Tuesday Terror! Late Victorian Gothic Tales edited by Roger Luckhurst

Stories from the top tier…

This is a collection of twelve stories from some of the greatest writers of Gothic, all first published in the 1890s. Many of them are very well known – indeed, several of them have already been highlighted in my Tuesday Terror! slot – and I suspect that most or all of them are probably available to read online. But the joy of an anthology like this one is the expert guidance provided by the editor, first in selecting and organising the stories in a way that allows the reader to see how the genre connects and flows, and then in providing an informative introduction and notes.

The editor of this one is Roger Luckhurst, whom I first encountered as the editor of a Lovecraft collection a few years ago, sparking my interest in Lovecraft in particular and weird fiction in general. I was later happy to encounter him again as the editor of HG Wells’ The Time Machine, when his introduction put that book into its literary and historical context for me, adding a great deal to my understanding and enjoyment of it. So I knew I’d be in safe hands with this collection.

Luckhurst tells us that there have been three main waves of Gothic writing, in the 18th century, then again in the late Victorian period, and now, with the likes of Stephen King reviving the genre. Each wave made it anew, though, influenced by contemporary concerns as well as by other styles and movements in the literary world of their time. He talks about the crossover in the late Victorian era between the styles of Gothic and Decadence, and about the influence on the genre of anxieties over colonialism, the growth of science and pseudo-sciences, spiritualism and psychic research, and so on. All of this means that the stories in a sense stop being merely individual entertainments and instead become part of something larger: part of the contemporary literature that casts light on its society and in turn influences it. As always, I found his introduction both informative and enjoyable, happily free of the academic jargon that can sometimes infest these things and therefore accessible to any interested reader.

But what of the stories, I hear you ask? I gave five of them five stars, another five got four stars, and the remaining two got 3½ each, so a very high standard overall. As it should be, given that most of them are from top tier writers. There’s Henry James and Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Machen and Oscar Wilde, and two from my old friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Then there are several names that were new to me, though I gather from the intro that they would be familiar to real aficionados – Vernon Lee, BM Croker, Grant Allen and MP Shiels. A further two from Jean Lorrain take us over to France and into the heart of the Decadent style. Here are a few of the ones I enjoyed most – the titles link through to my earlier TT posts, where applicable:

The Case of Lady Sannox

Lot No. 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – A story about a mummy brought back to life, with lots of Gothic features and some genuinely creepy moments, and of course ACD’s wonderfully easy writing style. Did you know he was the first person to create a story about a mummy being brought back to life for evil purposes? No, neither did I…

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen – Mad science, that great love of Victorian horror and science fiction writers, mingled with paganism and a good deal of hinting at immoral and quite possibly unnatural sexual shenanigans, there’s also plenty of typically Victorian, fine descriptive writing, both of nature in the countryside and of the dark and gloomy streets of London at night. A kind of bridging link between traditional Gothic and the later weird horror of the likes of Lovecraft.

The Dâk Bungalow at Dakor by BM Croker – a fairly standard ghost story, but given added interest by its setting in colonial India and two delightfully refreshing heroines in Nellie and Julia. No swooning damsels these – they enjoy their lives, they don’t fear this vast, strange land, assuming that their British superiority will protect them from all dangers, and they’re ripe for adventure. But they’re not expecting ghostly visions in the middle of the night – that’s a little too much even for them!

Magic Lantern by Jean Lorrain – a fin-de-siècle Decadent story from France. This is a satire on society, quite funny and very well done. Two men at the opera – one accusing the other, a scientist, of removing all the fantasy from the world, including Gothic horror. The scientist then tells the first man tales of the audience members around them, showing that humanity can be as horrific as anything in the supernatural…

Sir Edmund Orme by Henry James – Our narrator becomes fascinated by a mother and daughter, Mrs Marden and Charlotte, because of what he feels is their peculiarly strong concern for each other. Then, as he finds himself falling in love with Charlotte, the narrator begins to see a strange man, who never speaks, and his appearances seem to coincide with Mrs Marden’s “episodes”. A strange and unsettling story, and I found aspects of it rather cruel, but it’s certainly effective.

Others I’ve previously included as Tuesday Terror! posts are The Case of Lady Sannox and The Mark of the Beast.

An excellent collection, especially for a relative newcomer to the genre since it includes some of the very best, but the introduction and notes make it a great choice too for people who may already know some of the stories but would like to know more about their context. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Fretful porpentine rating:  😮 😮 😮 😮 😮 

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It’s a fretful porpentine!

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21 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Late Victorian Gothic Tales edited by Roger Luckhurst

  1. Oh, sounds like a fine collection, FictionFan! Lots of good ‘uns there. And you’re right; it’s as much the curating as it is anything else, isn’t it? I think the comment of yours that resonated most with me was that a really effective take on gothic (or any other sort of) stories, is that balance between paying homage to the traditions, but still weaving in the contemporary. Not an easy task!

    • Yes, I love the intros in these collections. Reading the individual stories is fun, but the intros put them into context and always make me appreciate the stories more as part of a literary culture, rather than as simple one-offs. And send me haring off after other collections… They also make me much more aware of things that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, like those contemporary concerns. I’ve become very aware of the colonial angst of the late Victorians through horror stories as much as straight fiction…

  2. You’re being cruel to Porpy again! Poor little mite, look at that face 😂 It does sound like a good and varied collection though. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. This collection sounds marvelous and I’d already added to my wish list following an earlier mention of it here. If anything, that owl on the cover is enough to make me want it!!

    • It really is an excellent one with so many top stories in it – I think you’ll enjoy it! I love the covers of these OWC books, especially the horror ones. So spooky! 😀

  4. The intros sound terrific. I usually read them after I’ve read the story though, because they often talk about the plot as if I’ve already read the upcoming story… Poor porpy, he looks quite quivery.

  5. High praise indeed. And pure terror on poor Porpy’s face – his equivalent to high praise is it not? Substitiute that branch he’s trying to hide behind for a sofa and that picture could be me if I dare to read this one though perhaps my teeth are a little cleaner… 😁

    I am very tempted 🤔

  6. I’m with you in the value of anthologies like this-they look much nicer on the shelf, compared to a computer too! The Magic Lantern in particular piqued my interest, mainly because it seems so realistic-the horrors of everyday life are always the most chilling, I find.

    • Haha, yes they do! Between these OWC books and the BL crime classics my shelves are looking lovely these days… 😀 I liked that story and feel I must investigate Decadent horror more – I’m not very familiar with it at all. Poor porpy…

    • I’ve become addicted to the OWC books now, and the horror ones especially have led me off in all kinds of directions I would probably never have discovered for myself.

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