Tuesday Terror! Horror Stories edited by Darryl Jones

Something for everyone…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

This anthology consists of twenty-nine horror stories from the long 19th century: that is, roughly, up to the beginning of WW1. It comes with an interesting and informative introduction written by the editor, Darryl Jones, Professor of English Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. I recently read and reviewed Jones’ own history of horror, Sleeping with the Lights On, and while obviously that book goes into considerably more detail, this introduction covers similar territory, discussing the various sub-genres, and how horror reflects and to some extent addresses the anxieties of its times. The stories in the collection are selected to give a feel for the broad range of horror writing in the Victorian era, so there’s everything here from mild and humorous to too strong for my moderate tastes, from a few pages to near novella length, from household names to people of whom I’d never heard. Jones also discusses the importance of periodicals in that era, and tells us that around two-thirds of these stories first appeared in those.

There are plenty of lesser known stories in here to make it an enjoyable read even for people who’ve read a fair amount of Victorian horror already, but I felt that, because it also includes several major classics, it would be an ideal collection for someone relatively new to the genre who wanted to get a feel for the style of some of the better known authors too. Robert Louis Stevenson is here, with The Body-Snatcher; Dickens’ The Signal-Man; Kipling’s The Mark of the Beast; Gilman’s The Yellow Wall Paper; Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw; and Blackwood’s The Wendigo. There are also examples of horror writing from authors who are probably better known (to me, at least) for their other works: Balzac, Melville, Zola. And a couple of my newer favourites, found since I started this little detour into the delights of terror, appear too: Arthur Machen and Robert W Chambers. There are ghosties and ghoulies and lang-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, and mad scientists, of course, and family curses, and vampires, and insane narrators, and Gothic houses galore.

Since I’ve featured several of the more familiar stories already in Tuesday Terror!, here are a few of the rest that I most enjoyed. I hadn’t heard of these ones before, but they may be well-known to better-read horror fans…

Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce – a little boy is fighting imaginary battles with his toy sword and strays so far that he becomes lost in the woods. He falls asleep, and when he awakes the ground is covered in dreadful crawling things. I don’t want to say much more because the impact of the story is in discovering what it is the boy sees and what has happened. But it’s a commentary on how we pass the drive to war down from generation to generation – powerful and horrifying.

August Heat by WF Harvey – Our protagonist draws a picture of a man standing in the dock after being condemned to death. It’s come entirely from his imagination, so imagine his surprise when he meets that very man later that day. Turns out the man is a stone-mason and is busy carving a name on a gravestone… this is a deliciously spine-tingling little horror story, with a delightfully scary ending. Camp-fire material!

The Derelict by William Hope Hodgson – To demonstrate his theory that, given the right conditions, life will come into being spontaneously, an old doctor tells the tale of when he was once on a ship blown off course by a storm. When the storm abated, they discovered they were next to another ship, long abandoned. They went to investigate… (For goodness sake, never investigate abandoned anythings! It never turns out well…) There’s some brilliant horror imagery in this and heart-pounding peril! Great!

The Adventure of Lady Wishaw’s Hand by Richard Marsh – Our narrator, Pugh, is sent a strange and unexpected legacy on the death of his acquaintance, Colin Wishaw – a woman’s hand! It looks remarkably alive, and it’s not long before we become aware that it can move on its own. A delightful tale of a family curse – light horror, lots of humour (that hand can be very naughty!) and a narrator who deserves all he gets. Lovely stuff!

Because of the wide range of content and styles, unsurprisingly my reactions to them varied wildly too. Seventeen got either four or five stars, which is a pretty high proportion of the total. But several got two stars and one, a hideous story from Bram Stoker that starts with the killing of a kitten, was abandoned before I finished the first page! However, different readers will bring their own tastes to the stories and may well find that they enjoy the ones I disliked – I knew as I was rating them that often my reaction was based on how the stories made me feel rather than their intrinsic quality. The same may apply to my five stars, of course – stories moderate enough for me may be too mild for those who prefer harder hitting stuff. In short, there will be something here for everyone and inevitably everyone will be less keen on some too. That’s why I think it’s such a good sampler, which I happily recommend to the seasoned reader or the horror newbie alike.

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

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Sleeping with the Lights On by Darryl Jones

Just when you thought it was safe…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Since I started reading more classic horror and revisiting some classic science fiction, I’ve come across Darryl Jones many times, as the editor of various anthologies and as the writer of entertaining and informative introductions for some of the Oxford World’s Classics series. So when I discovered he had written a book on the history of horror, I felt there could be no better guide to a genre in which I’ve dabbled but still don’t know well. Jones is Professor of English Literature and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Trinity College Dublin.

