Black Shuck Books (undated)
Editor: J.A. Mains
Introduction: Mike Ashley
Previously unreprinted stories of yore: relating to Halloween and Christmas
My previous reviews of this writer-editor here and this publisher here
If I review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
Around 500 pages
The book seems to be in two sections: ‘Remember The Dead at Hallowe’en’ and ‘Remember the Dead at Christmas’. For obvious reasons I have started with the second section on page 245, although its first story below seems to have nothing to do with Christmas (except a marmite as a cooking container?) (unless I missed any such reference?)…not that I am particularly enamoured with Christmas and I may have inadvertently airbrushed out any such reference while reading it!
THE BLACK RING (1849) by Marie Rose Blaze de Bury
An engaging novelette-length tale told by one of its characters as a tale about he and other young men meeting by chance and travelling almost at random in the Pyrenees, heading homeward to Britain, caught up in a gypsy curse whereby they seemed trapped in a lethal tontine. Involving love of a young woman and survival of the fittest-by-fate. Fate and due time. Amid various interesting backstories, and social gatherings with seemingly sophisticated motives and adroit character-building by the author. And, oh yes, a larder in the forest! And chestnuts galore.
There are many striking passages, e.g.:
“it is a question of nothing further than a mere halt, a place wherein you may taste of a sort of a one-legged repose, and whence you are expected to hop off as soon as possible. Hang them! these devilish ‘posadas’ —“
“I now stepped in with an earnest entreaty that she should open the book of our future destinies before us.
‘There is nothing written in it for you,’ replied she haughtily — ‘the old story, page after page all blank.’”
“to the room where dancing was going on. I followed. He was already threading the crowd with something white on his arm, something very feminine and feathery, that fluttered, fanned, and flirted, as is the custom of the race. Into the whirl they went, and round and round they turned, she seemingly supported by nothing earthly than by his arm;”
Heya Des – the tales are either set at Christmas or the stories were published in newspapers during Christmas
Chestnuts are Christmassy, though!
For the record, I am at first not reading anything inside the book other than the fiction itself. Meanwhile…
THE GHOST OF STANTON HALL (1868)
“When her son was about fifteen years old, some secret thought seemed suddenly to reanimate her altogether. She had always been an affectionate mother, but now she was seized with a passionate love for her son. She frequently caressed him with tears in her eyes…”
This novelette-length story is quite a find, I would suggest, and despite a few typos here and there, it genuinely chilled me. It only goes to show that a slow build up of detailed backstory imparted by one of the characters is required to really set any ghost alive! The Hall’s exterior with its healing more modern wall. The family who lived there even if with a mere glimpse of their implied peccadilloes. And the chamber in which the ghost haunts and the cabinet and its iron ring, certainly ring true, as the antiquarian narrator spends the night next to this chamber, despite being warned against it. The journey through secret stairways and oubliettes that he makes at night following the ghost, whether dream or reality, is superbly done, thus satisfying the backstories’ emotional and material promise. This work is of its pungent age, taking its time, with no thought for modern cynicism, although at the start of this nemonymous 1868 work, the narrator states that such modernity was already beginning to creep in… As an aside, the once sorrowful portrait of the lady (“in a lavender dress, very scanty”), the lady I quoted about above, ends this story with features that “are now lit up with a smile.”
MRS BROWN’S GHOST STORY (1868)
“…me sittin’ up late with her one night, three winters ago, a ‘eavy cold on her chest, as I thought would aye turned to jaunders, as ‘er eyes was yokes of eggs for yallerness, with a pain between the blade-bones like a carvin’ knife…”
I always find difficult to read stories that are told in a concocted dialect by elision, yet this one is so short and so utterly pungent with both horrific events retold and rich words used like “disembowelled sperrits” and humorous effects, that I deem it worthy of being THE archetypal example of such a work. As the words were elided, frissons of ghosts sure glided through my heart. Bound for the Dead Sea, hopefully!
