Into The London Fog: Eerie Tales From The Weird City invites the reader to join editor, Elizabeth Dearnley, on an “atmospheric tour through a shadowy London, a city which has long inspired writers of the weird and uncanny.” What a tour it is for those who enjoy strange stories of hauntings, seances and dark secrets which, as in any good gothic tale, return to terrify the living.
Dearnley, a folklorist, introduces this collection of short stories, taking the reader back to the 1840s when London first earns its reputation as a city forever shrouded in fog. Due to London’s geography, the Industrial Revolution and its rapid expansion during the Victorian period, she tells us there was “a record-breaking fog in 1890.” Dearnley’s introduction is informative and entertaining, adding much to the reading experience, setting the stories in their historical context, explaining how the ghost story and other weird tales are vehicles to explore the fears and anxieties of urban living. Many Victorian women writers used the ghost story to explore a rapidly changing society “under the guise of supernatural fiction.” Women’s role in society was changing rapidly with demands for women’s suffrage gaining momentum and greater equality in all areas of their daily lives.
There are fourteen short stories in this collection and Dearnley’s narrative about each one enriches the reading experience enabling it to be seen in the context of the time it was written. Dearnley gives a short biography of each writer before the reader turns to their story. These tales are from the Victorian era and the first half of the 20th Century; it is fascinating to read how these writers had lived and what their literary output was beyond the particular story in this collection.
The stories included in Into The London Fog are from the well known such as Virginia Wolf and Edith Nesbit to some less well known and the last tale is from an anonymous writer. The book is divided into fourteen “chapters”, one per story and by location; Mayfair to Stoke Newington, Regent’s Park to Vauxhall, Whitechapel to Putney. The first of three personal favourites is “The Telegram” by Violet Hunt, set in Temple and Marylebone and originally published in 1911. Alice is a privileged young lady with an adoring suitor whom she only offers friendship until later in life she finds she needs a husband to enable her to move freely in society. The dark emotional undercurrents flow from the beginning of this chilling and weird story, gradually deepening as the reader is pulled along by the narrative. Alice’s inability to be independent in her own right is examined, society demanding a chaperone, either a companion or husband is required even into her late thirties.
The second is set in Regent’s Park and comes from Lettice Galbraith. “In the Séance Room” is a sinister story of seduction and murder when “a seance reveals a ghastly secret in the murk of Regent’s Canal.” This story was first published in 1893 in the anthology New Ghost Stories, which Dearnley tells us was one of the most popular anthologies of its day. Judging by this story, it is easy to understand why. Galbraith’s prose is evocatively written, quickly drawing the reader into an atmospheric and chilling story.
Lastly, “The Chippendale Mirror” by E.F. Benson is set in Putney and Bloomsbury. The use of mirrors is a well-used trope of gothic fiction, but despite this cliche, the story is still a compelling tale and a very enjoyable read.
Into the London Fog: Eerie Tales from the Weird City is a delicious selection of eerie and weird tales as the title suggests and comes strongly recommended to any reader who enjoys gothic fiction and tales of the supernatural.
Into the London Fog: Eerie Tales from the Weird City edited by Elizabeth Dearnley is published by British Library.
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