Winger Harris
249 • The Earth Slept: A Vision • (1894) • short story by Adeline Knapp


by Mike Ashley

AT THE END of the Victorian era, from around 1890, there was a considerable rise in the number of stories that looked at the potential benefits, or dangers, of the wealth of technological and scientific advance that had been gathering pace during the previous forty or fifty years. This was the dawn of what would later be termed ‘science fiction’ (often abbreviated to the objectionable ‘sci-fi’), although that phrase was not coined until 1929. These earlier works, notably those by H.G. Wells, were known by the more charming phrase of ‘scientific romance’ – romance being used in its original meaning of something exciting and adventurous.

This anthology brings together a selection of such stories, all by women.

It has become a common-held belief that it was not until after the Second World War that women turned to science fiction, when writers such as Judith Merril, Kate Wilhelm, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin and Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr) began their trade. Before 1939 science fiction appeared to be solely a male domain, untouched by female hands. This anthology will prove that wrong. One thing that science fiction sets out to do is to speculate on what new advances in science and technology might achieve, and there were many women just as interested in that prospect as men. However, the women laboured under a major handicap. Early in the first story, ‘The Blue Laboratory’, a male scientist says to the young woman who has come to serve as governess to his children, ‘Is it possible that you, a young lady, are interested in science?’ You can almost hear the amazement in his voice. This story was published in 1897, just a year before Marie Curie established her reputation with the discovery of radium. Yet thirty years later that view still prevailed. Hugo Gernsback, publisher of the world’s first sciencefiction magazine, Amazing Stories, was delighted but surprised when one of the prize-winners in a contest he had run in 1926 was a woman. ‘As a rule,’ he wrote, ‘women do not make good scientifiction writers because their education and general tendencies on scientific matters are usually limited.

Were they limited? If they were it was because the scientific establishment imposed the barriers. It was almost impossible for women in the Victorian or Edwardian era to gain a scientific education. Elizabeth Garrett managed to qualify as a doctor in 1865 but only because she found a loophole in the regulations of the Society of Apothecaries. No sooner had she qualified than the society changed its regulations, banning women from entering. It was not until 1911 that Elizabeth Davies-Colley became the first British woman member of the Royal College of Surgeons.

It was not as if women were not interested in science. Caroline Herschel, for instance, the sister of the Astronomer Royal, Wilhelm Herschel, was an excellent astronomer in her own right, discovering several comets and producing an important catalogue of nebulae. The Royal Astronomical Society awarded her its Gold Medal in 1828, but it would not go to another women until 1996.

Then there was Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron. She became a first-class mathematician and worked with Charles Babbage on his famous ‘Difference Engine’ and ‘Analytical Engine’, now considered the prototype of the world’s first computer. She even wrote the equivalent of a program for the machine, with the result that she is considered the world’s first computer programmer – back in 1843!

Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium and polonium, went on to win the Nobel Prize not once but twice – for physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911. And yet the French Academy of Sciences refused to elect her as a member.

The interest of women in science may be traced back many years in Britain, certainly to the time of Margaret Cavendish (1623-73) who, through marriage, had become the Duchess of Newcastle. What is interesting about Cavendish is that not only did she debate science and philosophy with the best of them – she attended meetings of the Royal Society although was not allowed to be a member – but she wrote one of the earliest works of science fiction. This was The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World, first published in 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London. It is a unique and highly imaginative work, unlike anything else of its day, creating a neighbouring world to the earth to which a woman travels, becoming the ruler or goddess of one of them. The story is self-indulgent but full of wonderful scientific ideas.

We can add to that. In his excellent study of the history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree (1973), Brian W Aldiss, while recognizing earlier works, identified the novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus as the point at which true science fiction was born. Because of its interpretation by the cinema, Frankenstein is usually regarded as a work of horror fiction, but its core deals with the fundamental scientific process for the creation of life. Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelley, who was only twenty when the book was published anonymously at the end of January 1818. So not only is it clear that women were interested in the study of science; they were also interested in speculating on its potential in the new world of technological marvels that the industrial and scientific revolutions were creating. It was a woman who created the field of scientific fiction, and this anthology celebrates that by looking at other contributions by other women during the century following Frankenstein.

