Who were the great ghost story writers? Why did so many leading literary figures attempt the genre with varying degrees of success?
And who were the female ghost story writers, many now unjustly neglected, who made such a huge contribution to the genre?
The golden age
Between 1820 and 1950, a period known today as the golden age of British ghost fiction, the traditional ghostly tale was adopted as a mainstream literary form by many of the foremost writers of the era, reaching a level of mastery that many believe remains unmatched to this day. That a number of leading literary figures took the genre seriously and were keen to grapple with and master the form is testament to the challenges it posed and how fiendishly difficult it is to write successful ghost fiction.
Newcomers to the genre may be pleasantly surprised by the skill, subtlety and psychological insight displayed by the master ghost story writers. The finest examples transcend the genre and take their place among the best of our classic literature.
Female authors made a vital contribution to the genre and many are included in this volume. Here, for example, you will find E. Nesbit (left), famous today as the author of the perennially popular novel, The Railway Children; the mysterious Lettice Galbraith about whom little is known, but whose ghost story fiction is regarded by some as among the best ever written; Dorothy Macardle, a prominent figure in Irish literary society who wrote her first ghost stories while in prison in 1922 for nationalist activities; and the wonderfully named Wilhelmina Fitzclarence, Countess of Munster, who published her first book when she was nearly sixty.
This volume explores the contribution made by leading and lesser-known authors to the ghost story genre. It features biographical information about all the authors covered as well as additional fascinating material including the ghost story master M. R. James’ (pictured) essay about ghost story fiction; an entry on the mysterious ‘B’; a list of recommended short stories; and a brief overview of research into supernatural phenomena and some of the more famous first-hand accounts of ghostly encounters.
Neil Wilson, author of the definitive British ghost story bibliography, Shadows in the Attic (British Library, 2000), provides authoritative and extensive introductory notes, including a history of the supernatural from ancient to modern times; an analysis of the evolution of the ghost story; and an exploration of common themes and topics in supernatural fiction.