CHRISTMAS DAY IN ENGLAND (1871)
by Mary Anne Barker
Despite the title, I saw little of Christmas here, other than a room for wine and walnuts for the men of the story — a story, otherwise, of Lady Gertrude Lawrence who marries a Mr Delaware and he takes this his new wife to one of his baronial homes up North, along with other wedding guests for them to expend cartridges at partridges. And she fancifully decides, as a useful breaking of such boring things, to act out, in the cold moonlit hallway of armour and portraits, the ghost of a previous pious spinster called Alice who once lived there and was deemed to have been a benign ‘fire-annihilator’. Two Alices and two ghosts, but do not let me spoil this socially characterful work about Gertrude Lawrence. But I do wonder if it is significant that the famous Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952), born Gertrude Alice Klasen, was also an actress, and one with Alice as a second name! Also, the circumstances of her 1941 performance in ‘Lady in the Dark’ — when playing so powerfully a woman in need of psychoanalysis — are worth pointing out here.
THE HIDDEN SHRIFT (1878)
by Dr. Maurice Davies
“The evening was delicious. To others it meant quadrilles and cards; to me it meant Fanny.”
At last, we have a Christmas Day story, a dinner party, full of good cheer, goodhearts and romance and spirits to drink. Yet, there is something striking about this ghost story about a young priest who is not there at the dinner but IS there, like Banquo, to the narrator, between the narrator’s two future sisters-in-law who spent the whole dinner, in their own mind, chatting to each other, with the priest between them! The priest himself sought out our narrator, it seems, to absolve him, as a priest, of someone else’s confessional shrivings or shrift that the priest had once written down, for the narrator thus to destroy such a shrift so that he, the priest, could rest easy without being a ghost. Yet I wonder whether that shrift was indeed a shift, as the narrator later sees the priest in his bedroom dressed in a “neglige”… A happy Christmassy ending, meanwhile, to this genuinely memorable tale! Spirituous as well as spiritual. A quirky rarity, with the ability to puzzle and chill.
A shift neglige:
The Hidden Shrift is a fave!
John Simmons (1823-1876), “The Honey Bee Steals from the Bumble Bees”
THE PEARL PRINCESS (1882) by Augustus Cheltenham
“It seems scarcely suitable to connect a spectral visitation with a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ Ghosts are really in season when the days are shortest, and the churchyards yawn the widest;”
…albeit it is the Simmons’ “Intruder” painting on our man’s wall over his harmonium upon which he later dreams a “negro with tunic and turban of white muslin was performing with much skill…” and amid other references to the nymph Egeria, the ‘Three Black Crows’ bearish reversal, an Indian Princess, a fan used as a strangling tourniquet, Bulwer’s Zanoni (of which I once owned a copy) and Queen Mab, this is a story of our man and his fiancée Olivia as they finagle finances to lease a haunted house, with various scenes of fear and motives that need a personal gestalt to encapsulate. Each reader will have a different gestalt. And I would not want to spoil yours by telling you mine. I would just mention Bulwer’s ‘The House And The Brain’ as a teaser. And it all happens on Christmas Eve. And Olivia’s surname was Snow.
THE WHITE LADY (1893) by E. Nesbit
“There was a lute, all its strings broken but one; and one stiff dress on a chair that looked to me so like a human being that I paused for at least a minute before I had the courage to go up to it…”
A genuine ghost story classic, both chilling and humorous, the first ever reprint of an unknown E. Nesbit work, one dealing with the dependance — upon a ghost to be seen and verified to be walking on Christmas Eve — for an engagement of marriage between the heroine and her beau, an engagement thus to be approved by the beau’s father.
A shame about the typos, one or two of them quite serious.
Des, that story was reprinted word for word from the original text. To honour said text I took the approach that I’d rather take the hit, and it can always be fixed by whoever reprints this next – than to destroy the sanctity of that ‘pure’ text, corrupted as it may have been, by those long-dead block-typesetting hands. And those typos lend their own story and strange contributions to nothing and everything.
just for the record –
My E. Nesbit story typo finds –
more sure than —> more sure that
were fathered around the piano —> gathered
that light’s one’s life —> lights
her parents consent —> parents’
let down my fair —> hair
panel like the on —> one
Cary had warmed me —> warned
What should have liked —> What I should
I love: “And those typos lend their own story and strange contributions to nothing and everything.”
Cross-referenced the Nesbit with my simultaneous reviewing of Grayson vs Grayson Syndrome in Dead Astronauts: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/05/dead-astronauts-jeff-vandermeer/
And with the simultaneously read Parypinski story and the simultaneously read Victorian ‘Child Cephalina’ chapter. And so I do not believe it was a reflection at the end of the Nesbit! It was the real ghost of the White Lady!