There were plenty of other women producing similar works during this century. I have concentrated on short fiction, but it is worth highlighting some women novelists to emphasize – if it were necessary – just how many women were writing scientific fiction. There was Jane Webb (1807-1858), best known for her works on horticulture and the Victorian kitchen garden but who, in The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827), took Frankenstein a step further by creating a scientifically advanced future in which it was possible to revive the dead. Then there was Mary Griffith (c 1800-1877), another horticulturalist, who wrote Three Hundred Years Hence (1836), describing a utopia where women are emancipated and slavery is abolished. There is more hope for the future in A Vision of Our Country in the Year Nineteen Hundred (1851) by Jane Ellis, while in Mizora (1881) Mary Bradley Lane reveals an ideal society within a hollow earth – ideal, that is, if you don’t like men or animals. Women were strong in suggesting utopias, either in the future or elsewhere on earth. Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910), who became Australia’s first female political candidate in 1897, presented one such in A Week in the Future (1889). So did Anna Blake Dodd in The Republic of the Future (1887). The best known of them is probably Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935).

There were many other themes. Poseidon’s Paradise (1892), by the Californian writer Elizabeth Birkmaier, is a genuine adventure romance set in Atlantis just before its destruction. Christabel Coleridge (1843-1921), granddaughter of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, produced an interesting novel of telepathy in The Thought-Rope (1909). Most remarkable of all, in my view, is Around a Distant Star (1904) by the French writer Jean Delaire (real name Elisa Touchemolin, 1868-1950), in which a scientist creates a spaceship-drive that can travel at two thousand times the speed of light. He also invented a super-telescope. He travels to a far-distant planet and through his telescope looks back and sees earth at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Few of these names will be known today, and that only underlines the point that, despite there being a significant amount of scientific fiction written by women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it has been forgotten. Women had considerable interest in what science might bring, as the following stories show. Here you will find thoughts on how to slow down the ageing process, how to photograph thoughts, how to enhance our natural senses, whether we can become invisible, whether there might be another dimension around might be satisfied with synthetic wives and so much more. Apart from the first and final stories, the contents are arranged in the order in which they were first published, so as to follow the emergence of ideas.

(Mike Ashley, 2010)

Night Chills, a 1975 Anthology, ed. by Kirby McCauley, TOC & Comments

nightchills_zpsrjwowsrxTable of Contents

  1. Kirby McCauley – Introduction
  2. Ray Bradbury – At Midnight, in the Month of June
  3. Walter de la Mare – A: B: O.
  4. Thomas M. Disch – Minnesota Gothic
  5. Joseph Payne Brennan – The Jugular Man
  6. Fritz Leiber – Alice and the Allergy
  7. L. P. Hartley – The Island
  8. Gahan Wilson – Yesterday’s
  9. Dennis Etchison – Wet Season
  10. H. P. Lovecraft & August Derleth – Innsmouth Clay
  11. Robert E. Howard – People of the Black Coast
  12. Ramsey Campbell – Call First
  13. Richard L. Tierney – From Beyond the Stars
  14. Robert Bloch – The Funny Farm
  15. Carl Jacobi – The Face in the Wind
  16. Manly Wade Wellman – Goodman’s Place
  17. Mary Elizabeth Counselman – Kellerman’s Eyepiece
  18. Karl Edward Wagner – Sticks
  19. Marjorie Bowen – The Sign-Painter and the Crystal Fishes

1975 Blurb: “Eighteen spine-freezing visions of the world of supernatural terror which lurks within!

INTO THE MIND’S DARKEST SECRETS…ROBERT BLOCH, FRITZ LIEBER, ROBERT E. HOWARD, RAY BRADBURY, H. P LOVECRAFT… these are only a few of the renowned horror storytellers whose work haunts the pages of this book. Here you’ll discover a fatal night-time game of hide-and-seek… a rusted, mouldy trunk containing a ghastly artifact… a sinister fairy tale encounter in the autumn countryside… a strange device which calls the dead from the grave… an allergy with a macabre origin… a Halloween prank which brings eerie consequences… a touch of slimy evil in an ordinary family… these, and many other chilling experiences, await within these pages, to haunt the reader with a breath of cold terror.


