Tuesday Terror! Haunted Houses by Charlotte Riddell

Entertainingly shivery…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

For those who prefer a rather more gentle haunting experience comes this delightful pair of novels from another “forgotten” Victorian, the Irish-born Charlotte Riddell.

The second novel, The Uninhabited House, seems to be rather better known than the first, Fairy Water, and I would agree it’s the stronger of the two, especially in terms of the ghostly aspects. But Fairy Water is full of charm with a delightful first-person narrator who grows ever more likeable as the book progresses.

Fairy Water

Charlotte Riddell

Our narrator is Mr H Stafford Trevor, a bachelor of independent means who has made it his life’s work to dine out. His natural habitat is the foggy London of good society but he often visits his cousin’s country house, Fairy Water, especially in strawberry season since he’s rather fonder of fresh strawberries than he is of his cousin. Mr Trevor is a delightful combination of self-satisfication and self-deprecation – a man who claims to live for pleasure only, but whom we come to realise is a staunch friend to those he loves. His voice is what makes this story special – he is deliciously snobbish and a little wicked about the society in which he moves…

Old friends welcome me for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, to speak in the hideous idiom of a people whose accent I detest, and whose ways are abhorrent to me – one degree less abhorrent only than their primitive ballads, always suggestive of the screech of a bagpipe. Young couples welcome me for the sake of the dead and gone; people whose position is assured, because, like dear Lady Mary, who plays a little part in this story, it is quite safe to whisper secret scandals, and the latest and most wicked bon mot in my ear; and the nouveau riche, because, poor wretches, they believe I must be somebody.

When the rather boorish, bullying cousin marries a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, Stafford finds himself befriending her; and later, when the cousin dies, he becomes a kind of surrogate father to Mary, the young widow, and unofficial guardian to her several children. He is also attached to a young man, Valentine Waldrum, the son of a woman he once loved. Valentine has become the owner of Crow Hall – the haunted house – following the tragic death of his father who had been driven mad by the ghostly presence there. To help Valentine, Stafford will attempt to rid Crow Hall of its resident spectre.

The ghostly stuff is very mild and often humorous, and is something of an add-on to the story of poor Mary, left in a difficult position because of the iniquitous will of her dead husband, and Valentine, who fears his father’s insanity may be hereditary. The perceptive among you may suspect that romance ensues – I couldn’t possibly comment. But while Stafford tries to do his best for the young people, he still has time for plenty of humorous commentary on the various characters involved in the story. Scare factor very low – entertainment factor very high!

The Uninhabited House

This time our narrator is a young man, Harry Patterson, who works as a clerk in the law firm of Mr Craven. On their books is River Hall, the property of a young girl orphaned when her father took his own life in the library. The girl’s aunt, Miss Blake, is a great comic character – rude, somewhat uncouth, and an opportunity for Riddell to poke fun at her own Irish background. Mr Craven keeps letting the house, but tenants never stay long. Eventually one aggrieved tenant complains bitterly that he should have been warned that the house was haunted. With his reputation at stake, Mr Craven is reluctant to continue letting the house, but our intrepid clerk offers to live in River Hall himself and lay the ghost, if he can. (The perceptive among you may wonder if he’s inspired by feelings of romance for the young owner – I couldn’t possibly comment.)

….It is as well to confess at once that I was for the moment frightened. Subsequently I saw many wonderful sights, and had some terrible experiences in the Uninhabited House; but I can honestly say, no sight or experience so completely cowed me for the time being, as that dull blackness to which I could assign no shape, that spirit-like rapping of fleshless fingers, which seemed to increase in vehemence as I obeyed its summons.
….Doctors say it is not possible for the heart to stand still and a human being live, and, as I am not a doctor, I do not like to contradict their dogma, otherwise I could positively declare my heart did cease beating as I listened, looking out into the night with the shadow of that darkness projecting itself upon my mind…

The spookiness aspect of this is stronger than in Fairy Water but still of the mild shiver variety rather than the hiding behind the sofa kind. It’s soon clear there’s also a mystery surrounding the haunting, and as the book goes on it actually becomes as much a mystery novel as a ghost story. Again our narrator is extremely likeable – brave but not to the point of arrogance, and as amusingly observant of society’s eccentrics as Mr Trevor in Fairy Water. The storytelling in this one is more direct, giving it a better flow overall, and while the mystery might not be the hardest in the world to work out, it gives an added element of interest to the plot.