ROSAMUND’S GHOST (1896) by ‘Sigma’
“snap-dragon and a game of speculation”
Forfeits, too. A Christmas party is the setting for one of those archetypal stories where something – here a snowstorm – stops someone – here the Squire – leaving afterwards and he is put up in the only available room, one that happens to be haunted. And, as ever, the future potential subject of a ghost’s haunting dares relish the prospect. Nicely written. Yet I don’t believe the Squire when he tells everyone (who had been worried about his fate) about the reason why his room for the night was found empty earlier. I believed him about the visit of the eponymous ghost itself, though. A ghost with a “rustling of a soft silk gown.”
More from the “long-dead block-typesetting hands” – [made the I6th and 17th centuries —> made in the 16th; remaining this county —> remaining in this county; Winslow and Aylesbnry —> Aylesbury; he thought time be saw —> time he saw; but what’s to done —> be done; preparation the room —> of the room]
THE LADY OF THE MISTLETOE (1902) by Mary Hall
“The natural gas flickered and twinked in a way that drove me me wild, and once it nearly went out.”
A tale with a truly spooky incident concerning a dynastic curse of someone or something with (as in the previous story) “a silken swish beside me […] the slight, silky rustling” come to kiss the narrator under the mistletoe that he should not have hung. ‘Maybe’ the house knew something about it, too. A house with an enviable bah-humbug approach to Christmas! [theatres and do on—> so on; out want was —> our; ribbin —> ribbon; pretty. Petite self —> pretty petite self; voided the mistletoe —> avoided]
I think the book’s editor is quite correct in what he says above. Source typos can be important. Those of you who have followed my reviews over the years, often see me interpreting seeming typos as part of the meaning of the text. All part of Literature as Gestalt or Parhelion: the Art of the Preternatural.
THE GHOST OF THE GRAMPIANS (1921) by ‘A. T. R.’
“It was Christmas Eve, a time when one’s thoughts wander back through the years to half forgotten places and people — little incidents of bygone days, to which time has given a new significance.”
A well-written tale of a man climbing mountains on Christmas Eve, beguiled by rocky pareidolia or seeing truth itself in a beckoning figure or a Lilliputian horse, and by dint of a falling accident he discovers a cave with bookshelves, drawings on the wall and an indecipherable message on a subsequently lost piece of paper. Do we believe him or is he mad?
[he bed climbed —> had; he had hand —> heard; in tins inner chamber —> this (and need to adjust the rest of the sentence); rum- bling —> rumbling]
THE GHOST OF BECKENHAM GRANGE by Julius Friend
“The white counterpane was stained with a large patch of red.”
I can just perceive this is potentially an effective ghost story, a gory one for once, as our narrator listens to what happened in an atmospheric country pub on Christmas Eve. I say ‘potentially’, because in this particular story the effect of the seeming typos is often difficult to penetrate and too numerous for me, as a mere paying reader, to list out, in the same way as I have not listed out the dash/hyphen and quote mark inconsistencies throughout these stories.
This reading experience has been a telling glimpse at a worthy labour of love, and I admire the exhumation of these enjoyable tales as a task bravely undertaken.
I SHALL READ THE OTHER HALF OF THIS BOOK IN OCTOBER 2020.
I intend to ignore any typos in forthcoming reviews below of this book from last year, as I assume they will now have been corrected. I presume my copy is an uncorrected proof?
WHY HALLOWEEN PARTIES?
Published 28 October 1932
Loved the Halloween game with a lighted candle and an apple hung up, the apple-on-its-own version of this game harmless “if the chance of interchange of germs is ignored”!
And nuts burning as fortune telling, two nuts being burnt meaning marriage!
THE THREE DAMSELS: A TALE OF HALLOWEEN (1827) by David Lyndsay, Esq
“It was her will, not his: and what woman ever failed in her determination over the mind of man.”
And what elderly woman’s tale ever defeated or even upheld the woodland omens of her own story, tying the wisdom of her age with the spirits of three young sisters, a tutelary tale told to other young girls on Halloween of blessings received and foregone, in a tied knot of fate, a tale whose darksome florid prose the elder woman spoke of promised bridegrooms for the sisters’ tokens proffered, and the disruption of warriors as necessary glitches in such a seemingly inevitable pattern of gestalt. Quite a discovery this strange and impenetrable tale as a vehicle for an equally strange but penetrable tale, or vice versa.
