Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Building a Spooky Library - Dalby Surround

It would be absurd - albeit a lot of fun - to try and buy a book by every ghost story author of note. Apart from anything else, many such authors are 'one hit wonders', known for one significant story - 'Thurnley Abbey' by Perceval Landon is a good example. Other writers may be an acquired taste (just wait till I get onto Aickman) and buying a possibly-pricey collection that you struggle to finish is a mite disappointing.

So we obviously need good anthologies. This means that editors matter, and Richard Dalby is one of the most important editors of ghost stories. The Dalby name on the cover guarantees that a genuine expert in the field has chosen the contents. Of the dozens of books Richard Dalby has edited down the years, the obvious one to go for (in my opinion) is the Virago Book of Ghost Stories.

There is a complicating factor, here. The above volume deals with 20th century stories by female writers. There is also a Virago anthology of Victorian ghost stories, again by women. Both are excellent, but I prefer the more modern tales (i.e. those written within the last hundred years). Oh, and I'm referring to an earlier hardback edition - it has been updated with some new contents and is now available in paperback.

Having got that out of the way, let's consider the contents. I'm indebted to the Vault of Evil for providing a list I can lazily cut and paste:

Richard Dalby – Preface 
Jennifer Uglow – Introduction
Edith Wharton -The Eyes
E. Nesbit – The Violet Car
Henrietta D. Everett – The Crimson Blind
May Sinclair – The Token
Ellen Glasgow – The Shadowy Third
Marjory E. Lambe – The Return
Margery H. Lawrence – The Haunted Saucepan
Mary Webb – Mr. Tallent’s Ghost
Enid Bagnold – The Amorous Ghost
Marjorie Bowen – The Accident
Marjorie Bowen – A Persistent Woman
Phyllis Bottome – The Waiting-Room
Catherine Wells – The Ghost
Eleanor Scott – ‘Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?’
E. M. Delafield – Sophy Mason Comes Back
Hester Gorst – The Doll’s House
Edith Olivier – The Night Nurse’s Story
Winifred Holtby – The Voice of God
Cynthia Asquith – The Follower
F. M. Mayor – Miss De Mannering Of Asham
Stella Gibbons – Roaring Tower
D. K. Broster – Juggernaut
Elizabeth Bowen – The Happy Autumn Fields
Pamela Hansford Johnson – The Empty Schoolroom
Elizabeth Jane Howard – Three Miles Up
Rose Macaulay – Whitewash
Elizabeth Taylor – Poor Girl
Elizabeth Jenkins – On No Account, My Love
Rosemary Timperley – The Mistress in Black
Norah Lofts – A Curious Experience
Fay Weldon – Breakages
Elizabeth Walter – Dual Control
Sara Maitland – Lady With Unicorn
Lisa St. Aubin De Teran – Diamond Jim
Angela Carter – Ashputtle 
Notes on the Authors
The first thing to note is that there's something for everyone. The two Marjorie Bowen tales are each less than a page long, while others offer the traditional 'settle down, and let me set the scene for you' approach. There are some light-hearted pieces, notably Webb's tale of Mr Tallent the hack writer, and a few are more sentimental than scary. But most are eerie and some are outright horrific. As commenter Oscar Solis noted in an earlier discussion, 'The Empty Schoolroom' is a little masterpiece of unease. Proof that the title isn't always the ideal guide to tone is 'The Haunted Saucepan', which is a strong story in the M.R. James tradition. 

I think all these stories are worth reading, and almost all of them deserve to be better known. Their high quality serves to underline the deep and extremely unreasonable bias against female authors that exists in genre anthologies and magazines to this day. Without wishing to drone on about politics, it is amazing to find old-school, golf-club bore sexism - and worse - alive and well in the linked fields of horror, fantasy, and sf. (If you think I'm exaggerating, check out this little tale from Adam Golaski.)

There are plenty of other Dalby collections I'd recommend, if you can get 'em. The stumbling block here is that older hardbacks tend to be very steeply prices. But paperbacks can be got and - as with the Virago - new editions sometimes appear. The Mammoth Book of Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories, Dracula's Brood, The World's Greatest Ghost Stories, Shivers for Christmas... But I think the Virago is the one to go for. For a modern horror fan it provides an ideal introduction to the ghost story tradition, and for the already converted it's a handy bedside reader, complete with author notes to answer those nagging 'Was she the one who wrote...?' questions that we all fall prey to.


Oscar Solis said...

This is an excellent collection. Thanks for spotlighting it. I would recommend any story in this collection.

My favorite is, of course, The Empty Schoolroom.

Never knew they updated it. I'll have to check it out.

As an aside, it's hot here in California and even though it seems we now only get two seasons, summer and winter, I think I can feel the stirring of autumn and it brings to mind a quote:

"What comes with the autumn? Fear comes with the autumn." Alan Moore

valdemar said...

I didn't realise it had been updated till I read that the new edition includes a story by Ruth Rendell.

James Everington said...

I've added this one to my Wishlist... hopefully some kind soul will consider it a suitable birthday/Christmas present.

My favourite anthology is probably Black Water (ed Alberto Manguel) although The Dark Descent and The Weird are both excellent too.

'The Woman in the Veil' by E.F. Benson