The book is deceptively small, but it’s packed full of concentrated juicy goodness and, as I always find with Jones, written in an engaging and accessible style that avoids the tendency towards lit-crit jargonese so beloved of so many academic authors (and so hated by me).

It begins with a great introductory chapter that discusses how horror has been around since at least the beginning of written records. Jones then gives manageable definitions for all the terms used in describing horror literature – horror, terror, Gothic, uncanny, weird, etc., (a true boon for the struggling amateur reviewer!). He talks about how horror in popular culture reflects the anxieties of its time: fear of invasion, nuclear armageddon, climate change, etc. Along the way he cites zillions of examples from both books and film, and what I really loved about it is that the ones he cites are the popular and familiar ones, rather than obscure ones known only to specialists and hardcore fans. This meant that I had the pleasure of knowing enough of them to enhance my understanding of what he was saying, while at the same time adding loads more to my must-read/watch list. He gives a clear idea of where they fall on the spectrum, so that I found it easy to decide which ones would be too gruesome or graphic for my moderate tastes.

The following chapters are themed, again each packed full of examples. Starting with monsters, he discusses the origins of vampires and how they changed over time from aggrieved peasants into the aristocratic version of today, narcissistic, sexualised and romantic. Zombies originated as a response to plague fears, were later used as a commentary on slavery, and now, Jones suggests, as a response to extreme capitalism, especially after the crash.

Next up, he discusses the supernatural – ghosts and the Devil. I found this chapter particularly interesting as he discusses the modern (i.e. 19th century and on) rise of the ghost story as a response to the shock to the Victorian psyche brought about by Darwin’s evolutionary theories – a theme I’ve become aware of in so much writing of that era. Likewise, the modern surge in stories starring the Devil and his worshippers, he suggests, may have risen out of Catholic attempts to redefine evil for a modern age and of Protestant beliefs in impending apocalypse.

The next chapter looks at the use of the human body in horror, from werewolves and other forms of metamorphoses, through to pain, sadism and torture porn. Although this is the aspect of horror that appeals least to me – not at all, in fact – I still found the discussion interesting and was happy not to add too many new items to my to-be-read list.

Horror and the mind is much more my kind of thing again, and Jones takes us into a world of madness and asylums, with Poe’s succession of insane narrators leading the way. He discusses perceptions of madness and how they have changed over time – is madness a symptom of evil, or is it a social and political construct? He mentions the prevalence of highly-qualified fictional madmen and muses as to whether madness is seen as a symptom of intelligence or over-education. He talks about the double – for example, Jekyll and Hyde – and how this has been used to portray a fracturing of the individual. And he leads us on to the serial killer, perhaps a response to the terrors of the anonymity of suburbia and of fractured communities, leaving people vulnerable to victimhood.

No history of horror could be complete without the mad scientist. Jones takes us on a jaunt through the impact of Darwinism – Frankenstein, Dr Moreau, etc – and onto more modern iterations – the fear of nuclear holocaust, then evil machines, out-of-control androids and, most recently, the perils of artificial intelligence and the online age.

In his afterword, Jones looks at how horror is faring in the new millennium. Though he is critical of the tendency towards remakes of old classics, he gives many examples in both book and film of original horror arising from today’s concerns – the economic crash, the environment, the continuing racial divide in America, etc. He discusses the rise in popularity in the West of horror from Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, and hints that this is perhaps an indication of the beginning of the decline of American cultural domination. He finishes with a brief look at horror moving online, into podcasts and memes and creepypasta*– a word I had never before heard but am now determined to use at every opportunity.

(*Urbandictionary.com tells me that creepypasta are “essentially internet horror stories or a myth passed around other sites, to frighten readers and viewers”. The above image is The Slenderman, a creepypasta star.)

Overall, an excellent read – short enough to be approachable but with plenty of breadth and depth in the discussions. And with five million (approximately) titles for me to follow up on… isn’t that a truly horrifying thought??

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford University Press.

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TBR Thursday 174…

Episode 174…

Down again for the third week in a row – the TBR now stands at 229 – down 2. I’m the Queen of Willpower!

