Monday, October 5, 2009

"The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell

As promised, this month's Short Story Monday posts will come from The Virago Book Of Ghost Stories. The book is arranged chronologically so, if the stories are read in order, the reader can see how ghost stories have changed and developed over the years. "The Old Nurse's Story" is the second in this nearly 500 page edition. Next week, I'll fast-forward fifty years and see if I can spot some changes.

My experience with ghost stories is limited, but "The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell is now among my favorites. It contains all the ingredients for a good tale (orphans, family secrets, sibling rivalry, love, jealousy, tyrannical father-figures), but Gaskell also adds in a few Gothic features (an old manor house with a locked-up wing shrouded in branches, some bad weather, over-wrought emotions, and a child-ghost) and creates real winner!

" was a very strange noise, and she had heard it many a time, but most of all on winter nights, and before storms; and folks did say, it was the old lord playing on the great organ in the hall, just as he used to when he was alive; but who the old lord was or why he played, and why he played on stormy winter evenings in particular, she either could not or would not tell me."

"...would I leave the child that I was so fond of, just for sounds and sights that could do me no harm; and that they had all had to get used to in their turns? I was all in a hot, trembling passion; and I said it was very well for her to talk, that knew what these sights and noises betokened, and that had, perhaps, had something to so with the Spectre-Child while it was alive. And I taunted her so, that she told me all she knew, at last; and then I wished I had never been told, for it only made me afraid more than ever."

The story is not horrifying (as I found "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson), but rather a good, chilling, suspenseful ghost story.

"The Old Nurse's Story" was published anonymously in the 1852 Christmas issue of Charles Dickens' magazine, Household Words. You may read the entire 23-page story here.

This story served as my introduction to Elizabeth Gaskell. I'm looking forward to reading Cranford within the next couple of months and, hopefully, Wives and Daughters sometime next year.

For other Short Story Monday posts, click over to The Book Mine Set.


  1. I hope you love Cranford. I did!


  2. You had me so regretting that I didn't pick up this edition...until I saw the link. Thank you:) I'll be reading this after I finish Wharton's The Eyes.

  3. It isn't a good ghost story without a Gothic mansion! I really need to get my hands on this book! I bought a book as a kid called "Shudders" that had some scary, classic short stories (Monkey's Paw was one of them) and I still enjoy the book.

  4. Lezlie - I can't wait to read Cranford now! It will be my next classic.

    Book Psmith - You're welcome. Since I really appreciate links, I try to include one if it's available. I'll be 'watching' for your review of 'The Eyes'!

    Sandy - I remember The Monkey's Paw! (well, the title at least). I should look for that one again. And you're right...all the best ghost stories have a Gothic Mansion.

  5. I have really started to enjoy this "ghost story" genre and this particular anthology sounds intriguing. I will definitely have to check it out.

  6. OOo sounds like maybe something fun for the Halloween season? :-)

  7. I might have to read this story. I tried to read Wives and Daughters...just couldn't do it. Now I'm eagerly waiting for the comparison next week!

  8. I have never read The Ols Nurse's Story, but it sounds good.

    I love ghost stories with creepy old houses, which reminds me this is the month I always watch that movie :)

  9. This story sounds great - I'll have to read it! I loved Cranford and Wives and Daughters! I'm sure you'll enjoy them.

    Great review!

  10. I want to read that collection. I've actually got "Cranford" on my bookshelf right now, as I got if from the library a few days ago. I adored "North and South" (also by Gaskell), and certainly recommend it. It's BBC movie is great as well! (I love the guy they chose to play Mr. Thornton-a main character. He was priceless.)

  11. Looks like we're both doing horror stories for SSM's this month- great! Orphans and tyranical father-figures? Sounds like a formula Disney's been adapting ever since.

  12. I love ghost stories, thanks for the link to The Old Nurse's Story

  13. Molly - These ghost stories are a lot of fun, and I really like how this anthology is arranged.

    Marie - It's perfect for the season!

    Staci - A short story was a good starting place for Gaskell. I'll work my way up to Wives and Daughters!

    Diane - The creepy old house is almost a prerequisite for a good ghost story - lol!

    Laura's Reviews - You should definitely give this story a try...especially since you're already a fan of Gaskell!

    Madeleine - Looks like I'll have to add North and South to my list, too!

    John Mutford - Tis the season for these stories... Disney does have that formula figured out - lol!

    Violetcrush - Ghost stories really are a lot of fun! Hope you enjoy this one.

  14. I'm not so big on ghost stories, but this is a great post, JoAnn.

  15. Nan - This is definitely a chilling one, so you're right in avoiding it! It's funny because I don't even like scary movies, but these stories have been fun.

  16. You always point me in the right direction for great classic literature pieces. Thanks!
    I'm going over there right now tho check this one out.

  17. Jenny Girl - Thank you so much! I've always had a vague idea of what a 'ghost story' should be, and this is exactly it.

  18. One of my favorite ghost stories ever--I did a recording of it for LibriVox a few years ago.

    1. JaneGS - Very cool! Will go check Librivox. I loved the story and would love to listen to it next time.


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