This volume, edited by Rex Collings, contains a number of classic ghost stories from the golden age of such tales, and also, somewhat surprisingly given its title, a number of entries that stand outside of the genre altogether. Indeed, this handful of non-ghost stories, good as they are, lack the slightest trace of a supernatural element, so quite how they crept into this collection I’m not sure. Many of the brightest stars of the literary firmament of the era are represented here, such as Dickens, Gaskell, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu, Wilde and, of course, M.R. James, but whereas both Gaskell and Collins each wrote a number of notable ghost stories, spectres neither make an appearance in either The Squire’s Story nor The Traveller’s Story of a Terribly Strange Bed. Likewise, whilst Thackeray’s tale The Story of Mary Ancel may be an engaging read set in revolutionary France, it lacks any whiff of the supernatural. However, putting these reservations aside, this Wordsworth collection makes for a good read, and for its price is an absolute bargain.
Whereas most of the stories found between these covers were written to elicit at least a shudder, a number of them also contain a liberal dose of humour. In this latter respect it is Wilde’s well-known publication The Canterville Ghost which was most certainly written for laughs rather than for chills, employing the tropes of the classic ghost story whilst subverting them to humiliating effect for the eponymous ghost, fallen victim to the teasing and torment of the materialistic American family that, much to his chagrin, have purchased, and ‘squat’ in, his ancestral pile. From Dickens we encounter two selections – The Story of the Bagman’s Uncle and To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt – with the former displaying a generous dose of the author’s exuberant humour, but the latter not much so.
One of my favourite M.R. James tales – The Haunted Doll’s House – is included, but of those pieces by authors whom I’d never read before that find a place in this collection, it is perhaps those by Miss Braddon (Eveline’s Visitant) and Amelia B. Edwards (The Phantom Coach) that I enjoyed the most. Edith Nesbit’s Man-Size in Marble possessed a certain grim inevitability with respect to its denouement, and owing to my erstwhile habit of haunting old churches in search of impressive funerary monuments to the dead of distant ages, I did rather enjoy this speculative nod to their potential nocturnal ambulatory habits.
Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories may be purchased here, and if you should be of a mind to explore another more recent collection of ghostly tales spanning the ages from the ninth century to the present day, then you might also be interested in this volume. You can be assured that all nine stories contained in this second volume do feature hauntings of one sort or another, with some possessed of a grimly humorous tone.