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review 2016-06-05 17:35
The Bishop of Hell: Short Stories of a Ghostish Nature
The Bishop of Hell & Other Stories - Marjorie Bowen

First of all I have to note that this isn't the edition I read - I read it via ebook thanks to Gutenberg Australia:


The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories by Marjorie Bowen

On that page it tells you which collection each of the stories are originally printed in.


wikipedia: Marjorie Bowen


Take a moment to quickly look at Bowen's wiki page and how many books she's written. And some under different names - that was a list that probably took a bit to compile. I now feel weird for not knowing more about her - because I'm pretty sure I've read many of her short stories before - I have a collection of ghost story anthologies and I'll bet she's well represented in them.


What's interesting is that I didn't at all guess that she'd been writing on into the 1950s. Bowen's style definitely has some of that "earlier time," old fashioned feel to it - though most of the stories in the book were written between 1900 to 1930s. Note that I've only read her short stories - no idea what her many novels are like. Though one of 


If you're looking for something with loads of gore and hack and slash - nope, this is the type with more atmosphere, less blood. Which of course doesn't mean it's not tropey - lots of debauched noblemen types scampering about in here. And some "enjoy this bad person get his/her just desserts" types of stories. (You know anyone who disrespects/mistreats an old woman is In For It.) But then that's what you sign up for in the majority of ghost stories - justified revenge. We don't want to see the clever psychopath get away with his crime - that's a modern twist, playing for antiheroics - no, many of us are pleased to have that psychopath learn the hard way via ghostly vengeance. Though I should add here that there's not always a satisfying revenge-death in all of these - one or two have "wait, that seems unfair" deaths.


I can't easily quote without spoilers - but here's a snip from one of the more modern stories where a woman visits someone she thinks is an elderly collector of china - The Crown Derby Plate:


"Do you really do everything yourself here and live quite alone?" she asked, and she shivered even in her thick coat and wished that Miss Lefain's energy had risen to a fire, but then probably she lived in the kitchen, as these lonely eccentrics often did.


"There was someone," answered Miss Lefain cunningly, "but I had to send her away. I told you she's gone, I can't find her, and I am so glad. Of course," she added wistfully, "it leaves me very lonely, but then I couldn't stand her impertinence any longer. She used to say that it was her house and her collection of china! Would you believe it? She used to try to chase me away from looking at my own things!"


"How very disagreeable," said Miss Pym, wondering which of the two women had been crazy. "But hadn't you better get someone else."


"Oh, no," was the jealous answer. "I would rather be alone with my things, I daren't leave the house for fear someone takes them away—there was a dreadful time once when an auction sale was held here—"


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review 2015-01-24 22:22
Review-ish: J.S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 1
J. S. Le Fanu's Ghostly Tales, Volume 1 - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Found here on Gutenberg.

Wikipedia: Sheridan Le Fanu


This is one volume of five, and I'm lazy at the moment, so the theory is that I'll come back and link to the final one for a review. Or something. Part of the reason for this is that each of these volumes only has a couple of stories each - so I really should just review them as a whole.


Contents of this particular one:


Schalken the Painter (1851)

An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street (1853)


Le Fanu is an author fairly well known for his ghost stories, mainly because they're in most of the anthologies - particularly the online ones that are free (or that the unscrupulous try to sell for money when all the contents are public domain material. Grrr.).


Also he's an author that I always think is French when he's actually Irish. Since I've been reading his stories for ages you'd think this would have sunk in by now.


Anyway, both of these stories are ones that are popular (anthology-wise), but I'll just share a quote from the first one, since it's more descriptive.


Schalken the Painter, opening paragraphs:

There exists, at this moment, in good preservation a remarkable work of Schalken's. The curious management of its lights constitutes, as usual in his pieces, the chief apparent merit of the picture. I say apparent, for in its subject, and not in its handling, however exquisite, consists its real value. The picture represents the interior of what might be a chamber in some antique religious building; and its foreground is occupied by a female figure, in a species of white robe, part of which is arranged so as to form a veil. The dress, however, is not that of any religious order. In her hand the figure bears a lamp, by which alone her figure and face are illuminated; and her features wear such an arch smile, as well becomes a pretty woman when practising some prankish roguery; in the background, and, excepting where the dim red light of an expiring fire serves to define the form, in total shadow, stands the figure of a man dressed in the old Flemish fashion, in an attitude of alarm, his hand being placed upon the hilt of his sword, which he appears to be in the act of drawing.


