“He is the really permanent citizen of the earth, for mortals, at best, are but transients.”

November 1, 2015 at 3:51 pm (Art, books, Short stories)

The above quote (on the subject of the ghost) is from The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction by Dorothy Scarborough. It is cited by Michael Newton in his introduction to The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories.

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static1.squarespace.comThis recently published anthology of ghost stories is assembled and illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger. In addition to being a writer, Ms Niffenegger is an illustrator and printmaker – a sort of latter day William Blake. In this volume, she has selected fifteen of her favorite tales of the supernatural, plus one  that she herself has penned. It’s entitled “Secret Life, with Cats,” and I found it quite effective.

Endpapers for the book Ghostly

Endpapers, drawn by Audrey Niffienegger for the collection entitled Ghostly [click to enlarge]

You may recall Ms Niffenegger as the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife – which I really have got to read some time; so many people love that book. She also wrote Her Fearful Symmetry, a highly engaging and imaginative novel.

Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger

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There are many collections of ghost stories and supernatural tales. There are two that I especially recommend. First, the aforementioned Penguin Book of Ghost Stories.  Penguin Ghost  Published in 2010 and edited by Michael Newton, it contains a wondrous variety of  stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell; “The Cold Embrace” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (author of the mesmerizing Lady Audley’s Secret); “No.1 Branch Line:The Signal-man” by Charles Dickens; “Green Tea” by Sheridan Le Fanu; “The Moonlit Road” by Ambrose Bierce – these and more are here included. And there is much added value in this small volume: Newton has constructed a chronology of the ghost story; in addition, there is an extensive list of titles suggested for further reading.

I’m indebted to Michael Newton for introducing me to Catherine Crowe and Dorothy Scarborough,   both authors and literary critics of distinction. Crowe’s Night-Side of Nature (1848) and The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917) by Scarborough are each available in full text on the Internet Archive. The latter title was submitted by Dorothy Scarborough as her doctoral thesis at Columbia. She went on to teach creative writing at that university; Carson McCullers was among her students.

I am rather amazed, and somewhat vexed, that I’ve not previously been aware of the existence of these two highly accomplished women.

Catherine Crowe 1803 - 1876

Catherine Crowe  1803-1876

Dorothy Scarborough

Dorothy Scarborough 1878-1935

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If you’re going to buy just one book of this type, I highly recommend Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. Edited by Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Herbert Wise, this hefty compendium first came out in 1944 and has remained in print (courtesy of Modern Library) ever since. “Fifty-two stories of heart-stopping suspense” chortles the Amazon.com write-up, and that is most definitely true. The usual suspects are present and accounted for: Poe’s “The Black Cat” (also the lead story in Audrey Niffenegger’s collection); “The Boarded Window” by Ambrose Bierce; “Sredni Vashtar” by Saki; and a particular favorite of mine, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Many others are present for your reading pleasure – though you may be seriously unnerved by certain among them!

Original cover for Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

Original cover for Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

Current cover. The painting is The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1781)

Current cover. The painting is The Nightmare b’y Henry Fuseli (1781)

As the Washington Post’s  Michael Dirda here avers, “These Great Tales of Terror Live Up To their Promise.”

And by the way, Mr. Dirda has given us a wonderful gift for this Halloween season in an article replete with excellent ghostly reading suggestions.

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