The 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman


I wrote this during my review of the 2nd book: “…the bringing of all these stories together in one volume possibly being Aickman’s most singular and dangerous achievement?!”, here:

My previous reviews regarding this book’s editor:

My previous reviews of older or classic books:


In its introduction Aickman writes:


His reference to “geist” seems to resonate with ‘gestalt.’

30 thoughts on “The 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman

  1. THE ACCIDENT by Ann Bridge

    “How like guides, Dr. Allard thought, with their morbid love of horrors.”

    From Bridge to the terraced ‘wall’ and/or parapet of the hotel in Zermatt overlooked by the Matterhorn and populated by climbers and their guides. Aptly Allard is professional “alienist” and today buys a book upon “praecox dementia” just before dealing with the condition of what also could have been “possession” in Phyllis Strangeways (age 20) on holiday with her brother Roger (age 17). He consistently refers to them as “children” and — following Phyllis’ supposed haunting by two male climbers recently killed by a climbing accident and now formally buried, a haunting that involves what is suspected to be the stalking by the dead climbers’ later perceived new footsteps in the snow that don’t even start anywhere as if they had been dropped by an aeroplane — Allard tucks the sister and brother up in their beds and later often peeps into their rooms. Earlier, we are told of his sweetheart Rose who had died with her own mental disorder …. a precarious bridge between the two women or has something far more salacious possessed him? The in-denial stalking of self by self?
    “The sun by now had risen, and they were already high enough to look out southward over the peaks, beyond the Zermatt valley; they glowed a furious rose, beautiful to see but threatening for the future; the guides spat and muttered at the sight.”
    Those guides who, later, somehow knew.

  2. It seems appropriate to follow the previous story with the next one that towards the end concludes: “Frightened people behave rather like children.”….


    …which starts with a strikingly covivid, if decidedly incorrect, dream by the male narrator on board the February trip (people do not make such a trip in February ‘for fun’, it is contended!), the trip upon this particular ship from New York to Liverpool with all its bad weather and motley passengers…


    …a covivid dream because the text discusses dreams in which one feels awake in! ANYWAY, to cut a medium-sized story short, the narrator is harassed by a widow, in league with an old man on board who confirms a sighting of the same ‘ghost’, with her tales of the dead husband haunting her on this ship because he had been dead only three months and she was travelling to England to marry the man she truly loved. Well, she keeps the narrator close to her in her cabin by dint of acting very scared of this ghost, viz. her late husband in blue pyjamas, and not just by dint of her brain being sea-sick! There is a strong hint, I believe, that matters exceed, by the end of the trip, mere “sex-sentimentality.” This is arguably a parallel with the story Thurnley Abbey in the other Fontana Ghost book already reviewed here.

  3. …and so on to the next story that describes the context of these words: “…widows, as exemplifying the survival of the matrimonially fittest,…”


    This famous brief prose fiction about a literal conservative man bewitched by the amorphously, arguably un-literal secrecy in the mystery of a woman whom he fatefully glimpses. Yet, I see her haunting mystery, “looking like a moonbeam in grey lace”, as a straightforwardly LITERAL means to trap a man into the web of her desires. Until she, in this story told by the man, reliable or not, succumbs to a sudden congestion of the lungs, implying that the power of our human bodies to rule over or submit to matters of life is far more unilaterally mysterious than anything hard-and-fast or reconditely malleable that one does or believe or even simply is. There lies fate.

  4. Pingback: The Sphinx Without A Secret | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  5. WHEN I WAS DEAD by Vincent O’Sullivan

    “: at Ravenel the chain of nerves was prone to clash and jangle a funeral march.”

    Nevermore, Ravenel. These books’ ghost-as-selfish-hoax here is yourself locked down from society in this house instead of ‘knocking about in town’, not mind over matter so much as matter over mind, dreaming, dreaming a combined vivid dream, in which dream other people in the household see the person that once was yourself now a dead body with its nose bleeding as part and parcel of the belief-suspended spell, and you still stand outside it all as the only mind that matters. The only one with omniscience and omnipotence as creator of the dream’s ‘story’ — Null Immortalis.
    And like print on white paper…
    “…the house was filled with blacks, and mutes… […] …a black thread winding slowly over the white plain.”

  6. Pingback: When I Was Dead | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  7. …and whether or not it is at least loosely relevant to the experience of the man in the previous story, the next story’s “old Countess was never to be informed of the death of any of her contemporaries,…”

    Translated by T. Keane from the Russian of Alexander Pushkin

    “Hairpins fell in showers around her.”

