Monday, November 2, 2009

Virago Book of Ghost Stories: The Wrap- Up

Are you tired of hearing about The Virago Book of Ghost Stories yet? Just a few final thoughts in this wrap-up post and then we move on... I promise.

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.


  1. I'm not tired of hearing about it! In fact, I have added it to my wish list. This book is totally my thing. I may even have to read it during an unspooky time of year!

  2. I have a copy of the book from the library but so far I have only read "The Old Nurse's Story" (it was spine-tingling). I'm probably not going to read them all, despite being interested in the progression, but may return to it next Halloween. I'm looking for some Christmas stories too now :).

  3. You know I thought I had this book with a different cover but what I actually have is the Virago book of Victorian Ghost Stories. I must look this one up for next Halloween. Henry James wrote the scariest story I ever read, the Turn of the Screw.

  4. This one is definitely on my list! Interesting observation about the progression of the stories & changes in style (Angela Carter should be different from Mrs. Gaskell, but still). Thank you.

  5. I will never tire of hearing about the Virago Book of Ghost Stories. I bought the three volumes when they were first published and fell in love.

  6. I never tired of it especially since I have you to thank for reading Gaskell's story. I have been on a hunt for Christmas related books too. Came across The Virago Book of Christmas and Christmas at the New Yorker...

  7. I don't know anything about Christmas stories. Oy. Gift of the Magi, a Christmas Carol? I know, very unoriginal suggestions! :-)

  8. I really have enjoyed your thoughts on these stories. I had no idea that Edith Wharton wrote a ghost story!!

  9. I, too, was enjoying your reviews of these stories. Thanks once again for having introduced me to Gaskell.

  10. I'm not bored at all! Thank you for highlighting it as otherwise I would not have got a copy. I am liking the progression through time, but I've only got about 1/3 of the way through so far.

  11. Sandy - You must really be into it if you're willing to read it in the off-season! I like your new picture.

    Paperback Reader - At least you got to one of the best stories!

    The Literary Stew - I saw the Victorian Ghost stories on amazon, and would love a collection devoted to that era! Thanks so much for visiting and becoming a follower.

    DS - Definite progression, but I love the Victorians!

    Fleurfisher - I need to look into Virago's other collections. I imagine they would have a Christmas book, too?

    Book Psmith - Those two collections look good. Hope to get to B&N soon to see what they have...and get one of the Starbucks holiday-flavored lattes!

  12. Marie - LOL...thanks for trying ;-)

    Staci - I just learned of Wharton's ghost stories this year, too.

    John Mutford - So glad you liked the Gaskell story. It was my favorite!

    Verity - I'm so glad your copy arrived in time to start before Halloween!


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