The supernatural has long been a convenient way to address socially taboo topics, especially during the nineteenth century when ghost stories became increasingly popular. Indeed, the ghost story very much became a Christmas tradition, which you can read more about in our review of Spirits of the Season. For women writers during this period, the short story became an empowering form, giving women both a professional and social voice. This is the theme of a new collection of ghost stories by Victorian women writers edited by Melissa Edmundson, featuring ten great representative authors. Naturally, her book is the best place to start if you’re looking to explore these stories – buy the book here. If you’re looking for further reading, I spoke with Melissa about what other books she would recommend; here are her choices.
“This collection, reprinted in 2009 and edited by the late Richard Dalby (one of the preeminent anthologists of our time), is an excellent and comprehensive introduction to women’s ghost stories. The collection includes over 30 stories and covers over 100 years of women’s supernatural writing. It combines stories from previous anthologies, including The Virago Book of Ghost Stories: The Twentieth Century (2 vols., 1987 and 1991) and The Virago Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (1988). Dalby edited many collections of women’s ghost stories, but many are sadly now out of print. I would recommend searching secondhand book sites to find affordable copies. You won’t be disappointed!”
“This anthology, edited by Marie O’Regan and published in 2012, is a nice complement to Dalby’s collection. It covers writers from the nineteenth century to modern-day authors. You’ll find stories by Elizabeth Gaskell, Amelia B. Edwards, Edith Wharton, Cynthia Asquith (also a noted anthologist of supernatural literature), Muriel Gray, and Lisa Tuttle, among many others.”
“These collections, both edited and introduced by Emma Liggins for Victorian Secrets in 2009, are a great introduction to two of the Victorian period’s most talented practitioners of the supernatural. Broughton, who was the niece of famed Gothic writer Sheridan Le Fanu, originally published these tales in 1873, as Tales for Christmas Eve. They were then republished as Twilight Stories in 1879. This new edition includes some of her best stories, ranging from the ghostly to the weird: ‘The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth,’ ‘The Man with the Nose,’ ‘Behold it was a Dream,’ ‘Poor Pretty Bobby,’ and ‘Under the Cloak.’ Charlotte Riddell struggled with finances throughout her life and had to support her family through her published writing. She published many popular novels, and her most well-known supernatural collection, Weird Stories, was published in 1882. This collection includes ‘Walnut-Tree House,’ ‘The Open Door,’ ‘Nut Bush Farm,’ ‘The Old House in Vauxhall Walk,’ ‘Sandy the Tinker,’ and ‘Old Mrs. Jones.’ Many of these stories show how well the genre of the ghost story can lend itself to an exploration of serious social themes, including gender, class, and economic issues.”
“Braddon is perhaps more well known today for her work as a sensation novelist, most notably the bestselling Lady’s Audley’s Secret (1862). Like Charlotte Riddell, Braddon supported her husband and several children through her writing and was one of the most popular authors of the Victorian era. This edition, published by Wildside Press in 2002, is a great introduction to her supernatural work. It’s affordably priced and includes many of her most famous ghost stories, including the title work, ‘The Cold Embrace,’ ‘The Shadow in the Corner’, ‘Good Lady Ducayne,’ (her take on a vampire tale), and ‘Eveline’s Visitant.’ If you really take a liking to Braddon’s work, check out The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, the 4-volume collection of her supernatural fiction, published in paperback by Leonaur. There’s also the upcoming The Face in the Glass: The Gothic Tales of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, edited by Greg Buzwell and published as part of the British Library Tales of the Weird series.”
“This Broadview Press edition from 2006, edited by Catherine Maxwell and Patricia Pulham, offers a nice overview of the supernatural fiction of Vernon Lee, ranging from the 1880s to the 1920s. Lee was a transitional figure in the history of the ghost story because her work spans the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. There’s also a unique blend of historical and modern in Lee’s supernatural tales. This edition includes her important ‘Preface to Hauntings’ (1890), a fine piece of criticism on the supernatural in literature, as well as the stories ‘Amour Dure,’ ‘Dionea,’ ‘Oke of Okehurst,’ ‘A Wicked Voice,’ ‘Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady,’ ‘A Wedding Chest,’ and ‘The Virgin of the Seven Daggers.'”
6. A Suggestion of Ghosts (2017) and An Obscurity of Ghosts (2018)
“I’m cheating again on this next recommendation by recommending two books at once, but these form a planned trilogy of women’s ghost stories published by Black Shuck Books. Editor Johnny Mains has uncovered many unknown stories by women published in British and American newspapers. These stories have not been republished since their original appearances in the nineteenth century and come from fairly obscure regional papers, making these anthologies all the more important for their recovery of these popular tales. The final volume, currently in the works, will focus on women’s ghost stories of the First World War. A Suggestion of Ghosts is available now in paperback, and An Obscurity of Ghosts will be published in paperback this summer.”
Avenging Angels: Ghost Stories by Victorian Women Writers edited by Melissa Edmundson is published by Victorian Secrets. Buy this book on Amazon.