    Hermann, who is “not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous”, at first as literal and conservative as this book’s erstwhile man with the Sphinx and its Secret, gambles with a new womanly mystery, i.e. that of an 87 year old Countess, by first beguiling Lisa her younger lady companion, for the rhythm of riches in the sequence of three playing cards, with mention of three crimes and a three-cornered hat, a triangulation or tontine of fateful fiction made real by his own foolhardy leap of imagination…while vis à vis Lisa, by dint of reading romantic novels, “the ordinary countenance of her admirer became invested with attributes capable of alarming her and fascinating her imagination at the same time”, be it the conjuring up of the Countess’s now presumably dead countenance or even more insidiously a spade calling itself another spade till Queendom Come.

  8. D8CAD1E9-2C16-4BA5-85EB-0C0D95F286ADPARGITON AND HARBY by Desmond MacCarthy

    “Pargiton’s brother had been engaged to a widow at the time of his death,…”

    This book’s widow-curse again? Causing Pargiton to …. to cause what to happen on that icy lake? If he caused it at all.
    The ultimate Terror Tale of the “Past Self” or what I have long called the Proustian Self as disparate but alone as singularly one, shadow-merging and battling entities within the same head, as part of this story of two male friends from university as part of a lifetime of two separate and temperamentally disparate destinies. 33DD057D-3C92-42A0-B7BB-B506CDDADC6D Shadows with disparate heads and a “framed oblong darkness” in which staring eyes see the coming of self’s opening threshold. Gaits echoed, limp by limp. Better halves, worse selves and inner demons.
    An old-fashioned tale with hidden impulses, and parts of it now “underlined in a brownish, deep-red ink.” To be confidently oneself but then hearing the same self as “disembodied percipient.” The reader with the same forename trying to overshadow or subvert its now doubtless dead author’s intentions or were those still intact intentions already there? And are still there but redoubled in power?

    “Nunquam minus solus, quam cum solus.”

  9. Pingback: Pargiton & Harby | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  10. THE SNOW by Hugh Walpole

    “, another self that had nothing to do with her real self, a stranger to her, and yet a very old familiar friend.”

    From Desmond’s Proustian Self, and with this book’s earlier widow curses, here we have a widower and his wife — the dead wife as that earlier moonlit Sphinx in ‘grey lace’, as well as his current wife whose point of view we now follow, from jealousy to outright covivid terror and nightmare, as the man’s obsessive Cathedral lurks prehensile in the agglomerating snow outside their windows. The encroachment of death “as unmistakeable as a certain smell, or the familiar ringing of a gong.” Not imagination as we understand it but imagination as a real thing, now playing with snow if not fire. For “future analysis” like my scrying through her “curtained windows […] with their thick amber folds, gold rod, white lines—“ …….. and for “windows” read widows or widowers?…..… a very powerful classic ghost story.

  11. Pingback: The Snow – Hugh Walpole | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  12. CARLTON’S FATHER by Eric Ambrose

    “Oh, yes, he understood all about the ‘middle third’…”

    …as I have long understood all about the ‘shadowy third’! Here, naturally, about structural bulges and carefully measured signs of two walls’ inner and outer rising and subsidence respectively, rather than psychiatric or emotional or spiritual ones. I, too, went to one of those timeless boys’ schools where we all knew and addressed each other by the surname, not the forename. We all turned out mad in the more shadowy sense, especially in the face of structural changes to society, I guess. Ever-yearning for that lost timelessness. This story of the narrator’s old school friend called Carlton whose father turns out to be a ‘mad scientist’, and it is surely mad to have written this story, and chosen this story as Aickman did as an editor, and now for me to read, even to extrapolate it publicly. The wall is down, the wall is up, and its connection with this book’s previous stories above is surely configured by every male in it being dead but somehow still alive, while Carlton’s mother and widow of his father was substantially dead!

  13. BABA49BB-2485-470F-9563-E411F3FD1C0B

    This Artwork image by JaNell Golden seems perfect for the next story, and I don’t think this has ever been drawn to my attention till now…

    A SCHOOL STORY by M. R. James

    “‘At our school,’ said A., ‘we had a ghost’s footmark on the staircase.’”

    …another school where the boys ever refer to each other by their surnames.
    This one where secret messages seem to be somehow involuntarily or instinctively imparted to the schoolteacher Mr. Sampson via the preternatural vehicle of pupils’ example sentences demonstrating required grammar or meaning, such as, in one example here, “conditional sentences […] a conditional sentence expressing a future consequence.”
    By this frightening means, the teacher is spectrally as well as somehow physically haunted by a past, now dead, lover….

    Cf the verb ‘memini’ for memory almost coincidentally writ above in image!

  14. Pingback: A School Story | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews


    “When one has nothing left to one but memories, one guards and dusts them with special care.”

