Swan River Press, 2019
I must confess that I read this book some time ago, but am just now getting to posting about it after giving it a second read.
At the end of their introduction to this volume, the editors Maria Giakaniki and Brian Showers wave a beckoning hand in my direction:
"...we hope Bending to Earth stands as an invitation to the curious; that these strange stories of ghosts and witches, of cryptids and madmen, will serve as a lighted candle for those who wish to further illuminate the darker corners of Irish literature.""... the curious" -- check -- that's me. "...those who wish to further illuminate the darker corners of Irish literature" -- check again. Boxes ticked.
If you read the subtitle of this book, it tells you all you need to know about what you'll find inside. The dozen stories in this excellent collection definitely fall on the strange side, and in their selection, the editors have brought together a mix of tales written by women who, as they tell us, were not
"considered during their lifetimes to be chiefly writers of fantastical fiction. Yet they each at some point in their careers wandered into more speculative realms -- some only briefly, others for more lengthier stays."What matters here is not how long their wanderings "into more speculative realms" lasted, but rather that these women left behind these stories, most of them now fallen into the void of obscurity, to be enjoyed well over a century later.
Bending to Earth is a mix of superb, uncanny tales featuring (among other things) wandering spirits, tortured souls of both the earthly and ethereal sort, dream-like visions, and Irish ghost lore I can imagine listening to while seated beside a fire in an otherwise darkened and quiet room while outside a storm is raging and the wind is howling like the proverbial banshee. There is one story, "The Blanket Fiend," set in the wilds of New Guinea that stands apart from the others, moving away from what's come before and what comes after. It is different enough that it was a bit of a jolt, actually reading more along the lines of early pulp fiction, but the editors address this issue in their most excellent and informative introduction (which you should most certainly save for last if you want no hints at all as to what's to come in any of these tales). There is also, in the back of the book and on the website for Swan River Press a brief biographical portrait of author Beatrice Grimshaw (and the other writers) which helps to understand her inspiration for this story.
The twelve stories in this book are as follows:
"The Dark Lady", by Anna Maria Hall
"The Child's Dream," by Lady Jane Wilde (yes, that Wilde -- mother to Oscar)
"The Unquiet Dead," by Lady Augusta Gregory
"The Woman With the Hood," by LT Meade
"The Wee Gray Woman," by Ethna Carbery
"The Blanket Fiend," by Beatrice Grimshaw
"The First Wife," by Katherine Tynan
"Transmigration," by Dora Sigerson Shorter
"Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time," by Rosa Mulholland
"The Red Woolen Necktie," by B.M. Croker,
"The De Grabooke Monument," by Charlotte Riddell,
and last, but certainly by no means least,
"A Vanished Hand," by Clothilde Graves
As someone who has developed a passion not only for ghost stories and strange tales of yesteryear, but for ghost stories and strange tales of yesteryear written by women whose work has been largely forgotten or neglected, Bending to Earth is a much-treasured volume in my home library, and I am once again the cheer squad for the small presses that put out such gems, here represented by Swan River Press.
Maria Giakaniki and Brian Showers note that
"These twelve strange stories by Irish women are our choices, and represent only a small selection from a much broader range of possibilities."Hopefully (please!!), they have enough strange stories left over after what they've chosen to include in this volume to fill another. I'll be buying that one too.