Here’s what’s I hope to be rhapsodising about soon…

Lit Crit

Courtesy of Oxford University Press. While I was begging a copy of Horror Stories, an anthology edited and introduced by Darryl Jones, from Oxford World’s Classics, they mentioned that Darryl Jones was publishing his own book on the history and evolution of horror writing. So naturally I begged a copy of it too…

The Blurb says: As Darryl Jones shows in Sleeping with the Lights On, the horror genre is vast, ranging from vampires, ghosts, and werewolves to mad scientists, Satanists, and deranged serial killers. The cathartic release of scaring ourselves has made its appearance everywhere from Shakespearean tragedies to Internet memes. Exploring the key tropes of the genre, including its monsters, its psychological chills, and its love affair with the macabre, Jones explains why horror stories disturb us, and how society responds to literary and film representations of the gruesome and taboo. Should the enjoyment of horror be regarded with suspicion? What kind of a distinction should we make between the commonly reviled carnage of the contemporary horror genre and the culturally acceptable bloodbaths of ancient Greek tragedies?

Analyzing how horror has been used throughout history to articulate the fears and taboos of the current generation, Jones considers the continuing evolution of the genre today. As horror is marketed to mainstream society in the form of romantic vampires and blockbuster hits, it maintains its shadowy presence on the edges of respectability, as banned films and violent Internet phenomena push us to question both our own preconceptions and the terrifying capacity of human nature.

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Horror

Courtesy of Random House Transworld. Yes, I’m truly steeped in horror this autumn, but how could I possibly have resisted a follow-on novel to Dracula, co-written by a descendant of Bram Stoker himself? Mind you, regulars will know follow-on novels frequently bring me out in a rash…

The Blurb says: The prequel to Dracula, penned by a Stoker descendant and a bestselling writer, Dracul is a supernatural historical thriller in which a young Bram Stoker must confront an indescribable evil.

It is 1868, and a 22-year-old Bram Stoker has locked himself inside a desolate tower to face off against a vile and ungodly beast, armed with mirrors and crucifixes and holy water and a gun, kept company by a bottle of plum brandy, praying to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to leave a record of what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles out the events that led him here–a childhood illness, a haunting nanny, stories once thought to be fables now proven true.

A riveting novel of Gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only Dracula’s true origin, but Bram Stoker’s–and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

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Fiction

I added this book to the TBR back in December 2013, following, I think, a recommendation from Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books. It seems like I should try to get it read before it hits its fifth anniversary! The tragic thing is it’s not even the oldest book on my TBR…

The Blurb says: It is an early spring evening in 1943 when the air-raid sirens wail out over the East End of London. From every corner of Bethnal Green, people emerge from pubs, cinemas and houses and set off for the shelter of the tube station. But at the entrance steps, something goes badly wrong, the crowd panics, and 173 people are crushed to death. When an enquiry is called for, it falls to the local magistrate, Laurence Dunne, to find out what happened during those few, fatally confused minutes. But as Dunne gathers testimony from the guilt-stricken warden of the shelter, the priest struggling to bring comfort to his congregation, and the grieving mother who has lost her youngest daughter, the picture grows ever murkier. The more questions Dunne asks, the more difficult it becomes to disentangle truth from rumour – and to decide just how much truth the damaged community can actually bear. It is only decades later, when the case is reopened by one of the children who survived, that the facts can finally be brought to light…

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Crime

This is narrated by Gareth Armstrong, whose narration of Maigret novels I’ve enjoyed before…

The Blurb says: When Maigret’s .45 revolver is stolen from his home, he becomes embroiled in a murder in which the gun may have played a deadly role.

Maigret is the victim of a burglary in which the .45 revolver he had received as a gift from the FBI is stolen. That evening Maigret attends a dinner where François Lagrange, an acquaintance of Maigret’s friend, is expected but fails to appear due to ill health.

Following his instincts, Maigret decides to investigate Lagrange’s absence and uncovers a body stowed in a trunk as well as Lagrange, who refuses to talk and seems to have lost his mind. Only Maigret can uncover the truth – and the fateful role his revolver may have played.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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TBR Thursday 173…

Episode 173…

Another tiny step in the right direction this week – the TBR is down 1 to 231. Here are a few more that I should get to soon…

Horror

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Another of the great anthologies I’ve been lucky enough to acquire to feed the porpy’s addiction this autumn. There’s a new paperback edition of this due out on 25th October but the old edition is still available in the meantime. It’s introduced and edited by Darryl Jones, who’s becoming my go-to expert in classic horror and sci-fi in the way Martin Edwards is for vintage crime…

The Blurb says: The modern horror story grew and developed across the nineteenth century, embracing categories as diverse as ghost stories, supernatural and psychological horror, medical and scientific horrors, colonial horror, and tales of mystery and premonition. This anthology brings together 29 of the greatest horror stories of the period from 1816 to 1912, from the British, Irish, American, and European traditions. It ranges widely across the sub-genres to encompass authors whose terror-inducing powers remain unsurpassed.

