The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volume 4
A Valancourt Yuletide tradition returns, this time with rare 19th-century tales from U.S. newspapers and magazines.
The Christmas ghost story tradition is usually associated with Charles Dickens and Victorian England, but-apparently unknown to historians and scholars-Christmas ghost stories were extremely widespread and popular in 19th-century America as well, frequently appearing in newspapers and magazines during the holiday season.
From legends of old New Orleans and strange happenings on the plains of Iowa and the Dakota Territory to weird doings in early Puerto Rico and ghostly events in Gold Rush-era San Francisco, the tales collected here reveal a forgotten Christmas ghost story tradition in a bygone America that is both familiar and oddly foreign. This collection features eighteen stories and nine poems, including entries by women and African American writers, plus extra bonus material and an introduction by Christopher Philippo.
“He turned and beheld a low black figure, with a body no higher than his knees, with a prodigious head, in the brow of which was set a single eye of green flame like a shining emerald, and with hands and arms of supernatural length.” – J. H. Ingraham, “The Green Huntsman; or, The Haunted Villa”
“The latch lifted, the door swung open-and then-my God! what a spectacle! Through the open door there stepped a figure, not of Mrs. Hayden, not of her corpse, not of death, but a thousand times more horrible, a thing of corruption, decay, of worms and rottenness.” – Anonymous, “Worse than a Ghost Story”
As editor Christopher Philippo clearly proves in his interesting introduction, the concept that telling ghost stories at Christmas gathered around a fireplace or collecting ghostly tales in the Christmas issue of a magazine were exclusively a British habit not shared by Americans is absolutely wrong.
Hence, anthologies assembling stories written and/or published in America during the Victorian period are in order and the present volume (the fourth in the series) is a welcome addition.
The book features a number of short stories and some poems (most of which firstly appeared in newspapers) either taking place at Christmas or addressing Christmas themes.
I’m not qualified to judge and review poetry, even if of dark nature, so I’ll focus my attention only on the fictional portion of the book.
There are many tales which clearly deserve a mention because of their quality.
I will stick to those which did strike me as the more accomplished.
The very first story, “The Green Huntsman, or The Haunted Villa” by Joseph Holt Ingraham is a horrific, spellbinding fairy tale where a pact with an evil supernatural creature brings about tragedy and pain to a man and his family, while “Worse Than a Ghost Story”, penned by an Anonymous author, is the gruesome report of a dead woman returning—in her putrefied flesh!—to warn her husband.
In the bitter “The Christmas Ghost” by Lucy A Randall, a man going back home for Christmas after twenty years of absence unintentionally elicits a family disaster, and in the atmospheric, dream-like “The Devil’s Christmas” by Julian Hawthorne the dreadful reality hidden behind the sparkling social pomp gets suddenly revealed.
Frank Ibberson Jervis contributes “The Frozen Husband”, a chilling tale indeed, featuring a mysterious, creepy rider and her unfortunate, newly wed young spouse.
“The Ghostly Christmas Gift” by Frank H Burnell is a solid piece of fiction blending the adventurous events of the Gold Rush with a sinister supernatural outcome, while “The Werwolves” (sic) by Henry Beaugraud is a vivid medley, combining various themes (vengeance, black magic, werewolves) in an enticing and entertaining manner.
Robert W Chambers pens the excellent “Out of the Depths” where the ghost of a man appears, right after his own death, to a disenchanted and lonesome friend in order to settle some standing matters.
“The Christmas Ghost” by Anna Alice Chapin is based on an ingenious plot where, thanks to a supernatural agency, the truth about some past events is finally disclosed.
Thus, either wicked or good, helpful or obnoxious, there are ghosts galore in this quite enjoyable anthology, which will certainly provide many hours of entertainment both at Christmas and at any other time of the year.
Mario Guslandi was born in Milan (Italy), where he currently lives. A long time fan of dark fiction, he’s probably the only Italian who reviews horror and supernatural tales in English. Over the years his reviews have appeared in many genre sites such as Horrorworld, The British Fantasy Society, Hellnotes, The Agony Column, Thirteen o’ Clock, Emerald City, SF Revu etc.
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