36 thoughts on “An Obscurity of Ghosts

  1. A Live Ghost (1894) by Miss Ellen MacKubin

    “Poor ghosts—real ghosts, he hoped that heaven, or even the other place, shut them securely from any news of the world which they had left.”

    A man – rumoured dead – returns to his lover from the Dark Continent, whereto his path in life had led following a now regretted lovers’ quarrel. Shenanigans of conspiratorial rumour or more than just a rumour? Or less than? Is the sight of him now dream or dying? A single paragraph partway through this old text: “Tom rose.”

  2. A Chestnutting Ghost (1900) by Margaret Barringer

    “The conference was held that afternoon and a plan laid which the boys were to carry out the next night. Tom was spokesman, and he talked earnestly between grapes.”

    Beyond the ‘grape arbor’, a Just William type gang, and a ‘mean as dirt’ character they want to get back at by air-gunning his apples, rather than just scrumping them, I guess. But appearances are not what they seem — this story’s moral amid a perceived ghost, a water-melon stolen and nuts instead of peppercorn mortgages. And perhaps the earliest mention of lit pumpkins in respect of October pungencies…
    “October days soon came, with the dropping leaves and the yellow corn, and we were busy making jack o’ lanterns to light the barn, for we were to have the annual corn-husking bee at our place. All hands were set to work that day; the old barn was swept and great boughs hung about the sides and from the rafters, and the pumpkin men never shone so brightly.”

  3. Lady Dorothy (1893) by Ralli West

    “All it did was to moan and pray that justice might be done.”

    A story with three chapters, a large house with many corridors and a couple of rooms flooded and made uninhabitable by some dizzy girl’s misrunning of a bath, so Gweneth with some stoical alacrity sleeps instead in the haunted room — amid much match-making of the Christmas guests, flirtations and jealousies, too, and a comfortable sorting out of such matters for a future lifetime, including the history-tormented ghost assuaged, too, if ghost it was, if ghost she was. We are all ghosts, perhaps, stoically haunting each other? My thought, not necessarily this story’s.

  4. Miss Tweed’s Ghost Story: A Tale for the People (1889)
    by Sarah Doudney

    “…this dim, old-fashioned room, sweet with flower-scents, and full of golden lights and shadows. To me it had always seemed a veritable Chamber of Peace.
    ‘Miss Tweed,’ I said, suddenly breaking a pause, ‘I want to hear your ghost story.’”

    A told story within the story, of the social interface of poverty and riches, Elysian Fields and city centres, affiancements towards unrequited love, and Miss Tweed once a young dressmaker who makes the bridal gown for the ghost Miss Tweed did see. Or didn’t? A nifty name here for those Elysian Fields: Hillshire. While ‘climbing the hill’ is an equally nifty expression for the trials of life and those hopeful, as Miss Tweed was, of countervailing those trials. Not the Obscurity of Ghosts so much as the Chiaroscuro of Ghosts?

  5. The Home Across the Way
    An Occult Story (1901) – Laura Eldridge

    “Be thou mad, mad, mad!”

    You almost need to be mad yourself to read this deadpan, event-association plot-trail, and is quite a find, I guess, that such a story should exist, with a memorable vista of two houses opposite each other, their known and unknown occupants, astral projection, a captive like Mrs Rochester, the man opposite who saves her, and eventual requital of emotions.

  6. The Pin Ghost (1876) ~ Mrs Elizabeth T. Corbett

    “…and I have often known a broken engagement to follow from a few hard pricks.”

    This is a delightful find of a ghost story, the ghost in the form of a tiny old woman who takes the pins of a dressmaker. The latter has a conversation with her. An explanation of whereto pins vanish and of how the pins are then used as jabbing moral imperatives: turning out at best to be amoral! A prophecy of forgotten PIN numbers?

  7. The Room with the Staircase (1887) – Mrs E. Fitzmaurice

    “; shades of dark green paper screened the upper halves of the windows, and the wall-paper was of a sickly greenish grey tint, while the furniture was of the plainest description.”

    A couple from over this way touring America heir-hunting. Shelter for the night and given the eponymous room, where they watch a ghostly visitation pan out. The owner of the house later comes clean that he knew about the ghost but never saw it, and they should not have put anyone to sleep in it on October 30th. If it had been October 31st, I might have understood! A quaint discovery of a story worth discovering, I say.