    Here the old governess of the family now living in the castle reveals, to their annoyance and disbelief, that she was once a true scion of that castle, with her now fallen on hard times as a governess who happened to get a job in that very castle, and she, not them, would be subject to its legends when wolves howled and a tree fell in the park at the point of a true scion’s death.
    In front of a significantly open window with the biting cold of the winter night, thus it later duly happens.

    “Leave it open,…”

    NB. In ‘The Open Window’, the most famous story by Saki, there is, I recall, the Sappleton woman keeping supposed vigil as a supposed widow for a supposed dead husband…not sure that’s relevant!

  16. MAD MONKTON by William Wilkie Collins

    Chapter 1

    “Others had heard odd noises in the uninhabited parts of the Abbey, had looked up, and had seen him forcing open the old windows, as if to let light and air into rooms supposed to have been shut close for years and years;”

    …Alfred Monkton, that is, heir to the family with a hereditary madness, betrothed to a ‘grasping’ Widow Emslie’s daughter Ada, and the narrator’s hearsay evidence, as son of his father who died a widower, another one who died from infection in his lungs outwards! The narrator’s Father as legal guardian of Ada. Hearsay evidence, too, of monks’ ghosts in the Abbey…Ada off on the continent with her sickliness, meantime.
    The scene is thus duly set for this novelette within the foregoing, impinging context of this whole book?

    • Chapters 2 & 3

      “…there were times when he would suddenly look away from my face, now on one side of me, now on the other, but always where there was nothing to see.”

      …Alfred ‘Mad’ Monkton, that is, as seen through the eyes of the narrator who, despite what he says, I shall deem, for the time being, an unreliable narrator. Only instinct, on my part, but what I believe. He sees Alfred as a bit ‘effeminate’, while he listens to Alfred’s now detailed, documented ‘mad’ or pointless obsession in Naples with finding his uncle’s corpse following a highly eccentric duel, all such duels being frowned on by the Pope. Alfred even transports an empty leaden coffin around with him to take his uncle when found. Alfred has postponed his marriage to the mainly recovered Ada in order to fulfil his quest, we are told. And much else, that I cannot really cover here in my review of this ‘fiction’. All very disturbing, though, with still tantalising implications, such as the reason for artists and painters to accompany the duelling party.

    • Chapter 4


      For fear of spoilers, I will not reveal Alfred’s ‘rationale’ for his obsessive quest with an empty coffin, nor explicate his described experiences of being haunted at the Abbey that seemed to confirm a certain familial prophecy. Nor Alfred’s thoughts on Ada, and how this prophecy affects them both, Nor the striking, arguably believable dilemma that faces the narrator. I will just show you one example of the ingredients in such a haunting, as in the example of text above. Just one example of much powerful writing in this chapter by the author of the Moonstone…

    • Chapter 5

      “Closeness? — Surely it was something more than that. The air was even more distasteful to my nostrils than to my lungs. There was some faint, indescribable smell loading it —“

      The narrator tells us, and I somehow do believe him, of his own journey, while Alfred rests from the quest. A journey to a nearby convent of Capuchin monks, as in MONKton, I guess, monks most absurdly lusting after his snuff! We follow him over the evocatively conjured Italian terrain of wild seclusion, and see, with him, what he discovers in one of the convent’s outhouses, this being one of those sublime horror fiction genre moments that enthusiasts for such literature should never avoid. It is worth daring! Especially with the accompanying tripartite crosscurrents of the Roman Catholic religion (foreshadowed earlier in this novelette), and of Duellism, and of our beliefs in ghosts… I personally thank Aickman for drawing this work to my attention. It feels as it must be an influence on his own work. And I still have one chapter yet to read!

      “The very cross opposite the entrance-gate, with a shocking life sized figure in wood nailed to it, was so beset at the base with crawling creatures, and looked so slimy, green, and rotten all the way up…”

    • Chapter 6

      “The empty place will now remain empty for ever…”

      Like memory itself, even as you grow older before memory’s final resting place. That memory in the image above the school story, when youth started their memories. And I recall the old Capuchin monk in the previous chapter was worried he had lost his memory. And now Alfred’s own memory loss as a sort of false healing of his madness. And Ada’s final line is devoted to faith in her memory to the dead she lost. Never meeting the narrator again. The narrator’s own tussling with his own depression when earlier crossing the seas with the leaden coffin, in a craft that was beset by a storm, and the so-called ‘marble statue’ is sort of aborted to breaking waters, following the superstitious crew’s misgivings. The explicit “series of striking coincidences” that the narrator witnessed now almost makes me lose my own memory as to why I doubted the narrator’s reliability in the first place. All of this being a coda to my whole review, a pack of cards each one the Queen of Spades.


  17. Pingback: “You’re talking rather through your hat when you speak of feeding on hares” | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  18. Pingback: M. R. James: The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

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