Books Fiction Reading List

Supernatural novellas by Victorian women, a reading list chosen by Melissa Edmundson

It’s been over a year since we published Ghost stories by Victorian women, a “further reading” list chosen by Professor Melissa Edmundson, which followed neatly on from her anthology Avenging Angels, published by Victorian Secrets. Now seems an especially good time to follow up on that list, with most people self-isolating and hungry for recommendations, and from short stories we jump to novellas. Authors one might expect such as Margaret Oliphant and Charlotte Riddell feature on this new list by Edmundson, an expert on 19th and early 20th women writers of the supernatural, but did you know Little Women author Louisa May Alcott wrote sensation fiction under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard? Read on as Edmundson walks us through seven brilliant authors of the supernatural.

A Beleaguered City, The Lady’s Walk, Old Lady Mary, and The Library Window, by Margaret Oliphant

Margaret Oliphant“Margaret Oliphant was one of the most famous and successful authors of the Victorian period. In addition to publishing novels and editing a literary magazine, she was also a prolific writer of ghost stories and excelled at the longer ghostly tale. A Beleaguered City (1879) is one of the most innovative pieces of supernatural fiction ever written and tells the story (told from the perspective of different witnesses to the event) of a city under siege from the dead. A family ghost resides on a West Highlands estate in The Lady’s Walk (1882). In Old Lady Mary (1884), the title character returns to Earth from the afterlife in an attempt to right the wrongs she inflicted on loved ones before her death. And The Library Window (1896) describes a young woman’s obsession with a man she sees through a window, a man who may or may not be real. The “Margaret Oliphant Fiction Collection” website is a great place to read more about the life and work of Oliphant and to find links to these novellas. If you’d like to learn even more about some of the recurring themes in Oliphant’s supernatural fiction, Broadview Press has recently published a critical edition of The Library Window.”

The Uninhabited House, Fairy Water, The Haunted River, and The Disappearance of Jeremiah Redworth, by Charlotte Riddell

Charlotte Riddell“Much like her contemporary Margaret Oliphant, Charlotte Riddell was one of the preeminent writers of supernatural fiction in the Victorian era and produced top-notch ghostly tales. Her novellas are a little less well known but are definitely deserving of attention. Written during the 1870s, they concern mysterious disappearances, stolen inheritances, greed, murder, secrets, revenge…and that’s usually before the ghosts even show up! Riddell’s suspenseful pacing is perfect in these longer narratives, and her novellas often blend various genres, frequently mixing the supernatural with mystery and romance plots. Many of these novellas can be found online, but if you prefer an affordable print copy, the British Library just published The Uninhabited House and Fairy Water as part of their Tales of the Weird series.”

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The Dead Man’s Message, by Florence Marryat

The Dead Man’s Message“Florence Marryat wrote numerous novels throughout the Victorian period and was also a lifelong Spiritualist. This novella, published in 1894, has it all. The dead man of the title is a very unlikeable man of science who, after his death, discovers what a terrible person he is and what his ever-suffering family really thinks of him. Marryat engages with debates on vivisection (yes, there are ghost animals in this one), marriage, the afterlife, spirit photography, and séances. There is a great edition published by Victorian Secrets (and while you’re at it, also check out their edition of Marryat’s short psychic vampire novel The Blood of the Vampire, published the same year as Dracula in 1897).”

The Lifted Veil, by George Eliot

“You might be surprised to know that this famous Victorian novelist, known for such classics as The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda, also wrote about the supernatural. The Lifted Veil, published in 1859, is very different from Eliot’s realist fiction. It tells the story of a man cursed with the ability to see into the future, who can also read other people’s thoughts. The novella also delves into areas of pseudoscience, including a rather remarkable blood transfusion, making it, in many ways, an early science fiction text.”

Victorian blood transfusion, © Wellcome Library, London.
Victorian blood transfusion, © Wellcome Library, London.

The Abbot’s Ghost, Or Maurice Treherne’s Temptation, by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott“Like the inclusion of George Eliot on this list, seeing the name of Louisa May Alcott, the author of the decidedly non-supernatural and much beloved Little Women (1868), may be surprising. The Abbot’s Ghost was published in 1867, just a year before Alcott found fame and success, and is among a group of early sensation fiction works written for the popular market under the pseudonym ‘A. M. Barnard.’ Alcott called these stories her ‘blood and thunder’ tales and rightly so because they are great fun to read. This ghostly tale involves forbidden love, stolen inheritance, and lots of melodrama. If you want to explore The Abbot’s Ghost and other Alcott sensation fiction, check out Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott, a paperback edition published by William Morrow/Quill.”

Monsieur Maurice, by Amelia B. Edwards

Amelia B. Edwards“Amelia B. Edwards wrote several novels and became a leading Egyptologist in her day. She founded the Egypt Exploration Society and wrote two influential books on Egypt: Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys (1873) and A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877). When it comes to the supernatural, Edwards is better known for her shorter ghost fiction, but occasionally ventured into longer narratives with great effect. The title story of the collection Monsieur Maurice: A New Nouvelette and Other Tales (1873), is a tale of lost love, imprisonment, intrigue, and loyalty, told through a flashback set during the Napoleonic Wars. Edwards has a particular talent for beautiful descriptions of her European settings (this one’s set in Germany). You can find this novella, as well as other ghost stories by Edwards (which I also highly recommend) on Project Gutenberg and Google Books. An affordable print edition has also been published by Dodo Press.”

Cecelia de Noël, by Lanoe Falconer

And so we went down the stairs“‘Lanoe Falconer’ was the pseudonym of Mary Elizabeth Hawker. Published in 1891 and consisting of just seven chapters, Cecelia de Noël tells the story of a group of people staying at a house and their differing reactions to the resident ghost. If you like ghost stories mixed with a little philosophical discussion, this is the story for you. The title character and her experience with the ghost prove to be something quite unusual. I won’t give too much away, but the ending of this one may surprise you. As with the other stories on this list that are well out of copyright, you can find Cecelia de Noël online at Project Gutenberg and on Google Books.”

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