Saturday, September 19, 2020

Interview I Did for the Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899 Anthology


Andrew Barger Interview

Best Ghost Short Stories 1850-1899 Anthology

Q1. You have edited the best ghost short stories for the first half of the 19th century and now you are finishing off the century with your new ghost stories anthology?

A1. In the fantasy genre I wanted to start with the first modern form of short stories in the English language, which really began the first half of the 19th century. I published  6a66le: The Best Horror Short Stories 1800-1849, Shifters: The Best Werewolf Short Stories 1800-1849, Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Short Stories 1800-1849, Middle Unearthed: The Best Fantasy Short Stories 1800-1849 and Phantasmal: The Best Ghost Stories 1800-1849. Now I have moved on to the last half of the century with a collection of the best scary ghost stories.

Q2. Did you include background information on each story in the collection like your other anthologies? 

A2. Yes. I can’t help it! I also include author photos, publication dates and a list of stories read at the end of the book. 

Q3. What are some of the differences in the ghost short stories from the first to the last half of the century?

A3. The writing is at a higher level and, for the most part, the character generation is better. Also, for the first time in the century women began publishing in the ghost story genre. Mary Braddon, Rhoda Broughton, Catherine Crowe, Amelia Edwards, Mary Anne Evans (aka George Eliot), Florence Marryat (daughter of horror story writer Captain Frederick Marryat), Mary Louise Molesworth, Rosa Mulholland, Edith Nesbit, and many other women stood out as fine ghost story writers of the Victorian age.

Q4. Are any of the ghost stories in the anthology comedic? There are some funny ghost stories out there.

A4. Absolutely not. I have never liked funny ghost stories. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the exception. I want to be frightened in a ghost story. Boo!

Q5. Who are some of the more famous authors in the anthology?

A5. Joseph Le Fanu, M. R. James, Charles Dickens, Francis Marion Crawford, Rosa Mulholland, Bram Stoker, Edith Nesbit, Robert Chambers and Edward Bulwer-Lytton all have stories in the collection.

Q6. Do you have a favorite?

A6. “The Haunted and the Haunters” by Bulwer-Lytton is the foremost thing of its kind and, surprisingly, the oldest in the ghost short story anthology. It’s based on a true story and I include the actual letter telling about the haunted house in question. A guy decided to stay in the haunted house, but only with a “brace of pistols.” You will have to read the scary story to learn what happened. 

Q7. Who were the most influential ghost short story writers in the back half of the 19th century?

A7. Certainly Joseph Le Fanu and M. R. James were first rate ghost short stories writers and the sheer number of stories they wrote in the genre exceeds nearly everyone else. When you look at it from the perspective of the author who supported others in the genre, Charles Dickens comes to the forefront. His “No. 1 Branch Line, The Signal Man” of 1866 sits firmly in the collection. As if his many ghost stories weren’t enough, Dickens fostered the literary careers of many talented supernatural authors by publishing them in his weekly magazine—All the Year Round, including Joseph Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins, Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Elizabeth Gaskell. M. R. James stood on the shoulders of Joseph Le Fanu and Fanu had his foundation in Charles Dickens.

Q8. Are there any stories by Henry James in the anthology?

A8. Henry James, on the other hand, was a proponent of the subtle ghost story. Enter the timid ghosts. As if filled by English sensibilities, they were rarely overt in their actions. They never jump out from behind the curtain and say “Boo!” Their presence was felt all the same yet in a more nuanced way than traditional ghost stories. James wrote cigar smoking, single malt scotch sipping tales. His “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” (1868), “Sir Edmund Orme” (1892) and “The Friends of the Friends” (1896) are each well worth a read.

Q9. In Phantasmal: Best Ghost Short Stories 1800-1849 you gave an introduction titled “All Ghosts are Gray” where you drew attention to the lack of color in early ghost short stories. Does color play a role later in the century? 

A9. Yes.  Consider the color yellow, for instance. It morphed from the cheerful glow of flowering snapdragons and daffodils in the English countryside to one that forewarned of evil in Britain and the United States. It became a color to describe the sickly, instead of the happy. Yellow fever entered the vernacular and those outside of the African continent became fearful of the viral disease spread by female mosquitoes. This was especially true given the active slave trade in parts of America.

The color yellow soon became treated as a precursor to death thanks to writers in the supernatural community. By 1892, American Charlotte Perkins Gilman published her classic horror story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In it the sickly colored wallpaper has a terrible effect on the occupant of the room. Three years later, fellow American Robert Chambers published his collection of short stories The King in Yellow that begged the overriding question “Have you found the yellow sign?” It contained the haunting ghost story “The Yellow Sign” (1895) included in this anthology and his treatment of the color in The King in Yellow has evolved into what is now referred to as the yellow mythos in supernatural literature.

Q10. Last question, how did ghosts change from the first to the last part of the century in question?

A10. The ghosts streaming from the pen of Dickens were highly communicative with the living. They were no longer stagnate beings of the spirit world who moved silently among the darkling corners of haunted houses, but rather interacted with the sorry lot of the living in ways never before seen in literature. In Phantasmal: Best Ghost Short Stories 1800-1849 there is an excellent story that was published anonymously titled “The Deaf and Dumb Girl” that is a fine example of how ghosts started out being rather innocuous.

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