There are some pictures, which impress one, I know not how, with a conviction that they represent not the mere ideal shapes and combinations which have floated through the imagination of the artist, but scenes, faces, and situations which have actually existed. There is in that strange picture, something that stamps it as the representation of a reality.


H.P. Lovecraft was fond of Le Fanu, and I'm pretty sure he thought of this story when he was writing Pickman's Model (read the story online here). Which wins of the two for creepiness, though both are a pretty good short-story-double-feature.

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review 2014-05-12 21:39
Review: The Wind in the Rosebush and Other Stories of the Supernatural
The Wind In The Rose-Bush - Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

First some linkage, for those of you who also like background info!


Free ebook: at Gutenberg and University of Adelaide and Amazon (be aware that it's not always easy to find the free version of this at Amazon - a lot of Freeman work is sold there even when a duplicate ebook is at Amazon for free. Insert here your own mental-gif of me eyerolling at this idea.)


Length: 6 short stories, 152 pages (Look, a quick read!)


Published: 1903



The Wind in the Rose-bush
The Shadows on the Wall
Luella Miller
The Southwest Chamber
The Vacant Lot
The Lost Ghost


Author: Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman


I'm somewhat embarrassed that I continually forget Freeman's name and work, even though I've read some of these stories many, many times. She's also a graduate of my undergrad, and you'd think that might have helped make her name stick in my head - but no. Not until I start reading and then finally the light bulb turns on and I have my usual "oh right, Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman!"


Freeman's work is found in many anthologies of ghost stories. Not that rereading her work bothers me at all - but then I'm like that with many older ghost stories. Hers are the kind of stories that run on atmosphere and characterization - no monsters or gore - and all have a very old fashioned feel to them. Some definitely work much better than others. Many focus on women and their interactions/relationships with friends and family - well, that and the ghost (or whatever It is), of course. Freeman's descriptions of women and their conversations somehow seem accurate and familiar. I realized I was assuming that in some of the stories the women were southern, but from Freeman's bio (and the occasional hints in the stories) I'm guessing that the setting for all of them is probably New England.


This is where that feeling of familiarity comes in - the conversations immediately had me thinking of accompanying my grandmother "going visiting," which in old southern-speak means dropping by a friend's house for gossip and ice tea/whatever beverage was offered. (In the south you must offer guests a beverage, at the very least. For anyone who drops by, not just friends - if you have a plumber coming over to fix something, and he stays to work for a long time, then he should be offered a drink. Thus is the unwritten Rule of Politeness I was taught. It's not a coincidence that the character Sheldon has a similar concept of When One Offers Beverages in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory - actor Jim Parsons is from roughly the same area of the south I'm talking about.) This in ye olden days of the 1970s, where people in small towns still noted the tradition of being "at home to visitors," and in some places women still used calling cards (Not in my grandmother's town though, it was way too laid back for calling cards. I had a high school friend who had her own though.) Anyway, Freeman's women share gossip and tell stories like women I've known.


Because the stories are all so short there's no way I can really summarize them without ruining something. I will say that I think one of the best is the last one - The Lost Ghost - and the first part/opening of the story is always what makes me forget that I've read it, because there's a gradual shift in tone (the second part is the heart of the matter). But I think the reason I like it us because it uses a couple of ghost story tropes (SPOILER:


a quick four - house "everyone knows is haunted" referred to at start, compared to actual house with ghost told about in second half, ghostly child that's a product of a tragedy, kindly maternal older woman who is selfless - I'm sure there are more. It's specifically the child ghost trope I'm thinking of that can get into maudlin territory.)

(spoiler show)


without being overly sappy with them. That's a pretty subjective call, but then I have read a lot of ghost stories from Freeman's time that were/are high melodrama and heavy treacle using some of the same tropes. There's a lot more to Freeman's work than those sorts of tales.


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