  8. A Bristol Ghost Story (1882) ~ Alice Horlor

    Horlor is an interesting name, if not definitely the author’s name, cf Maupassant’s Horla and my own Hawler.
    In the story itself, a man tells a story to sceptics of seeing a ghost with a bakery backstory, “setting the sponge”, a pitcher of water, a lady’s birth confinement and more. Another quaint story discovery that rose my dough.

  9. Grannie’s Ghost Story (1894) ~ Lucy Hardy

    A rather tedious, sometimes confusing, tale of a Grannie telling her granddaughter about marriage when she was young and also seeing her beloved twin brother in a wet state while he is at sea serving the navy.

  10. A Night in a Haunted House (1890) ~ Mattie May

    “Not a dog would stay there.
    It was a genuine haunted house.”

    A brilliant instinctive inclusion by this book’s editor. Despite the ‘happy’ ending, this deceptively simple tale gave me a definite frisson. Few do. This one did.

    Nothing more to say. But excuse me quoting the whole of this frisson as an experiment as to whether YOU get this frisson without the context…

    “I saw nothing but I heard a queer sound. It was as though people were snapping their fingers all about me. I could associate the sound with nothing else. It was not a cracking or a ticking, it was a positive snapping sound.”

  11. Mrs Johnson’s Ghost Story (1898) ~ Mary Linington

    “Men, my dear, are all alike. Give them an inch and they will take a yard.”

    She talks to you, my dear, of the quandary of her untrustworthy husband called Johnson. Well, it seems highly appropriate today that his name is Johnson! (He looks at her as if she is talking Russian, at one point.) Did she see him near the house as a ghost when he should have been somewhere else on the other side town, with a shilling in his pocket she’d almost lovingly given him in case he needed it for an emergency, I gathered – or was he playing fast and loose with some scheme to hoodwink her and spend the shilling on booze? Perhaps we shall never know. At my age, I can’t say for certain whether I have just read this story or just made it up. If it exists for real, it is certainly remarkable because it seems so off the wall and out through the window. Ghosts are perhaps like that, neither here nor not here. The conundrum of a ghost solved by summoning it from the obscurity wherein it had been irretrievably not been in the first place.

  12. Old Delford’s Ghost (1893) by Josephine Lovelace

    “At first Simon Delford, his only living relative, in his smooth, silky way, tried to induce the old man to allow him to take the girl to his home,…”

    Arguably, a confused but somehow compelling story (more confused perhaps by the possibly intentional omission of several relatively unimportant words like ‘to’ or ‘the’ in the version I read), a story of a man’s lusts for an underage young orphan girl and an eventual retribution by the ghost of the lustful one’s uncle who looked after the girl. A happy ending when she marries the lawyer involved. Or did I get it all wrong? I wondered about all three of these men’s motives throughout!

  13. The Broadacre Ghost (1893) ~ Emma Ray Roll

    “Midnight approaches.”

    A hilarious would-be ghost story of mistaken identity. Another quaint discovery for lovers of caprice or whimsy. An acquired taste in spookiness.

  14. Not Exactly a Ghost Story (1882) ~ Mrs Molesworth

    “It is not very large, but it is charmingly straggly, and therefore seems larger than it is, for there are two or three ways of getting to every room, and till one learns to know it well it is really rather puzzling.”

    And this not exactly not exactly story is a bit like that house, about who is telling it, and who is listening, in a delightful family of young and old who seem to live for their enjoying to hear one of them tell a story to the others. Ivy Compton-Burnett without the bitterness or bile, but only sheer politeness and love. Not exactly a ghost as another uncertainty, I say, a quandary similar to that of Mrs Johnson earlier, with old forgotten paths amid the shrubs, old addresses that no longer exist, and yellow calling cards. Not tied up by the pretty lace offered to be mended by the ‘ghost’ but by the laces where the plural makes lace something else altogether! A tantalising classic.

    “I most humbly ask your pardon for presuming, but perhaps you may be in need of someone to repair your laces.”

  15. My Friend’s Story (1859) ~ Mrs Crowe

    D93736E5-B73A-469C-8434-53D5143744E7“Another person saw her go through the hedge, and he observed, that he could see the hedge through the figure as she glided into the field.”

    A hedge too close to self’s diurnal gamble with existence, a tree too near a window, a story with a moral, one of struggle and sin, a moral, ironically, too easy to reach, to reach in those days with their ghost stories seemingly on all lips and repeated for inclusion in most other stories of the time. Here told, in effect, by more than one witness through a single witness. A friend of a friend. A truth struggling to be born, a sickness without sin and only death to unfriend.