I found both of these to be highly enjoyable page-turners, with enough spookiness to entertain but mild enough for the scaredest of scaredy-cats out there. The quality of the writing is excellent, with a touch of Victorian sentimentality but not too much, and the warm humour makes both books pleasingly amusing. Apparently Riddell wrote lots of short ghost stories too, and I look forward to seeking them out.

Fretful Porpentine rating: 😱 😱

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The porpentine was amused too…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link (I’m afraid it’s not due out till April 2019 in the US)

39 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Haunted Houses by Charlotte Riddell

  1. I love Charlotte Riddell’s work! I didn’t know that this was being published (since I usually read all of her work on Project Gutenberg) but I’ll definitely be buying it 🙂

    • I’m not sure if I’ve ever come across her before, though I feel her name is familiar – I may have read one or two of her short stories in anthologies, perhaps. But I’ll definitely be seeking more, so thanks for the Gutenberg tip! And I’m sure you’ll love this book… 😀

  2. Nothing like a smiling porcupine to bring out the terror in me. 😀
    But these words were the most terrifying: “I’m afraid it’s not due out till April 2019 in the US.” I have to waaaaaaaaaaaait.

    • Hahaha – oh, that little porpy is too cute to be creepy! 😉 Aww, I’m sorry about that – I don’t know why there’s such a long gap. Books usually come out on the same day now. Maybe Amazon has the date wrong… 😦

  3. Well, I’m glad that the porpy was amused, FictionFan. It sounds as though these books are as much about the society of the times as they are about anything else, and that’s interesting in and of itself. I do like the wicked bit of wit about that society, too. These do sound like lovely reads.

    • Yes, they’re full of delightful, tongue-in-cheek observation, making fun of society but never in a mean way. And the stories are strong enough to hold the humour and spookiness together – and a nice little bit of romance to make the porpy smile!

    • Haha – isn’t it the most adorable little thing? 😀 Thank you! I’m a big fan of ghost stories, especially when they’re not too scary, and the humour in these made them especially enjoyable…

    • Her name seemed familiar to me – I think I may have come across her in an anthology before. But these novels are great fun – perfect light reading for the spooky season… 😀

    • Isn’t this one especially adorable? 😀

      I think I may have come across her in an anthology before – her name seemed familiar. But after enjoying these so much, I’ll definitely be seeking out more. Enjoy!

  4. Hurrah for the porpentine and for Tuesday Terror, my very favourite part of your brilliant blog! Have got so many great recommendations from it, and this one sounds interesting too. I’d never heard of Charlotte Riddell before.

    • Aw, thank you – you’ve made my day! I enjoy doing Tuesday Terror, so I’m so pleased you enjoy it! 😀 I think I may have come across her in an anthology before – her name seemed familiar. But after reading these, I’ll definitely be seeking more. One of my other commenters mentioned some of her stuff is available on Project Gutenberg…

    • Thank you! 😀 I think I might have come across her in an anthology before – her name seemed familiar. But after reading these, I’ll definitely be looking out for more – I love this sort of gentle horror!

  5. I don’t believe I’ve ever read Ms. Riddell before either. Looks like you’ve uncovered another gem to tempt us with!
    Is that our porpy’s baby picture? He’s just so doggone cute! And since he’s being held by a bare hand, I have to assume their quills don’t become needle-like until they’re older, right??

    • I must say the British Library is doing a great job of bringing all sorts of forgotten authors back into the limelight – hurrah! She’s definitely worth looking out for…

      Haha – isn’t it the most adorable picture! I don’t know about the quills, but that little thing doesn’t look as if he’d even want to hurt anybody… 😉

  6. These both sound delightful even for someone like me who isn’t too fond of ghostly goings on – I do like how you avoided spoilers for any possible romances in both books 😉
    The only thing that puts me off is what on earth possessed a man to take his life in the library of all places?

  7. I’ve read a number of stories in which a Victorian spends most of the book wondering if he will go mad like his parent. It makes me wonder if Victorian people walked around the streets, mental illnesses on full display, just making relatives worry all day.

    • Ha – sounds a bit like contemporary Glasgow… 😉 Yeah, all that repression definitely made those Victorians a bit paranoid about insanity – good for the horror novel, not so good for the Victorians, I imagine!

  8. Oh I like these! They sound really entertaining, and I love an aspect of humour to my horror-I’m reviewing a book that you’ll see on my blog shortly that includes both these genres, although it’s new, not an oldie goldie like these 🙂

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