Night Chills tends to get overlooked in the rush to praise [ McCauley’s other anthologies:] Frights [1976] and especially Dark Forces [1980]; but [Night Chills is] a first-class selection, reminiscent in many ways of the kind of anthology August Derleth was knocking out in the 1960s and 1970s.I

Night Chills, Story Synopses:


Walter De La Mare – A.B.O.: Keen antiquarians Dugdale and Pelluther excavate a metallic chest from beneath an ugly, stunted yew tree in the former’s garden. Engraved on the lid, a single word of which only the first three letters have survived the elements. They lug it inside for examination but “Would to God that we had forthwith carried the chest unopened to the garden and buried it deeper than deep!” Luckily for us, Dugdale takes a chisel to the lid and unleashes a spectacularly horrible, undead walking ABO.

According to McCauley, A.B.O. was first published in The Cornhill under the nom de plume Walter Ramal which may explain why anthologists have overlooked it down the years.

Joseph Payne Brennan – The Jugular Man: Marliss, an antiquarian, buys a curious turtle ornament at a second-hand market. The dealer explains that it came from an affluent Southern family who fell upon hard times. The turtle is fitted with a concealed bell which the family used to summon the servants. When the loyal old retainer developed crippling arthritis, they discontinued the practice unless there was a dire emergency. The years of disuse mean the bell no longer works.

At the same time as Marliss makes his purchase, the city is living in fear of the Jugular Man, a burglar with the nasty habit of slitting the throats of those he robs. When Marliss disturbs him at his midnight capers, the Jugular Man comes at him with a knife. Marliss grabs the first thing at hand – the turtle. The bell shrills. The faithful retainer hasn’t worn well in the grave ….

Robert Bloch – The Funny Farm: Joseph Satterlee, a retired accountant, lives as a recluse, his only companions the comic strips he’s amassed these past fifty years, having spent a small fortune on old newspapers that ran them during his youth. Mandrake the Magician, Prince Valiant, Happy Hooligan and Little Orphan Annie & Co., are his friends of fifty years.

Lenny Morgan, a burglar with a very nasty streak, gets wind of old Joe’s collection and dollar signs flash before his eyes.

All I can think of is that the editor suffered a break-in while compiling Night Chills because here’s another one!

Ramsey Campbell – Call First: Ned grows obsessed with an old man’s habit of always telephoning before he leaves the library, merely to let somebody know “I’m coming home now”. He also fixates about the ring the guy wears on his wedding finger, which seems to have a human finger-nail embedded where the stone should be. He decides to break into the man’s home, where he encounters a highly sophisticated – and original – burglar alarm. Every black magician should have one.

Gahan Wilson – Yesterday’s Witch: It’s an age old tradition among the kids that, once they’ve reached the age of thirteen, come Halloween they must pay a visit to Miss Marble’s place, ring her doorbell and run away. The reclusive old woman is a reputed witch and Fred Pulley claims he once spotted her in her garden pulling bones from the ground. And her teeth! “they’re long and yellow. And they come to points at the ends. I think I saw blood on them.”

Tonight it’s our narrator’s turn. He pulls on his papier mache corpse mask and sets off with his gang. Their comeuppance is way too gentle for my tastes. I’d have preferred she set about the little bastards with a chainsaw, but thats most likely the romantic in me talking again.

