It's just you, a desert island, and ten nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century horror stories from the UK and Ireland. Which do you choose?
I did my best to throw in a few more unusual choices, but some stories simply refused to be left out. I didn't, after all, want to be haunted...
In alphabetical order:
- E. F. Benson, "The Room in the Tower": Successfully conveys the kind of inevitable, looming horror that one associates with nightmare logic. A fine example of the scary artwork genre.
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon, "At Chrighton Abbey": Not, in fact, frightening at all, but notable for its alienated narrator and her just-detectable longings. Especially worth reading if you're a Jane Eyre fan.
- Elizabeth Gaskell, "The Old Nurse's Story": I tried to resist including it here, but couldn't. This one makes everyone's list of must-read Victorian ghost stories, and it's easy to see why--an eerie tale of frustrated desire and vengeance.
- Henry James, "The Private Life": While the scenario is potentially horrific, this story, like "At Chrighton Abbey," is really more devoted to exploring psychological issues--in this case, the strange nature of identity.
- M. R. James, "Wailing Well": James clobbers the English public school story really, really hard.
- Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances on Aungier Street": Slowly ratchets up the dread as the nice, rational students discover that...something...is sharing the house with them. Nicely illustrates one of the key lessons of the Gothic and horror genre in general--namely, rental properties are always hazardous to your health. I keep coming back to this one over the years--it's one of the truly great Victorian ghost stories.
- Edith Nesbit, "The Power of Darkness": An example of psychological, rather than supernatural, horror, involving two young men, jealousy, and a waxwork exhibition.
- Margaret Oliphant, "The Secret Chamber": A young Scottish aristocrat discovers his family's weird secret. Interesting for both its open-ended construction and its muted reflections on Scottish history.
- Walter Scott, "Wandering Willie's Tale": Striking inset narrative from Redgauntlet, featuring a jaunt to the nether regions.
- Oscar Wilde, "The Canterville Ghost": Best ghost story parody of the nineteenth century and, quite possibly, of any century.