The book includes stories by some of the best writers of the century – Hoffmann, Poe, Balzac, Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Zola – as well as established genre classics such as M. R. James, Arthur Machen, Bram Stoker, Algernon Blackwood, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and others. It includes rare and little-known pieces by writers such as William Maginn, Francis Marion Crawford, W. F. Harvey, and William Hope Hodgson, and shows the important role played by periodicals in popularizing the horror story. Wherever possible stories are reprinted in their first published form, with background information about their authors and helpful, contextualizing annotation. Darryl Jones’s lively introduction discusses horror’s literary evolution and its articulation of cultural preoccupations and anxieties. These are stories guaranteed to freeze the blood, revolt the senses, and keep you awake at night: prepare to be terrified!

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Factual

Courtesy of Allen Lane. Tom Devine is probably the most distinguished Scottish historian of the last few decades, so I’m looking forward to learning more about this shameful period of Scottish history – a period that affected not only Scotland but has had a major impact on most of the English-speaking world through the resulting Scottish Diaspora… (Factlet: 33 American Presidents have Scottish ancestry – 34 if you consider Trump to be a real President.)

The Blurb says:  Eighteenth-century Scotland is famed for generating many of the enlightened ideas which helped to shape the modern world. But there was in the same period another side to the history of the nation. Many of Scotland’s people were subjected to coercive and sometimes violent change: traditional and customary relationships were overturned and replaced by the ‘rational’ exploitation of land use.The Scottish Clearances is a superb and highly original account of this sometimes terrible process, which changed the Lowland countryside forever, as it also did, more infamously, the old society of the Highlands.

Based on an extensive use of original sources, this pioneering book is the first to chart this tumultuous saga in one volume, with due attention to evictions and loss of land in both north and south of the Highland line. In the process, old myths are exploded and familiar assumptions undermined. With many fascinating details and the sense of an epic human story, The Scottish Clearances is an evocative memorial to all whose lives were irreparably changed in the interests of economic efficiency.

The result created the landscape of Scotland as we know it today, but that came at a price. This is a story of forced clearance, of the destruction of entire communities and of large-scale emigration. Some winners were able to adapt and exploit the new opportunities, but there were also others who lost everything.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of Collins Crime Club. I’ve only read a couple of Max Carrados short stories before, so I’m looking forward to reading this, the only full-length novel. Plus, who could possibly resist that fabulous cover?

The Blurb says: The classic crime novel featuring blind detective Max Carrados, whose popularity rivalled that of Sherlock Holmes, complete with a new introduction and an extra short story.

In his dark little curio shop Julian Joolby is weaving an extravagant scheme to smash the financial machinery of the world by flooding the Oriental market with forged banknotes. But this monster of wickedness has not reckoned on Max Carrados, the suave and resourceful investigator whose visual impairment gives him heightened powers of perception that ordinary detectives overlook.

Max Carrados was a blind detective whose stories by Ernest Bramah appeared from 1914 alongside Sherlock Holmes in the Strand Magazine, in which they often had top billing. Described by George Orwell as among ‘the only detective stories since Poe that are worth re-reading’, the 25 stories were collected in three hugely popular volumes, culminating in a full-length novel, The Bravo of London (1934), in which Carrados engages in a battle of wits against a fiendish plot that threatens to overthrow civilisation itself.

This Detective Club classic is introduced by Tony Medawar, who investigates the impact on the genre of Bramah’s blind detective and the relative obscurity of this, the only Max Carrados novel. This edition also includes the sole uncollected short story The Bunch of Violets.

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Historical Crime

Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley. I was very tempted by Purcell’s earlier novel, The Silent Companions, but still haven’t managed to fit it in. So I decided to grab her new one quick…

The Blurb says: Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor and awaiting trial for murder.

When Dorothea’s charitable work leads her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted with the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets teenage seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another theory: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread. For Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.

The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations – of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses – will shake Dorothea’s belief in rationality, and the power of redemption.

Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Gothic Tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The master storyteller sets out to scare…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Although best known today for his Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote prolifically across a whole range of genres in his lifetime. This collection brings together thirty-four of his tales which have been categorised as “gothic”, although some of them are more gothic than others. Some are well known as classic horror stories and a couple have already put in an appearance on my semi-regular horror slot, Tuesday Terror!The Horror of the Heights and Lot No. 249. None of the Holmes stories are included, although several of them would certainly count as gothic and have a strong element of horror – The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, for example, is one of his most Poe-like gothic horrors, I think.

The level of horror is variable from mild and even humorous to really quite scary. But the real joy of the collection, as always with Conan Doyle, is the sheer quality of his story-telling skills. Whether relating an Arctic adventure complete with ghostly apparition, or telling a tale of vengeance set in the wild frontier of old America, or forcing the reader to spend a night in a museum full of not completely dead Egyptian mummies, or taking us into the dark heart of the British Empire, his powers of description and ability to create atmosphere and tension are surely second to none. And his total command of a wonderful vocabulary and seemingly effortless writing style make the stories pure pleasure to read.

The range of stories is incredible, making it quite hard to single any out as representative of the collection. Some have a supernatural element while others concentrate on the horrors men and women perpetrate on each other, and yet others take their horror from the dangers of the natural world. We even get a couple culled from Conan Doyle’s life as a physician, including one about a young man with hereditary syphilis – I was astonished that such a subject was handled so openly in a story at this early date. I’m spoiled for choice, but here’s a brief look at some of the ones I enjoyed most…

J Habakuk Jephson’s Statement – based on the story of the Marie Celeste, ACD gives his version of what might have happened. A “quadroon” kills everyone and takes the ship to Africa. Although there’s some fairly strong racial stuff here that sits uneasily with the modern reader, Jephson is an abolitionist and the motive is revenge against white people for the cruelties they have perpetrated through slavery and colonialism. Powerfully told, it reminded me of Conrad’s stories in its reaction to colonialism.

The Beetle Hunter – the narrator is a newly-qualified doctor and beetle collector who answers an advert for the same. His new employer takes him to the home of a famous beetle expert, where the beetles will not be the scariest thing he has to face! Very well told and quite creepy in parts, especially if you’re squeamish about beetles… ugh!

The Retirement of Signor Lambert – a cuckolded husband takes revenge on the opera singer who seduced his wife. That’s all, but it’s told in a kind of understated deadpan that makes it deliciously horrible.

The Pot of Caviare – a group of Westerners trapped following the Boxer Rebellion await relief. But they have heard terrible stories of how the Chinese treat their captives, especially women, and so have a contingency plan should the relieving force not turn up in time. This is a dark and rather disturbing story, expertly told for maximum effect. The notes point out that it’s part of the Edwardian “Yellow Peril” genre, but it’s far more realistic and chilling than any of the silly Fu Manchu type of stuff I’ve read.

The Captain of the Polestar – an Arctic expedition to hunt whales comes to a stop when the ship is caught in the ice. Scary enough, but even scarier when the ghostly figure of a woman begins to appear and the Captain seems to recognise her. This is narrated via the journal of a young ship’s medic, a role ACD himself had undertaken in his youth. Very atmospheric, great descriptions and some first-rate Scottish dialect!

As always in the Oxford World’s Classics editions, there is an informative introduction and extensive notes, this time written by Darryl Jones, Professor in English at Trinity College Dublin. He gives a kind of biography of Conan Doyle’s thought development over the course of his life. He talks about these stories and Conan Doyle’s wider writings in the context of the various phases of his changing beliefs – his pro-Imperialism, his anxiety over the question of Irish Home Rule culminating in him changing from anti- to pro- after seeing the worst of colonialism in the Belgian Congo; and of course his loss of religion and the growth of his belief in spiritualism – Jones shows that he always had an interest in the subject but “came out” as a believer after witnessing the huge losses in the Great War. An interesting and informative essay, happily written without any lit-crit jargon, making it both accessible and enjoyable for the general reader. (Though I do wish he wouldn’t refer to him as Doyle – after he added Conan to his name (in tribute to his godfather) he was always known as Conan Doyle, he published under that name, his son refers to him that way in his biographical writings about his father, and his wife took the double surname Conan Doyle, so I don’t understand why some modern commentators have taken on themselves the right to change his name back.)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I loved this collection. Admittedly Conan Doyle can do no wrong in my eyes, so I’m not the most unbiased reviewer, but nearly all of these stories are good and many are excellent – masterclasses in the form. Perfect for dipping – one to keep on the bedside table in perpetuity, since stories of this quality will stand up to frequent re-reading.

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

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