British Library, 2011
originally published 1896, Hutchinson
paperback (read earlier)
I'm very grateful to whomever it is at the British Library that makes decisions on which of these old, rather obscure books to reprint and make available to the reading public; what I paid for this book pales in comparison to the selling price of the original, which you can pick up for a mere $1,750 at L.W. Currey, where, incidentally, the photo below came from. The British Library covers may be dull and unimaginative, but hey ... I don't know about anyone else, but if I had $1,750 to casually spend, it wouldn't be for a single book.
|original 1896 edition, courtesy of L.W. Currey
There are eleven stories to be found here, along with original illustrations. And while overall I'm very happy to have found this book and to have it in my library, let's just say it doesn't fall into the category of ghost-story favorites.
Ghostly Tales opens with "A Double," about which the author says the names are "fictitious," but everything else is true. Here, a woman and her daughter Ella are expecting a visitor who is most eager to speak to Ella about her two-year stay in America. At the time she is expected to receive their guest, a Mrs. Jacks, Ella is supposed to be in London for an appointment. Promising to come back as soon as possible, off she goes, and gets the surprise of a lifetime. In the next story, "The Ghost of My Dead Friend," also purported to be true, a friendship of "intense affection" carries over "beyond the grave." Then we start getting into more meaty stuff with three ghost stories in a row beginning with "The Tyburn Ghost," in which summertime visitors to London find lodging in a house near Marble Arch, Hyde Park at No. 5 Dash Street. After a dinner of pickled salmon and Welsh rarebit, Mrs. Dale awakens in terror proclaiming that she's just had an encounter with a "horrid putrid-looking face." Daughter Minny shrugs it off as a case of mom being "over-tired and nervous," until it happens again -- to her. Next up is "The Bruges Ghost," which has a most shivery sort of ending but to tell would be to spoil, and at the end of this series of three ghostly tales is "The Page-Boy's Ghost," which plays out in a house in Granville Crescent. Any of the latter three would be great in an anthology of haunted house stories, and spooky enough for inclusion in any ghost story collection.
|from "The Bruges Ghost," my photo.
All in all, the actual "ghostly tales" are few, which leads me to wonder exactly why Wilhelmina Fitzclarence settled on the title of her collection, which is misleading at best. It is a very mixed bag of stories, to be sure. The joy for me isn't so much the book as a whole, but rather the discovery of yet another obscure Victorian author of strange tales. Anyone considering this book based on this title may be a bit disappointed, but it has some great moments to be savored.