  16. The Sociable Ghost

    by Olive Harper


    “Oh, just as if it is not enough to be dead and not have your passport yet!”

    This is incredible stuff, with a feisty, humorous, ironic ghost meeting our young lovelorn newspaper man chewing the fat with himself in a cemetery … and other ghosts in reunion, all after a pipeful of baccy or some rum?

    “an epidemic of headstones with cherubs on them.”

    I am greatly impressed by this work so far. A novel in itself? The hearty, pungent memories of lives resurrected has a ground-breaking aura of style. Has no one published this text before in recent times? By the way, as with all my running commentaries, I read the texts themselves but do not read any of the introductory stuff in any book till I finish reading the works themselves and finish issuing my public review. So my current naivety is genuine. I will read and react to Chapter II later.

    “and then continued his running commentaries on the headstones.”

  17. Indeed!
    Worth staying alive for – to see what is in death’s promise, by the single chance you have provided me (and others) by exhuming such a substantive work from the past, one that already seems increasingly promising for any of us still alive enough to read it.


    “The reporter tried to bring himself to offer his arm for the ghost to lean upon, but somehow he could not seem to care to get too close to the living skeleton as he mentally considered him.”

    A remarkable rite of passage as our living protagonist is provided with a visit to where the dead live, not worried about calling it death, where our political correctnesses and incorrectnesses are transcended, and life’s wrongs and wrongsters righted. Many visions deployed, including a vision of babies transcending even anti-natalism. And some beautiful writing here, with pungencies relished, rueful or wry.

    “I will show you another thing to-night that ought to please you if you take any special interest in publishers, and that is what is done with those publishers who make the writers wait for their money until their stories are published.”


    “For, if you lay a hand on me there won’t be a bone of you left big enough to make a toothpick of.”

    The ‘rationale’ of this world of ghosts takes a turn to the gambling room, where a ghost of a professional gambler is teaching the others, including some seemingly gullible ladies, one at least an old maid, but somehow he gets his come-uppance, possibly by having to play billiards for eternity! Witty and strikingly original, to my eyes, in the annals of literature, this work of fantasy (tinged with satire) is made more real about human nature than reality itself, and so far takes new heights, with a supreme creativity of ghostly rationale, of which phenomenon I will quote a single example below…

    “One might think that these six ghosts might look exactly alike, but not so, for every one had as distinct a personality as though she had not been dead so long that nothing remained but bones. But there was a sort of emanation of some indefinable kind; an atmosphere of some occult property that took the place of flesh and body. In some curious and inexplicable way this gave to each skeleton a separate individuality.”


    “At one time there was over five thousand corpses under the church, but hardly anybody knowed it. The most of the coffins was old what was in the back vault, specially the lower line, and often when a new fellow was put in on top of the other lot the old coffins would mash down to nothing, and nothing of the body would be left, but the bones, and you can just guess how that squeezed.”

    And that is the least if it. I’ve left the best bits for you to read in the book, where even when you’re dead, you can have banquets! Imagine the metabolisms! “The noise of the fleshless jaws clapping together as they ate was like the patter of hailstones on the roof.” Not to speak of the boned turkey! Yet there are sadnesses here, too. Like the once tall man now a shortened ghost because of the crush in the coffins. And on a whiter, lighter note the ghost whose bones are so clean because his wife cleaned them after his death. And much more.
    Can you believe this book exists? Or am I making it all up? Important, if you are a horror genre reader or simply an appreciator of literary history, you need to find out, and soon. Yet I have not finished reading it, unless of course I die first. Except I think a ghost reading a book is not completely impossible. Was one mentioned in this chapter?


    “I wish very much to know how a man feels when he knows that he is drawing his last breath, when in short, he knows he is dying.”

    A wild chapter, with some longueurs, but full of eccentricity and human nature’s foibles, rivalries in basics as well as poetry, in cited epitaphs, social graces, women’s lore, hierarchies, pecking orders, ‘rubber-neckers’, etc., at least partly surrounding a toast to the arrival of an Egyptian Princess.
    And the ghosts’ answers — to the above question from our newspaper man — will disturb you in a good genre way and indeed inspire you with a new breath, and conceits of death passports via life’s consummation, concepts yet to fully grasp. The Alchemy of Death, I think I shall personally subtitle this remarkable novel. Has literature borne such concepts before – or since?