Mary Elizabeth Counselman – Kellerman’s Eyepiece: When he focuses on the Sea of Tranquility with the fire-damaged lens purchased from the Cruikshank Scientific Co, amateur astrologer Cyril Kellerman observes gnat-like beings with the face of Neil Armstrong emerging from the moon’s craters. Another customer in Tokyo, sixteen year old star-gazer Hideo Nagashima, who also witnesses this phenomena, dies in an ‘accidental’ fall from the roof, but not before he’s shared his scary Earth’s conquest theory with Kellerman. Story told entirely in correspondence and a newspaper clipping.

Karl E. Wagner – Sticks: Spring 1942. Having just received his call-up papers, pulp artist Colin Leverett decides upon a fishing expedition in the desolate Mann Brook region. Tramping the cairn alongside the stream, Leverett is intrigued by the profusion of latticed stick symbols strewn through the trees, each of which “remind … him unpleasantly of some bizarre crucifix.” Having sketched several of these weird stick figures, he investigates a decrepit farmhouse where he discovers far, far worse. The events of that day haunt him far worse than anything he experiences during the war and, when he returns home, his obsession with the sticks sees him incorporate them in much of his increasingly gruesome illustrative work which by now even Weird Tales is reluctantly rejecting as too horrific.

Several years later, Leverett is offered a commission to illustrate a collection of H. Kenneth Allard’s stories by specialist publisher Gothic House. His acceptance of the job sets in motion a grisly chain of events that sees the brutal murder of several horror luminaries and culminates in his final encounter with the abomination he first saw in the farmhouse cellar thirty years previous.

In his afterword to the story in Stuart David Schiff’s Whispers (Jove, 1987), Wagner reveals that the inspiration for Sticks came from a real-life experience of Weird Tales regular Lee Brown Coye and, naturally, the truth was eerier by far than the fiction.

Thomas M. Disch – Minnesota Gothic: While her parents are in California attending Grandpa’s cremation, seven year old Gretel is dumped on ancient neighbour, Minnie Haeckel and the whatever-it-is that’s animating her brother Lew’s corpse, thirty years after she dug it up. ‘Lew’ is an invalid who Minnie keeps locked away in his pigsty of a room, just as well, really as he has nasty paedophile tendencies. Matters come to a head when Minnie bakes a gingerbread toad. Lew warns Gretel that his sister is a wicked witch and the only way she can save herself is to take some dough, mould it into Minnie’s shape, and eat it ….

Fritz Leiber – Alice and the Allergy: For these past two years Dr. Howard’s young wife Alice has been a martyr to puffy-eyes, panic attacks and depression, but as yet neither he nor Dr. Renshaw from the Allergy lab have been able to discover what exactly sets her off. Howard believes what she really needs is a psychiatrist. She was raised by a man-hating aunt who filled her head with all sorts of notions and it hardly helped matters when she was attacked by the rapist-cum-strangler who’d terrorised three Midwestern cities over a lengthy period. But that man has been dead for two years, so why is she so terrified that he’s coming back for her.

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The Terror Tale: A Dying Art?


I believe this to be timeless wisdom, though penned in 1976. It is for these reasons I love older terror fiction. And it is for these reasons that I dislike a lot of modern horror fiction.

AFTERWORD by Kirby McCauley

FRIGHTS (an anthology of new horror stories), St. Martin’s Press, 1976

‘The tale of terror is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, inherent to every human culture. It has been with us from the very beginning, whether in stories told around campfires or represented in drama, art, whispered over [our] night fires—or in broad daylight, for that matter—of brushes with scary things. And men who have put their experiences of awe and fright in written form have done so since earliest times, from The Odyssey of Homer forward to the date you see on your daily newspaper. Many of the great literary figures have created works of terror and the supernatural, Shakespeare, Goethe, Poe, Balzac, Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Maupassant, Kipling, Mann, to name only some. The appeal of “things that go bump in the night” is very basic everywhere. And now this form [—i.e., the terror tale—of storytelling] is perhaps the last strong outpost of Romantic expression in the arts.