THE GHOST (1829) by J.K. Paulding
“always in the dead of night”
Another great ghost story find, assuming you block or at least mute the second half of the story from your mind. Good to know the second half was once there, though, like a ghost itself of rationalisation!
The first half, meanwhile, is an inexplicable and truly haunting discrete work, with an obsessive spoon, a constant fear of Fridays, as a sailor called Morgan haunts a ship and its crew during its tour of the Mediterranean. They even needed to “quarantine” the ship at one point, as if a ghost were a virus! And there is the durable concept of “dwindling to a perfect shadow.” (And sailors, on leave, frolicking as “amphibious bipeds.”)
[This author apparently invented Gotham as an aka of New York. Not that I usually read the author backgrounds provided by the editor, but this caught my mind’s eye. Now blocked.]
Cross-referenced with O Henry here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/02/17/o-henry-stories/#comment-20102
Reblogged this on THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS.
To be continued, hopefully daily.
THE FEMALE WRECKER AND THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY (October 29, 1850) by Erskine Neale
“Wrong never comes right! Wrong never comes right!”
An engaging couple of ghostly tales told by two male “elderlies” about their experiences in the past, as told by them darksomely in telling contrast to the sunshiny-happiness setting of where their such very telling tellings took place. Tellings of tales that were trying to compete with each elderly’s respective uncanny experience against the other elderly’s such experience
— a chilling laugh, in the first tale, around the female wrecker’s deathbed, a woman who once spurned religion, and, in the second, visiting horsemen at night (from “Horsemonger Lane”?), visiting the eponymous house, but being visitors who were never there in the morning for breakfast (!) plus a huge thumping mallet sound on other days that always came from a room different from the one that one happened to be in (!) —
as well as these being tellings of tales trying to prove to the third sceptical elderly man listening to them that such hauntings actually could happen.
I know which of the doddery elderlies was me! (Remember us all when we’re dead.)
A story worthy of Thomas Hardy, whose short fiction I already happen to be real-time reviewing HERE.
“Be they whom they may they shall be disturbed.”
“…he had dropt a clue of yam, and Mr. Mather, his host, finding him rummaging for it, assisted in the search, and, having got hold of it, persisted notwithstanding Andrew’s opposition, in unrolling the yam till he came to the kemeiy which, much to his surprise and amusement, he found to consist of about twenty guineas in gold.”
Concerning Andrew Gemmels and Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary? Comments would be welcome about this, as the young lady in the intriguing short piece below throws ‘a clue of yam’ in a kiln.
MACCULLOCH’S COURTSHIP (1869) by Hugh Miller
“He had the knack of dreaming when broad awake;”
…as we now all do today 150 years later. A highlander boy 14 now works in the lowlands and falls in love with a 19 year old girl, and explicitly at Halloween, there is an oblique ghostly scene between them in a “dark and lonely” kiln. (They later live happily ever after together.)
“A belief in destiny often becomes a destiny of itself;”
I understand ‘kemeiy’ is a form of diarrhoea!
Having thought more, I think it should be ‘a clue of yarn’ not ‘yam’, and the Hugh Miller version follows Scott’s Antiquary text that I found archived on-line.
THE MAIDENS OF BRAEHEAD (1874) by Anonymous
“Hallowe’en is above all other seasons of festive mirth the especial favourite of young lovers.”
An engaging account of Hallowe’en celebrations at a highland farmer’s place and his four daughters, in more ways than one a retelling of the plot of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but without the pride or the prejudice! Just due deserts by dint of fortune telling games. I particularly enjoyed account of the celebration itself with the aforementioned nut burning, and choosing the contents of three dishes, and digging into a potato stew for a silver sixpence, or button, or wedding ring…
SEEING A GHOST (1877) by Anonymous
“But it was a queer smile and a queer look, and her face was white as my apron.”
When I was a small boy in the early 1950s, there was an expression for people seeming wan or waifful or generally pale – ‘you look as if you have just seen a ghost!’ This is one such occasion, and if you ignore the last three pages, it is a great ghost story, with more Halloween nut burning and being blindfolded above empty dishes as fortune-telling. Another love story with a parting of one of them to a distant place, and later seeing one’s lover as if a ghost. With much ‘flying of the wheels’ that young ladies spun with in those days. A tale told to other girls by an Aunt Biddy with ‘edicated larning’…
The “slow fevers” they suffered, too, between the flying of the wheels.
