Monday, November 17, 2014

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (1986): edited by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (1986): edited by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert, containing the following stories:

The Tapestried Chamber (1828) by Sir Walter Scott
The Phantom Coach (1864) by Amelia B. Edwards
Squire Toby's Will (1868) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
The Shadow in the Corner (1879) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
A Wicked Voice (1890) by Vernon Lee
The Judge's House (1891) by Bram Stoker
Man-Size in Marble (1886) by E. Nesbit
The Roll-Call of the Reef (1895) by Arthur Quiller-Couch
The Friends of the Friends (1896) by Henry James
The Red Room (1896) by H. G. Wells
The Monkey's Paw (1902) by W. W. Jacobs
The Lost Ghost (1903) by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (1904) by M. R. James
The Empty House (1906) by Algernon Blackwood
The Cigarette Case (1910) by Oliver Onions
Rose Rose (1910) by Barry Pain
The Confession of Charles Linkworth (1912) by E. F. Benson
On the Brighton Road (1912) by Richard Middleton
Bone to His Bone (1912) by E. G. Swain
The True History of Anthony Ffryar (1911) by Arthur Gray
The Taipan (1922) by W. Somerset Maugham
The Victim (1922) by May Sinclair
A Visitor from Down Under (1926) by L. P. Hartley
Fullcircle (1920) by John Buchan
The Clock (1928) by William Fryer Harvey
Old Man's Beard (1929) by H. Russell Wakefield
Mr. Jones (1928) by Edith Wharton
Smee (1929) by A. M. Burrage
The Little Ghost (1922) by Hugh Walpole
Ahoy, Sailor Boy! (1933) by A. E. Coppard
The Hollow Man (1933) by Thomas Burke
Et in Sempiternum Pereant (1935) by Charles Williams
Bosworth Summit Pound (1948) by L. T. C. Rolt
An Encounter in the Mist (1949) by A. N. L. Munby
Hand in Glove (1952) by Elizabeth Bowen
A Story of Don Juan (1941) by V. S. Pritchett
Cushi (1952) by Christopher Woodforde
Bad Company (1955) by Walter de la Mare
The Bottle of 1912 (1961) by Simon Raven
The Cicerones (1967) by Robert Aickman
Soft Voices at Passenham (1981) by T. H. White

Lengthy reprint anthology with numerous flaws, including the annoying omission of biographical information and publication dates for the individual stories at the beginning of each story.

There's also a certain nebulousness to the volume's construction of an "English ghost story." It's not necessarily written by an English-person. It isn't necessarily set in England. And it doesn't necessarily involve a ghost.

The editors' introduction does indicate where they come down on the issue of graphic violence in horror -- they're against it. Huzzah! I'll tell you, if nothing else, the introduction comes across as almost parodically upper-class-academic English. Blah blah, woof woof.

There are some excellent stories here. There's also an awful lot of time-wasting with stories that are very polite with their ghosts and don't seem to have any interest in scaring anbody. We get a few sentimental stories of sad, lost ghosts. We get a lot of one-twist stories in which the twist is, there's a ghost! Oh my heavens! That character is actually a ghost? Really? I did not see that one coming.

Thankfully, there are also some old stand-bys. "The Upper Berth" by F. Marion Crawford is a genuinely great story in one of my favourite horror sub-genres, that of the story in which someone gets into a fist-fight with a ghost. "The Cicerones" is one of horror-master Robert Aickman's shortest stories, and one of his most enigmatically potent.

"A Visitor from Down Under" by L. P. Hartley contains one of the most sinister (yet morally justified) ghosts in the genre, deployed in a story that has its droll moments (the ghost takes public transit) amidst the awfulness. And the short, very short, "The Clock" by  William Fryer Harvey is a neglected masterpiece of brevity and ghastly wit, with one of the more remarkably quick-witted and quick-moving protagonists in the history of ghost stories.

The editors really aren't all that interested in ghosts stories after about 1950. The entry by the usually fine de la Mare is neglible. The entry by T.H. White that closes the book was actually written in the 1930's, meaning that the editors don't bother with any writers of ghost stories between 1967 and 1986, the time of the greatest horror boom in publishing history. Nice work, boys. Recommended for many of the stories but not all of them, and what a lazy bit of editing and scholarship this book turns out to be. Editorial hackwork.

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