And yet, for all that, particularly in America, there is a kind of stubborn supercilious refusal in many quarters to recognize this kind of story as a literary form worthy of attention by serious, intelligent readers. The reasons for this are doubtlessly many, but one is surely the tongue-in-cheek interest in bad horror movies and their overworked reliance upon familiar supernatural characters, Dracula and Frankenstein the two best known. All these stereotypes have their place, but how big a place is the question. Where the interest seems to be destructive is when the essential inspiration and attitude [are] irreverent or sadistic. Concerning the former, I am among those who believe that the magazine “Unknown” and magazines in its tradition failed because their predominant premise was too whimsical. “Unknown” did run a good many excellent stories, but also a good deal of “cute, clever, and amusing” material written by writers having a condescending, self-indulgent fun at the reader’s expense. People do occasionally like humor in their supernatural tales, and, indeed, there is an element of ironic humor near the heart of the good story of terror; but it must be carefully controlled or the reader is unlikely to engage in the sober kind of pondering necessary for maximum enjoyment of the strange story…

The mainstay appeal is the chill of probing the unknown, as the bestselling books in the genre testify. And the tale of the humorous macabre is usually most satisfying when written by those who have reverance and love for the non-humorous supernatural and who themselves write it well—a W. W. Jacobs, a Robert Bloch, or a Gahan Wilson. One knows in reading their funny supernaturals that it is an affectionate and respectful use of humor, and, probably deep down, a usage that is made with an occasional look over the proverbial shoulder. Many of those attracted to the light and whimsical tradition have, I would suggest, weak credentials in the respect and reverence department: their true loves are elsewhere—and it shows.

The intrusion of the sadistic into the supernatural terror story is more serious and perrenial. Any genre that frequently has to do with fear and death must naturally approach territory that is ripe for sadistic treatment. But not only is there a difference in treatment between the sadistic story and the true supernatural story, there is an equally great difference in inspiration and appeal, as Fritz Leiber ably points out in the Introduction to this book. Tales of the supernatural appeal on many levels, but none of them involve a focus on physical suffering and unpleasantness for its own sake.

Labels are tricky. What does one call this rather broad same-spirited form? I tend to prefer the term “terror”, but it seems to me only one of several satisfactory ones. Many are turning away from the word “horror,” but I like all the terms: stories of horror, wonder, terror, fantasy, the inexplicable, the supernatural, as long as the inspiration is not that of the dilettante or the sadist. FRIGHTS is the title of this collection because it seemed to me to convey a welcome to a broad variety of eerie and suspenseful stories. Additionally, I tried to collect stories that are a bit different, that struck me as more than another vampire story or another deal-with-the-Devil story; the somewhat off-road modern tale of suspense and horror was my goal. And- –important, I think—all the stories in this book have never been published before. There are, I believe, some very vital and fine things being written today in this field, and there should be more places to focus those new works.In a small way I hope this book enlarges that showcase.’

—Kirby McCauley
New York City
January 11, 1976

Jacket & Paperback Cover Art by George Zeil, 1976

(Images: Abe Books; Too Much Horror Fiction)

“The House of the Vampire” by George Sylvester Viereck

Haint-Blue Shudders

B16“Belfry Haunt” by Joseph Vargo. (josephvargo.com)

The House of the Vampire

George Sylvester Viereck, 1907


The freakish little leader of the orchestra, newly imported from Sicily to New York, tossed his conductor’s wand excitedly through the air, drowning with musical thunders the hum of conversation and the clatter of plates.

Yet neither his apish demeanour nor the deafening noises that responded to every movement of his agile body detracted attention from the figure of Reginald Clarke and the young man at his side as they smilingly wound their way to the exit.