A HALLOWE’EN ESCAPADE (1890) by Susan Mullen
“There is eating of an apple at midnight before a mirror when your sweetheart will come and look over your shoulder.”
From ‘slow fever’ to “brain fever” in this vignette of Hallowe’en methods of finding one’s future husband, including the ‘throwing down of a core of yarn in a lime kiln’, more burning of nuts, and the above quote that gave me a genuine frisson of ‘freet’. The trick that the lady of the house plays on her servant girl in such a process of love’s divination is both hilarious and very cruel. I was speechless. I should really not have found it hilarious at all. Not many stories give me such quandaries.
THE SWEETEST SPELL OF ALL (1900) by Ralli West
“We will burn nuts, comb our hair before a looking-glass, eating an apple all the time, then see if our true loves won’t peep over our shoulders; spin yarn, and — and all the rest of the magic spells.”
More fun and pranks during Halloween, and later Christmas, and “unlimited flirtation”, Austen-like marriage seeking, among girls at Eccleston Court. Including a dark face or is it a dark wig, peeping over a girl’s shoulder…
Some of these stories seem to help you remember the dead, — this one to forget them, at least for a nonce.
HIS DARK DESIGN: A CARSE O’ GOWRIE HALLOWE’EN STORY (1905) by ‘Deborah’
“‘Oh, mother, mother,’ at length cried pretty Jeanie petulantly, ‘where have you hidden the nuts? We want them now.’
‘Here they are, my doo!’ said the fond mother, producing them from a drawer in the dresser. In pairs the nuts went into the glowing fire…”
Some nuts nestling down together cosily, others flying asunder with a crack and a whizz, presenting this book’s Halloween ritual of fortune telling of future spouses with the most perfect aplomb so far. Here, however, the results of this ritual does not play fair with the stolid farmer of the soil and what I presume to be his dark design at matching off his aging maiden sister-in-law to the local minister!
Whatever the case, his ‘winsome’ daughter, 18 year old Jeanie, had a good time with her ‘bosom friends’, at the party, I infer.
THE GRAVEYARD (1907) by Alphonse Courlander
This is a genuine ghostly horror story classic, and I am surprised that this may be one of its rare outings into publication.
It tells of a girl with bravado in front of her friends, at Halloween, going, as a sort of dare, to a graveyard on her own to fetch flowers from a certain grave… There is so much to mention about this story or to quote from it, that I am impossibly spoilt for choice. I shall just mention one perhaps trivial aside: that I had never realised before that ‘graver’ is a shortening of engraver upon gravestones. And, oh yes, you will never forget the description of some of the nameless graves…
ALL SOULS’ NIGHT (1909) by Eleanor Fitzgerald
“, for the Soggarth is always angry with the people for doing this,”
A remarkably insidious story that resonates with all manner of mixed moral machinations amid the central Christian faith regarding those departing into death. Here a newly dead father returns as a white moth, and others’ various exterior motives of money-making, in hypocritically plying such faith, are to the cruel detriment of his widow and daughter. Needs to be read by others to triangulate, alongside me, the coordinates of quite how tantalisingly insidious this work really is!
The apotheosis of this whole book’s title?
THE SWORD (1917) by Rachel Swete Macnamara
“She had her cousins’ word that they had played no trick but the sword remained as visible proof.”
I somehow noticed word as sword there, and the obliquity of that accentuated the disarmingly inexplicable but equally meaningful devastation of the story’s ending,
A deceptively and perhaps inadvertently great horror story about a variation on the Halloween game of finding a young lady’s future husband, here in a lonely part of the house – as encouraged by her cousins – where a dinner table is set for two and she must sit there and wait…
ALL HALLOWS’ E’EN (1929) by ‘M.B.’
“The place was like a vapour-bath and yet, I shivered,…”
The blatant, all-out horror of a girl’s walking trip on Dartmoor with her dog, yet with a power transcending its own relentless writerly attrition, and it makes one wonder whether she really did get home in one piece after such visions of “cruelty and lust”…
THUS SAID CALUM THE KEEPER (1862/1931) by Iain Frangan Caimbeul / Ian Colvin
“, watching the nuts, those glowing lovers, burning in pairs.”
…and that quote alone, amid much dialect in this particular work, is worthy of this book.
I repeat –
This reading experience has been a telling glimpse at a worthy labour of love, and I admire the exhumation of these enjoyable tales as a task bravely undertaken.
and now add to that : …accomplished with an eclectic genius.