As I've mentioned before, this volume contains thirty stories, all by women, written over a period of 150 years and arranged chronologically. Rather than read straight through, I picked a couple of stories, and then jumped ahead 40 or 50 years for the next week's selections. This method may have caused me to miss some of the more subtle changes, but still provided a fascinating look at ghost stories over time.
Ghost stories really began to increase in popularity when they appeared in magazines like Dickens' Household Words and All the Year Round. They were not limited to writers specializing in the genre. Many mainstream writers also experimented with the form. Edith Wharton admitted that writing a convincing ghost story was very difficult, saying "It is luckier for a ghost to be vividly imagined than dully 'experienced'; and nobody knows better than a ghost how hard it is to put him or her into words shadowy, yet transparent enough.... If a ghost story sends a cold shiver down one's spine, it has done its job and done it well."
Of the stories I read, only Elizabeth Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Story" (my post is here) truly sent a shiver down my spine. This was one of the oldest stories in the collection and, to me, represents the classic ghost story. Moving forward in time, the stories seemed to exhibit more realism ("The Villa Lucienne" by Ella D'Arcy - post here), then a focus on supernatural phenomena ("Roaring Tower" by Stella Gibbons or "The Station Road" by Ann Bridge - post here) and finally arrived at a retelling of Cinderella ("Ashputtle" by Angela Carter - post here).
Not only did the focus of the stories change, the language changed. It was interesting to read as it became more contemporary by increments. The sentences got shorter, there was less punctuation, and word choices and usage became more modern. To go directly from Gaskell to Carter would have been to miss the progression.
These stories have been great fun, and were responsible for quite a bit of 'Halloween spirit'. Maybe I'll focus on Edith Wharton and Henry James next year. But for now, does anybody have a recommendation for a good collection of Christmas stories?
Short Story Monday is hosted by The Book Mine Set.