Sunday, 26 October 2008

Bibliotherapy: What to read on Halloween


“Nobody knows better than a ghost how hard it is to put him or her into words shadowy, yet transparent enough,” wrote Edith Wharton. “If a ghost story sends a cold shiver down one’s spine, it has done its job and done it well.” But that cold shiver is often mingled with a warm glow – for a ghost story is traditionally told by firelight, and its chilling effect accompanied by a pleasurable companionship between the teller of the tale and those to whom it is told.

My own particular favourites are contained in The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, which includes Wharton’s uncanny masterpiece, The Eyes, and Mrs Gaskell’s equally eerie narrative, The Old Nurse’s Story. I’d recommend the entire anthology, but Mrs Gaskell’s is best of all on a dark autumnal evening, when the clocks have just gone back; for her tale rewinds time, yet is also a reminder that there is no going back, even though the past returns to haunt us over and over again. ‘What is done in youth can never be undone in age!’

I don’t want to spoil a fine ghost story by revealing too many of its details; suffice to say it concerns a past crime, a living child and a ghostly one, and two dead mothers. Elizabeth Gaskell’s own mother died soon after her birth, and like the little girl in ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’, she was sent away to live with an older aunt. The infant Elizabeth was dispatched from London to Knutsford (which she later transformed into Cranford), but the orphaned Rosamond, whose nursemaid narrates the ghost story, is sent even further north, to the brooding Furnivall Manor in the Cumberland Fells.

Gaskell wrote the story in 1852, one of a series of commissions by Charles Dickens for his magazine, Household Words, though she ignored his increasingly exasperated requests to change her ending. Her resolution was heartfelt; for having lost her mother, she also knew the grief of losing a child, and had embarked upon writing after the death of her baby son, in the understanding that a story must feel true to its teller, if it is to draw back the veil between the living and the dead.

13 comments:

oxford-reader said...

I got Edith Whareton's ghost stories out of the library last week, so I shall evidently have to build up to halloween with a couple in the lamp light!

Justine Picardie said...

What a good choice! She was the master (mistress?) of the ghost story. The Eyes is particularly brilliant.

oxford-reader said...

I'll have to make a point of reading that one. I'm still searching for Daphne Du Maurier's 'The Breaking Point'!
p.s. - obviously didn't mean to spell Wharton's name wrong - don't know where my brain is this morning!

JaneGS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JaneGS said...

Nice post--Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite authors, and The Old Nurse's Story is a wonderful ghost story.

If you're interested, I recently recorded it for LibriVox.org here: http://librivox.org/ghost-story-collection-volume-006/

The Old Nurse's Story is the 7th one down. There are a number of other great ghost stories in the collection as well.

I also like Edith Whareton, so I'll have to check our The Eyes.

JaneGS said...

Nice post--Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite authors, and The Old Nurse's Story is a wonderful ghost story.

If you're interested, I recently recorded it for LibriVox.org here: http://librivox.org/ghost-story-collection-volume-006/

The Old Nurse's Story is the 7th one down. There are a number of other great ghost stories in the collection as well.

I also like Edith Whareton, so I'll have to check out The Eyes.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for letting me know -- I'll definitely check out those recordings. Something to listen to on a winter's night...

Gondal-girl said...

I like to think of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber for a Halloween night read - though Halloween isn't really done here, and odd because the days are getting hotter and longer...


Also, Justine, have you thought about the Sydney Writers Festival....it is in May...

Juxtabook said...

Lovely halloween post! I too love Gaskell and it is nice to see soemthing other than her most famous novel talked about.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for the comments -- I'm a fan of Mrs Gaskell AND Angela Carter. I wonder what they would have made of each other? Both moralists, in their way; both subversive, too.

Lou said...

I remember going through a Ghost Story stage when I was young.I think I was about twelve years old when I read my last ghost story.It was called "The Corpse Candle" and frightened the living daylights out of me.I stopped reading Ghost stories after that! We've just celebrated a very low key Halloween here in Melbourne.Not expecting visitors I was caught out by visiting little "trick-or-treaters".As I had no lollies I gave them money instead!

Primrose said...

I love ghost stories. M R James is one of my favourites. I still have very fond memories of my time in London when we saw The Woman in Black. It was one of the most chilling things I have seen on stage. Can still see the demented woman rocking in that nightmarish room destroyed by grief. Haven't read Edith Wharton's ghost stories but will have to as soon as possible!

sexy said...

情趣用品,情趣,情趣商品,愛情公寓,情色,情色貼圖,色情網站,色情,情色a片,a片,色情小說,情色文學,情色小說,色情,情色視訊,寄情築園小遊戲,aio交友愛情館,aio,色情遊戲,情色交友,嘟嘟情人色網,言情小說,情色論壇,色情影片,一葉情貼圖片區,av女優,情色網,日本a片,a片下載,a片,a漫,免費a片,嘟嘟成人網,成人網站,av美女,av,微風成人,成人光碟,成人,成人影城,18成人,成人聊天室,成人圖片區,成人電影,成人圖片,成人貼圖,成人影片,成人文章,成人小說,微風成人區,ut聊天室,成人交友,聊天室,豆豆聊天室,哈啦聊天室,美女交友,視訊做愛,做愛,視訊聊天室,視訊聊天,尋夢園聊天室,聊天室尋夢園,情色視訊,視訊,本土自拍,自拍,免費視訊聊天室,免費視訊聊天,免費視訊,視訊聊天室