"ask whether children who do not have a good and peaceful death will definitely go to heaven; what the consequences might be if no glory awaits to compensate the child's suffering"
while also asking "what if the child is angry or even vengeful for their treatment in life and the fate to which they have been consigned?" These stories, as Baker also explains,
"revive, appropriate, and often merge domestic folkloric and literary traditions where the spirit of a wronged child would passively wander and bewail its fate with the darker traditions of non-Anglophone cultures, in which such spirits would terrorise and sometimes kill those who wronged them or even passers-by."
In between each story there are brief "snippets" of other literary works in various forms that "illustrate the sense of historical and cultural debt," all of which may send you on a quest to read the original source material once you've finished reading this book. At least that happened with me -- I am easily sent down that kind of tangential rabbit hole where I'm happy to linger a while.
|"Lonely Hearts" 1973; photo from sandra's first rule of filmclub
According to Baker, this story influenced Poe's story "Morella;" Poe scholar T.O. Mabbott went a bit further saying that the plot of Morella "comes almost entirely" from Bell's story. "The Dead Daughter" is one of the most morbid and gloomy tales found in this book, and without going into plot, on one hand the surface story centers around rebirth of the soul, but on the other, and more deeply embedded, there is just something darkly off about the relationship between father and daughter that gave me chills more than the main story. "The Dead Daughter" can be found in Bell's collection My Old Portfolio; or Tales and Sketches, available via Gutenberg or Google Books, which I've just picked up. Moving on, "Kentucky's Ghost," by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps is a ghostly adventure that takes place on the high seas, beginning with the discovery of a young stowaway. This boy is in for a terrible experience; as the narrator notes, he'd
"as lief see a son of mine in a Carolina slave-gang as to see him lead the life of a stow-away. What with the officers from feeling that they've been taken in, and the men, who catch their cue from their superiors, and the spite of the lawful boy who hired in the proper way, he don't have what you may call a tender time."
The boy's treatment is so harsh that one of the crew remarks that "Dead or alive," he will be the one to bring to his tormentor a "summons" to hell. Mark his words. "The Ghost of Little Jacques" by Ann M. Hoyt is also rooted in a strange household, but here the story unfolds almost like a whodunit, as a child is murdered and makes his way back to the household to point the finger at his killer. Unfortunately, the narrator to whom he first appears doesn't understand until much later, jeopardizing her own future. Again, much more at work here than an average ghost story but I'll leave that for others to discover.
|my photo, from the book's frontispiece, from "Walnut-Tree House," by Charlotte Riddell in Illustrated London News, 28 December 1878.