Fairy Tale Friday: Ghosts!

December 18, 2009 at 12:00 am 1 comment

You can always tell a Corey Fairy Tale Friday by its utter lack of fairy tales. Heh. This is also a rather silly post, so you’ve been forewarned.

This week, let’s take a moment and look at that often utterly un-scary literary phenomenon: the Victorian ghost story compendium. These remind me most of our modern-day Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which my fifth grade English teacher insistently read to us and put the fear of God and spiders in my little 10-year-old heart) and involve a lot of “But Jenny’s been dead for 15 years!” endings.

Specifically, I’m talking about the ghost stories and other (not so) creepy tales of Amelia Edwards. As some of you may know, Amelia Edwards was the first female Egyptologist and a first-rate travel writer who lived at the end of the nineteenth century. But before becoming an amazing Egyptologist (and receiving an honorary law degree from my beloved alma mater for said Egyptological prowess), Edwards was first a musician. And then a painter. And then a novelist. And while she was a novelist, Edwards wrote a whole slew of short ghost stories and mysteries, the most famous of which is “The Phantom Coach”. Whilst perusing the Strand’s Wordsworth Classics section recently, I happened upon All Saint’s Eve and other stories, which is the Wordsworth/Amelia Edwards answer to Scary Stories to Read in the Dark. I have no doubts that if I were still a 10-year-old with a low tolerance for horror films, I would have been similarly terrified by the Edwards book as I was with the Schwartz. As it was, I ended up smirking a lot.

Rather than harping on about how all the stories seemed to end with something like “I’ll never be sure what I really saw that night…” or “And that was the last time anyone saw Vicar Stevens alive…”, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what I did like: Edwards’ style. She has a great tone and style of writing that is enjoyable even if the stories have not aged particularly well in the “strike terror into your audience” department. Helpfully, All Saint’s Eve and other stories is a compendium and thus the stories are much more varied than a volume of all ghost stories or all mysteries would be. The ghost stories were by far more ridiculous, but Edwards’ mysteries were quite enjoyable most of the time. (And only one of them ended abruptly by finding the culprit in the form of a lunatic priest who accidentally confessed during a sermon.)

That said, were I not already a fan of Edwards (adoring fangirl, more like), I doubt I would have picked up this book, read it all the way through, or even particularly enjoyed it. Style only gets you so far as a writer and these stories were lacking in any real substance or narrative flow to really entice me. In fact, they reminded me a lot of the Father Brown stories. Edwards had the set-up and the mystery part down pat, it was just the endings that were often abrupt and confusing. This suggests to me more a failing of the mid-19th century mystery genre at large and less a specifically Edwards flaw. Or at least that’s what I’ll tell my little fangirl heart.


Entry filed under: Fairy Tale Friday, Horror, Mystery. Tags: , , , , .

Clip Show: Book Cover Edition Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Hector Macdonald  |  December 18, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Corey

    I’d like to introduce a new website for book lovers. You’ve done great work reviewing books on your blog. How would you like to dig deeper into your favorite titles?

    http://www.bookdrum.com has pioneered a groundbreaking approach to reading. We’re bringing the books we love to life with images, music, maps, video, and all the other riches of the Internet.

    We need writers and editors across the English-speaking world, and we’re running a Tournament to find them. First prize is $1,500, and we’re offering contract work to the best entries.

    Please have a look around http://www.bookdrum.com. I’d be really glad to hear what you think of it. If there’s a particular book you’re passionate about, why not be the person who profiles it for the world?

    Very best

    Hector Macdonald
    Editor, Book Drum
    Author of The Mind Game


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