The boy’s expression was pleasant, with an inkling of wistfulness, while the soft glimmer of his lucid eyes betrayed the poet and the dreamer. The smile of Reginald Clarke was the smile of a conqueror. A suspicion of silver in his crown of dark hair only added dignity to his bearing, while the infinitely ramified lines above…

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Isak Dinesen’s Gothic Tales

Isak Dinesen is probably the most influential champion in the twentieth century of the primitive power of story. In “The Cardinal’s First Tale,” Dinesen’s Cardinal makes a distinction between “story” and a new art of narration which, for the sake of realism and individual characters, sacrifices the story. Whereas this “novel” literature, the Cardinal says, is a human product, “the divine art is the story. In the beginning was the story.” And within our whole universe, he continues, “the story only has authority to answer that cry of heart of its characters, that one cry of heart of each of them: ‘Who am I?'”

By story, I understand the Cardinal to mean that same linguistic phenomenon which Claude Lévi-Strauss refers to as myth–that “part of language where the formula traduttore, tradittore reaches its lowest truth value,” for its “substance does not lie in its style, its original music, or its syntax, but in the story which it tells.” Story means that which the Russian Formalists defined as the sequence of actions existing prior to and independent of any particular discursive presentation of the events, and thus to be distinguished from plot, “sujet,” or discourse.

Karen Blixen had been working on the stories that make up Seven Gothic Tales for ten years before she tried to get them published in English under the masculine name Isak Dinesen. After being turned down by three publishers she sent the manuscript to American writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher, who liked it so much that she urged a publisher friend of hers to publish it, even though no one really believed that it would make any money. However, when the book appeared in January 1933, it was not only enthusiastically received by critics, it was chosen as a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month-Club and eagerly snapped up by readers.

The title of the collection is in some ways a misnomer, for there are many more tales here than seven; Dinesen, like the medieval and romantic storytellers from whom she draws her inspiration, often makes use of the insert tale; thus, her stories contain tales within tales within tales. Dinesen’s plots are often so complex that they are difficult to describe briefly, but since plot is so important in the Gothic romance in general and in Dinesen’s stories in particular, a short summary of some of the stories is necessary to get some idea of their thematic implications.

The first story in the American edition of Seven Gothic Tales, “The Deluge at Norderney,” has been called one of Dinesen’s most characteristic tales because it contains so many of her typical themes and motifs. The story takes place in 1835 when a great storm strikes a summer resort on the coast of Denmark. A famous Cardinal, Hamilcar von Sehestedt, is trapped in a farmhouse with three others awaiting rescue: the eccentric Miss Malin Nat-og-Dag, her companion the young Countess Calypso, and a young man. In the tradition of Boccaccio’s Decameron, the four tell stories while they wait. Discovering a spiritual union as a result of their stories, the two young people are joined in marriage by the Cardinal, who then reveals he is not the Cardinal, but rather Kasperson, the Cardinal’s secretary, a former actor. Miss Malin “marries” him in a spiritual union just before the water reaches them.

“The Old Chevalier” is a story told by a Danish nobleman, Baron von Brackel, about his adventure one wintery night in Paris in 1874 when his mistress tried to poison him. Escaping into the night, he encounters a young girl who he takes to his apartment. Although their lovemaking is idyllic, on awakening, the Baron asks what he must pay for the experience. When the girl asks for twenty francs, the ideal of the night before becomes the cold reality of daylight.

“The Monkey” is a supernatural story in which the Prioress of a secular convent tries to get her young nephew, Boris, who has been involved in a homosexual scandal in his regiment, married to Athena, the gigantic daughter of a count. The young woman refuses to marry Boris until, following her to her room one night, he forces her to kiss him–an attack that takes on all the implications of a rape in the light of the following day. The climactic scene occurs when the Prioress’s pet monkey jumps on her and tears off her cap, revealing that she is the monkey disguised as the Prioress, whereas the monkey is really the true Prioress of the Cloister.

“Supper at Elsinore” focuses on two sisters who, after the disappearance of their brother, remain old maids. When the ghost of the brother appears when they are in their fifties and tells them of his adventurous life as a pirate who has had five different wives, they must confront the ghostliness of their own lives.

