James • Poe • Wilde • Bierce • Dickens
Chilling Ghost Stories
OSCAR WILDE 1856–1900
One of the nineteenth century’s most polemical literary figures, Oscar Wilde scandalised Victorian society and paid the price with social ostracism and a lonely death. Now restored to acceptability, his talent is unquestioned, and though he is best remembered for the comic wit and social criticism in his plays The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windemere’s Fan, he also wrote the sombre, memorable poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. His taste for the dark and the macabre was revealed in his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The Birthday of the Infanta is one of a number of fairy stories for older children which dissects the kind of cruelty only children are capable of.
CHARLES DICKENS 1812–1870
Dickens’s mastery of characterisation and atmosphere is undisputed and he was particularly fond of a mystery or a good ghost story. His most famous is undoubtedly A Christmas Carol but he wrote a number of other less well known but equally fine chillers, such as The Haunted Man and The Bagman’s Uncle. Indeed his last novel Edwin Drood is a mystery that remains unsolved to the present day. No 1 Branch Line: The Signalman is a strange tale of haunting and precognition—and is said to have been based on a true story.
M.R. JAMES 1862–1932
Montague Rhodes James, a student of ancient and medieval lore, was appointed Provost of Eton College in 1918. He began to write horror stories to entertain and frighten his friends at Christmas. Rats is a chilling and evocative story set in a Suffolk tavern where an apparently normal situation becomes suddenly and frighteningly strange.
EDGAR ALLEN POE 1809–1849
Poe is regarded as the true originator of the modern horror story. His particular blend of the gothic and suspense is eminently characterised in the collection Tales of Mystery and Imagination. It also informed his most well-known poem, The Raven, reproduced here in its entirety.
AMBROSE BIERCE 1842–1913
Ambrose Bierce was born in Ohio and was a veteran of the American Civil War—he was honourably discharged after being wounded. The clash between the Union and the Confederacy served as the inspiration for much of his later writing. A man of action who was as happy fighting as when writing, Bierce disappeared as mysteriously as a character in one of his stories—while serving in Pancho Villa’s army in the Mexican Revolution in 1913.
Notes by Edward Ferrie