The 6th 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?!”.

My previous reviews of these Fontana Great Ghosts by Robert Aickman linked here:

My previous reviews regarding this book’s editor:

My previous reviews of older or classic books:


29 thoughts on “The 6th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, edited by Robert Aickman

  1. CLARIMONDE by Théophile Gautier
    Translated by Lafcadio Hearn

    “Poor country priest though I was, I led every night in a dream — would to God it had been all a dream! —“

    Sardanapalus by Somnambulus, this seems today to have become the purest covivid dream, here engendered by the literally figurative lockdown of a Priest’s calling, entered into by a vow of a few seconds. A most powerful and carnally expressive work, even more powerful than I remember it, about his temptation by the ultimate seductress, one who borders on the edge of coquetry by death. If one airbrushes the overdone vampiredom aspect of this story, it would become even more a classic to die for!
    It is also a battle that seems to be one that Aickman truly feels within himself, judging by my instinct about him… as he himself faces his own Clarimonde, this beseeching, beckoning “fair one” – “and I felt my bosom transfixed by more swords than those of Our Lady of Sorrows.”
    And in tune with the two preceding Aickman Fontana volumes I have real-time reviewed so far, it contains this sentence — “From that night my nature seemed in some sort to have become halved, and there were two men within me, neither of whom knew the other.”

  2. Pingback: Clarimonde by Théophile Gautier | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  3. And, with tongue in cheek perhaps (as I myself sometimes, if rarely, have in my gestalt real-time reviews), or with an eye towards political satire, Aickman chooses the next story, as attritional as the previous one above … with forces draining us of goodness like an evil laundry, a work influential upon his own “Residents’ Only” &c. , or vice versa?

    THE GREY ONES by J.B. Priestley

    This is now a story firmly established for our times today. A conspiracy-theory story that rings true! No longer tongue in cheek or satirical, but in raw horrifying reality. That Blakean “evil principle” manipulating our lives, with ostentatious fountain pen and a name as ordinary as Smith. A Tarr and Fether fable. New trade restrictions and export licences. A so-called painter with the name Firbright, its ‘e’ missing, representing a remorseless heat in ironic contrast to the text’s mention of a “cold, cold Hell”. Even one’s own friends and relations are part of the conspiratorial clusters, vampiric dampers all of them, “choosing skins for lampshades.” I now feel myself to be on the last balcony for real, overlooking their conclaves: the “big, semi-transparent toads” praising “Adaragraffa — Lord of the Creeping Hosts.” Seriously boorish. Seriously disturbing.

  4. Pingback: The Grey Ones by J. B. Priestley | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  5. THE DOOR IN THE WALL by H.G. Wells

    “Poor little wretch I was! — brought back to this grey world again!”

    This classic story, a very apt follow-up to the previous story of grey ones, is about a lifetime’s longings and dreams and power of imagination, that famously recurrent green door in a white wall, whichever ‘North West Passage’ one chooses to get to school as a small precocious boy, or to the cabinet office as a successful politician, even as today’s boorish prime minister? It is also tellingly a parallel with the Clarimonde syndrome, the memory of sleeping-with-panthers, and of the 4th book’s Capuchin monk now as a Capuchin monkey. Beyond even a book’s ‘realities’.
    This story I have been yearning to rediscover over many years.


    “Priscilla had never seemed another being to her, but her second self, her shadow, her ghost, each akin to the other as the sound and its echo.”

    While under the aegis and traditions of sense, sensibility and celibacy in some women of yore, this is possibly the strangest, most haunting, potentially most reasonless story I have ever read, and that includes some of the stories of Aickman himself. Ranging from Dublin to Aix, these two, self-sacrificing, close-knit twins become one twin through the death by cough of the other, and yet some uncanny written incantatory refrain of ‘In the garden’ left by the dead one leads to discovery of a ‘disgraceful’ book the latter had read and tried to hide, through shame, from others who might have found in her possession. Or it, like this work itself, in possession of her? The surviving twin, upon realisation of this, proceeds to burn it page by page. A complex work by George Moore that I cannot remember ever reading or even hearing about before today. But I, for one, sensing it may never have existed till now, am certainly proud I found this story before it was too late to hide! And I wonder what sense can be made of its meaning by its own earlier question that asks whether “a benefit extended to all appeals to none in particular.”

    “: within us one self is always mocking another self.”

    Cf the man’s obliquely counterpoint syndrome in Clarimonde above: “From that night my nature seemed in some sort to have become halved, and there were two men within me, neither of whom knew the other.”

