Monday, October 26, 2020

Women's Weird 2: More Strange Stories by Women, 1891-1937 - Edited by Melissa Edmundson

 Women's Weird: Strange Stories by Women was a stand out collection from last year - it's still genuinely one of the most unsettling anthologies I've read. Not so much because of how horrible, or otherwise, the stories in it are, but because they had a predominantly domestic setting; these were tales that invaded the sanctuary of home. Looking back at volume 1 I see that there is a Mary Butts story in that I liked too, so I'm rethinking the vague prejudice that 'Mappa Mundi' gave me in the British Weird collection.

Generally I don't read an introduction to a book until after I've read the body of the thing. This is partly a mix of laziness and impatience - I want to dive straight into the action, but mostly because once I've read the book the introduction serves as a conversation. It's so much more useful when I know what the editor is talking about. 

Reading Melissa Edmondson's introduction here I'm struck by what a good job she's done in illustrating her points with the stories she chooses. They do "help us come to terms with our shared sense of fear at what we cannot control or explain". These fears are both specific to the era and people that produce them, and more general to all of us - so much so that I'm thinking I need to read up on Jung and his theories again. 

Volume 2 of Women's Weird travels further than Volume 1. The writers have a bigger geographical spread and so do their settings. there's still a domestic emphasis but it's evolved. One story, 'A Dreamer', does not have a specifically supernatural element, but Edmundson is undoubtedly right to consider it weird. It certainly taps into fundamental fears, and is a prime example of how something uncanny draws people together. It's a not quite ghost story of the sort we've all heard, told, and believed. 

The home still poses a threat in a couple of these stories - Marjorie Bowen's 'Florence Flannery', and Lettice Galbraith's 'The Blue Room' does it amusingly with more than a nod to the gothic. Bithia Mary Crocker's 'The Red Bungalow' has a real sting to it both as a horror story and for the uncomfortable questions it raises about colonialism.

Lucy Maud Montgomery's 'The House Party at Smokey Island' is a delight. I love Montgomery at all times, her Emily books have weird/supernatural moments in them, but this is a good old fashioned ghost story and particularly enjoyable. Along with Stella Gibbon's 'Roaring Tower' it shows the weird in a slightly more benign light. 

It's a strong collection - which I had expected (13 tales included, and again I consider this a nice touch), and arguably more entertaining than volume 1 - which I found genuinely unsettling at times. This one is safe to read late at night - although Helen Simpson's 'Young Magic' is the sort of thing that burrows into my imagination and sticks there (like a slug in an apple). Nothing especially bad happens in it, but it's all very disquieting. 

As ever with Handheld's books the introductions, bibliography, notes, and biographical details are a real bonus. As collections to read just for the fun of the thing I absolutely recommend both books, but the scholarly element really makes them something more. 

If you buy them directly from Handheld Press they will arrive beautifully wrapped in brown paper (another touch I love, it really does make getting them special). Order Women's Weird (volume 1) between now and the end of November and use the coupon code WEIRD and you'll get £1.99 off. 

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