“The Dreamers” is about the greatest opera singer of all time, Pellegrina Leoni, who loses her voice in a theater fire and take up a life of wandering under various disguises. Three different men tell stories of their encounters with three different beautiful women, only to discover that all three were Pellegrina. Pursued by the men, Pellegrina jumps over a precipice and dies.

The word “Gothic” in the title does not primarily refer to the Medieval Gothic tradition, but to its romantic revival in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth centuries, specifically identified in the imagination of Isak Dinesen with Horace Walpole, the author of the gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, and Lord Byron, the great romantic poet. Seeing this period as the “last great phase of aristocratic culture,” Dinesen has said that she set her tales in the past because it was a finished world, a world that she could easily “recompound” in her own imagination and one in which her readers would not be tempted to look for realism. As is typical of the gothic romance form, the characters in these stories are less realistic individuals than they are representatives of basic human desires and fears.

And indeed it is the romance form of Dinesen’s stories that has always drawn readers to them–not the romance associated with the cheap gothic thriller or the romantic melodrama, but rather the romance of the nineteenth-century decadence of Baudelaire and Huysman. Dinesen has often been compared with Scherazade, the mother of all storytellers in The Arabian Nights, because of her fantastic plots and inset stories; but she has also been compared to Henry James for her psychological insight and her careful use of language.

Dinesen’s stories are not about time-bound social issues, but rather about timeless universal desires. The one-night relationship of Baron von Brackel and the young woman he meets on the street in “The Old Chevalier” represents a basic human yearning for the actualization of the ideal. “The Monkey” is an allegorical tale about the split between human spirituality and physicality. The sisters’ desire for their brother in “Supper at Elsinore” is not a realistic treatment of incest, but rather a romantic and symbolic embodiment of narcissism and idealism.

Dinesen’s stories can only be understood in terms of the Kantian philosophic foundation that underlies and informs them. Her aesthetic point of view affirms that art is more real than everyday reality, that identity is never absolute but always shifting, that life is like a marionette theater in which we live in plots determined by God, and that the quest for the ideal is the inevitable heroic gesture that must end in inevitable tragi-comic conclusion. What readers looking for realism have criticized as Dinesen’s focus on aristocratic decadence and sexual perversion is but the means by which Dinesen explores basic human desire.

It is for these philosophic reasons that Dinesen’s stories are often about fiction-making and storytelling. In following her fantastic stories within stories, the reader becomes increasing cut off from ordinary reality, entering into a world of pure creation and imagination. Dinesen’s gothic tales are the stuff that dreams are made on–not dreams that allow escape from reality, but rather those that plunge one deeper into the very heart of darkness that is the human psyche.

Because of the fantastic, romantic nature of her stories and the elegant, aristocratic stature of Dinesen herself, she has become almost an iconic image of the archetypal storyteller–a wise elfin creature–more than a little witch-like–who has the magical ability to create self-sustaining worlds that, even as they strike us with their strangeness, evoke some deep sense of recognition of the mysteries that lies at the very heart of all human kind.

From a post by Charles May

The “Old-Fashioned” Literary Ghost Story Has Risen from the Grave—The Fellow Travellers & Other Stories by Sheila Hodgson!

Haint-Blue Shudders


I usually have trouble finding modern ghost stories I like. I prefer the longer, old style of prose from the past. But I am thrilled to discover this collection. Sheila Hodgson wrote these in the antiquated style, which seems to have been forgotten, unfortunately, or, worse, relegated to remain imprisoned in a specific time that we are now past. Here is an excerpt and the Contents of this 1998 collection. I haven’t yet discovered which story contains that thing with no eyes on the cover. 😬

Table of Contents

The Villa Martine
The Turning Point
The Lodestone Childermass
The Backward Glance
The Boat Hook
The Fellow Travellers
The Hand of Gideon Chant
Echoes from the Abbey
Here Am I, Where Are You?
The Smile
Come, Follow!


“It began in a pub near Shepherd’s Bush. Several of us, scriptwriters at Television Centre, had been debating why the ghost story…

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