  7. Pingback: Priscilla and Emily Lofft | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  8. 75B58F34-7A96-48CC-A97B-7FCDB30CAD56

    SORWORTH PLACE by Russell Kirk

    “She carried herself with a dignity that seems to be dying from modern life, looking straight ahead, as if in some reverie that walled her away from the grossness of Sorworth —“

    Dying from modern life, indeed. And this woman, with the Widow Syndrome from the previous Aickman Fontana books I reviewed, is young to be a widow at all. The male protagonist Bain has the pain or bane of a crack in the skull from the erstwhile war’s mortar, and enforced celibacy, and he wanders and stays at chance out-of-the-way places amid the kirks of Scotland, using his meagre pension, awaiting for fate to use him as it will, including here in the well-characterised downbeat ex-colliery Sorworth. He glimpsed this young widow and fatefully gets to know her, not love-making but “…talking of books and queer corners and the small things of nature”, both of them considered ‘odd’ if not even, as if two halves of an impossible whole, and he regularly visits her in the equally well-characterised large, bleak house that she has inherited from her dead husband, and, amid the building’s darksome mazes, Bain protects her from the latter’s anniversary return as a vengeful ghost, although he is a ghost subject to the constraints of matter. The eventual (mutually destructive?) synergy of man and ghost creates a rooftop battle between them and such eventual oddities become fell cracks in the wholeness of fate itself. Fallen from a building unprettified by Balmoralization.

    “…the only realities in an infinity of shadows.”


    “Her mind had no past and no future, no sharp-edged coherent memories, and no idea of anything to be done next.”

    From elder flowers to electric dynamos, this is probably the most powerful ghost story ever written. No exaggeration. It tells of Harriott, who effectively becomes a recurrent widow without ever getting married. A story of unrequited love with one or more men and forbidden sex with another man who was married with children, so not a completely celibate audit trail for her, but certainly in an apotheosised resonance with this book so far…and she fails to confess in “solemn holiness” the forbidden aspects of her love life when upon her death bed. The religious lockdown from the Clarimonde syndrome onward into an eternal timeless stalking by that forbidden lover through an attritional Null-Immortalis (wherein each man morphs into another of the men), a brand of “Immortality” for which I had this ready name, one that is intensely shocking and nightmarish to all sinners who read this story, their guilts never to be shaken off because vibrations of them last into shadows of infinity that ever stalk us. That fateful cracking of fate in Sorworth is now forever and yours! And threaded through all these experiences are the earthly hotels and houses (“grey columns”, “great grey-carpeted staircase”, “grey house pricked up”, “high, grey garden”) where they happened. Those dynamos, you ask? Well, think about it… when comparing the forbidden lover’s essence at the end, the sight of “his long bulk stood before her” and feeling the “vibrations of its power”, yes, compare that with an earlier almost ludicrously salacious concept of Harriott wanting to be shown his “great dynamos”… however innocent the root.

  10. Pingback: Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

  11. “Then she unlocks the toad’s dire head,
    Within whose cell is treasured
    That pretious stone, which she doth call
    A noble recompence for all,
    And to her lar doth it present,
    Of his fair aid a monument.”
    — from ‘The Toad And Spyder: A Duell’ by Richard Lovelace (the Cavalier poet of the seventeenth century, upon whom Christopher Lovelock is possibly based?)

    OKE OF OKEHURST by Vernon Lee


    The bullet’s final release. The killing of one’s loved one to love them the more in a more ghostly territory… To play that game of fancy-dress charades to its fullest extent. With half-moon specs of the age?
    The toad with its gash in its maniac-brow’s frown of her husband (also her first cousin) whom she leaves behind by having him mad enough to shoot her. Her second miscarriage of self?
    You need to read this famous attritional Gothic house novelette for yourself, in order to appreciate its relentless description of Alice Oke, not just the glimpse of her at the beginning of the above Sorworth story, where the gash in the brow of her saviour in this Paget work was there a crack in the back of his head! So, yes, not just a telling glimpse or impression, but teems and teems of teasing tantalisations of her, borrowing the attritionally descriptive effects in the above Clarimonde. Suffering endless boredoms of such heartfelt samenesses, now reaching for a fulfilling apotheosis of self.
    Much of her husband adumbrated, too, with his own conflicting traits, obsessionally couched by both the narrator in cahoots with his creator the author Violet Paget masquerading as Vernon Lee.
    Here the Angel and Jacob wrestling duel is explicitly mentioned, and it seems to be the same one as at the end of the Sorworth story, if there it was on a rooftop.
    Many tantalising qualities imparted by the Alice-obsessed narrator about her, the man who was her would-be portrait painter invited to thus capture her by the husband, long paragraph after long paragraph of obsessional but beautifully textured samenesses of traits. A self-projected Narcissus complex.
    The writer Violet Paget now a version of Virgil Pomfret? A woman as man transcending the mad-woman she had created. Not forgetting the gratuitously pervasive yellow of the drawing-room….as a co-instinctive symbol of such feminist release?
    To transcend the immortal nullity in the Sinclair? Leigh to Lee.

  12. THE LIPS by Henry S. Whitehead

    “: vague syllables, with one word, ‘l’kundu’, standing out and pounding itself deeper and deeper into his consciousness.”

    This West Indies story of slavers that I recall reading in the 1960s now seems to have become even more horrible. A biting coda to this book that seems now to take on a new darkness from it, my luck’s undoing, my developing gestalt halted by a wound that speaks of what evil mankind doth to mankind. The Oke story, in hindsight, has become a truly powerful oblique parallel with this one and it should have warned me to resist renewing a relationship with the gash or crack that actually speaks…


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