Saturday, September 19, 2020

Ghost Stories - E. Nesbit

 I'm not entirely sure what's happening with Greyladies - I haven't noticed any new books for a while (although looking is risky when you're short of money, so what do I know) but they're definitely still sending books out even though headquarters have moved again and they're now based in Peebles (there might be a second hand bookshop too, and in happier times I would have planned an excursion). I ordered the Nesbit ghost stories and another book early in lockdown, and then put them aside as something special for later.

Later is now, I'm actually in the Scottish Borders which feels amazing after months of being cooped up in Leicester. My family has a flat here which is unexpectedly empty, and has a ton of space around it. I'm hoping this will be a stepping stone on the way to Shetland in a couple of days - lockdown situation permitting. I also wish I'd come up here weeks ago as it's taken no time flat to realise how much being in Leicester has been getting me down. The weather has been amazing today, I've had proper walks, can't go to M&S for salted caramel eclairs, and already feel better for it. 

Greyladies books feel appropriate for the house I'm staying in (built in 1914, it was a prep school for a while before being converted into flats in the 1970's, there's a whiff of a few different pasts about the place). E. Nesbit's ghost stories are perfect autumn reading. Some are dark enough to be shiver inducing, others are more gentle.

I really discovered her ghost stories through the British Library Weird series, and it turns out that I'd read 3 of the 7 stories in this book in that series (including 'Man Sized in Marble' which I have in a few anthologies*. However as John Miller's collections have shown me, context can make a considerable difference to how you read these things, and having a collection of Nesbit's tales together not only conforms how good she is, but also makes it easier to see the distinctly feminist thread that runs through them. 

The first three stories here have a considerably darker tone to them - 'From The Dead' is particularly grim, 'John Charrington's Wedding' is full on gothic melodrama, and 'Man-Size in Marble' is the sort of thing that I could all to easily believe in where I am at the moment.

'The Ebony Frame' is another version of 'From the Dead' but less horrible - all of these four tales involve people comin g back from the grave in one form or another. In 'The Ebony Frame' I was prepared for the worst but things are resolved in a way that's both sad, and probably for the best (especially if you've read 'From The Dead'). 'The Mystery of the Semi-Detached' is spooky, and the closest one I could describe to fun (it doesn't feel quite like the right word when somebody ends up murdered, but the others in the collection all go further down the horror route).

'The Pavillion' is curious, not a ghost story but a weird plant story (I first read it in Evil Roots). There's a sadness about this one which underpins it's feminist slant, and there's a similar sadness about 'The Shadow - which is genuinely creepy. Altogether it's an excellent collection which covers a variety of moods. If people still did this kind of thing they would be ideal stories to read aloud to an audience at Halloween or Christmas too. The kind of thing that won't scare you silly, but might make you jump at shadows.

I also really like the format of this book - it's a pocket sized edition, and there's something I find particularly satisfying about a book that can genuinely fit in a modest size pocket - and with print large enough to read comfortably if you did want to give a performance. 

*Some rainy day when I'm bored I'm going to make an index of all the ghost stories I have and which anthologies they're in. 


  1. I'm guessing these are adult ghost stores? I have some Nesbit story collections but I think they are all children's collections. I will have to look for this.

    1. They are, and stupidly I never thought to mention that! I don't think I read her books as a child and other the last couple of years have come to associate her with her ghost stories as I've come across them. It looks like the BBC have a whole lot of them recorded so it should be possible to listen to m ost of them as well.