    “There is no religion as you have been taught to consider it in any of the underground places,” replied the ghost. “It will surprise some of the preachers when they come down to learn even the little we know. They preach one thing, but when they get here they will find that truth in all things, love to your neighbor, and charity to all is all that is required of us, and I believe all that is essential to give us a chance to work out our own salvation.”

    Thank God for that! I say.
    Another long motley chapter, with much talk of the logistics of death, and whether this place be Purgatory or not, I am still unsure. Inter gender treatment in the retrospective of the men’s behaviour to their wives in previous life; a much quirky post-eschatology, I guess, and there is talk of the treatment of children after their deaths, and much else. Very strange indeed that just before reading this chapter this evening, my wife had unusually charged me with watering the garden, as she had forgotten to do this before going to choir. I duly wielded the hose for quite a while and, afterwards, read here a significant tale by one of the ghosts about his own dreadful experience with such a hose shortly before his death. That is honestly true. Meanwhile, this novel continues to be a staggering experience, and there is no way I can do it justice here. I sense there is only one more chapter to read.


    “‘I suppose you are greatly amused,’ said the ghost, who, the young man now noticed, was lame and limped painfully as he moved around,…”

    Probably the most moving chapter of all, the one that will clinch the necessary question to all readers of horror genre and literature: Have you read Olive Harper’s Sociable Ghost yet? The one to which I have added my personal subtitle of The Alchemy of Death. The establishment of gravity in the ghost, as well as humour and philosophy and eschatology and ironic anti-anti-natalism. The interchange of limbs and heads, and the nature of identity. Shedding parts of you crab-like, towards some wonderful gestalt that some call Heaven? Or Hell? The interaction of the living and the dead, the importance of headstones and graves, at least before cremation. But now, in irony, creation beyond cremation itself?
    The Bible versus Science.
    The Odic Force

    “We can for a time drop off all material parts of ourselves, and then there is but the spiritual part and that is invisible, and can go anywhere by a thought. I might explain by asking if you ever saw a flock of winged ants settle down on the ground and lift off their wings and leave them there. When I want to leave my body, or what is left of it, I just give a lift and somehow I then leave the body behind and soar away. Soar after all is not the word to use, for the movement is more like a flash, and the movement is swift as thought, and nothing is so swift as that, not even lightning.”

    “and I am sure that dogs would not have to wait for their passports as we do, for they are not filled with evil”

    “There is no room for old writers. The cry is always for new thoughts, fresh ideas and the finish and depth of thought which the elderly writers bring are nothing beside the sensational work of the young man.”

    “He now became aware of a subdued murmur that passed all over the place. The sociable ghost stood near him by the side of the stone from under which he had exuded, so to speak, earlier in the night. He suddenly dropped to his knees, regardless of the pebbles which might have hurt the fleshless bones, and began rubbing the stone actively, while there were sounds of moaning and sobbing heard all over the place, and in the semi-darkness the young man saw forms crouching down by the different headstones.”

    “but the Master knows our motives, our ignorance, the pressure of outside influence, temptation and environment, and it is safe to trust to Him, for knowing all and being our Creator, He knows and pities our weaknesses, and compassionately gives a chance to—and—so—well we can—my dear sir, I can say no more now, for the time is up. Good-bye till next year—good-bye.”

    And much more, including the final epiphany of our once lovelorn, human-fallible newspaper man who is granted this dream. But not a dream, but a real visit, I deem it, transcending the otherwise impossible communication between the living and their ghosts. As if ghost stories have had their Alchemy of wisps and superstitions and eeriness combined together within a sudden solid arrival of an Unidentified Landed Object into such literature, one with the highest dense specific gravity. Or so I ramble on in personal extrapolation of this ancient, perhaps flawed, masterpiece. The flaws, if any, create its perfection of imperfection. Dross and gold.
    The earlier stories in the book enhance this whole experience.


  23. Greatly enjoyed your review of The Sociable Ghost. Elsewhere, I commended J.A. Mains for bringing this unjustly-neglected work back into print. I also noted that readers who liked this book also might like (Shameless pug alert!) Harper’s equally impressive A Fair Californian. I edited a new edition of this lost-race fantasy after casually selecting it from the free shelf of my local library. It was published by Ramble House in 2018. Several similarities to The Sociable Ghost.

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