Ghostly doings are afoot in Edwardian London. Choking fog rolls over the treacle- black Thames. Braziers cast eerie shadows in grimy alleyways. Two sinister doctors hunch beside a dying fire in the appropriately-named Printer’s Devil Court, ‘a dark house, with steep, narrow stairs’. Having supped on a hearty repast of lamb stew and treacle pudding, the ‘shadowy’ Dr Walter reveals his dastardly scheme. ‘We are proposing… to bring the dead back to life.’ Our hero young Dr Meredith is appalled. This is diabolical! Derivative of Frankenstein! Not quite. The experiment results in a phantom rather than a monster.
This study of the three du Maurier sisters is part of a trend that involves suggesting, with varying degrees of subtlety, that the lesser-known siblings of superstars are the equals, or in some respect even the superior, in talent. This trend was slyly mocked by the witty Oxford novelist Barbara Trapido, who titled her debut “Brother of the More Famous Jack,” upending the relative renown of artist John Butler Yeats and his infinitely more famous brother the poet William Butler Yeats.
In ‘The Wine-Dark Sea,’ a short story by Robert Aickman, a traveler steals a boat to visit a mysterious Greek island, rejecting the advice of locals who warn him not to go there. As he explores a citadel that seems lost in time, he encounters three alluring women who may be sirens or witches or ghosts. The odd setting makes a deep impression: "The whole place was beautifully tended, but it was hard to see for what, at least by accepted standards."
A very late Gothic tale (1901) over-written in the purple(!) and breathless prose of Frankenstein and other novels of that ilk, it’s another tale of apocalypse: disaster this time is linked to the first (sacrilegious) attempt to reach the North Pole: a purple cloud of cyanide gas swirls around the planet annihilating all living beings, save our narrator (and his later-to-be-discovered female counterpart…). It’s unclear how, exactly he survives, but he then proceeds to do what we would probably all do in similar circumstances: he searches and explores everywhere, randomly, looking for survivors, indulges all his whims, embarks on an orgy of destruction, drifts in and out of insanity…
Karen Maitland is renowned for her painstakingly researched medieval novels and this story, set against the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, continues in that vein. She creates a wonderfully Gothic atmosphere in the city of Lincoln, with merchants reeling from the creeping loss of the wool trade and its inhabitants, rich and poor, struggling to survive in the stifling heat of summer. Above all this is a tale of a family and the love and loyalty, bitterness and retribution that ensues.
The New Gothic is a collection of unsettling tales, including a story by horror grandmaster Ramsey Campbell, that seeks to regain gothic territory ceded to defanged vampires and bantering demon hunters.
W hen Claire Clairmont threatened to leave Lord Byron, he would always reply: “you may go away, if you like but you shall not forget me – no woman who has once loved me has ever forgotten me for I took good care to brand her with such infamy, she could not but remember me for the rest of her existence and I will for the same by you”. The effect of Byron was not just felt by women; the Romantic age was feverishly obsessed with him. But those who came closest to the poet and his fame discovered that what they had hoped would improve their own lives turned out to destroy them, as Andrew McConnell Stott shows us in his biography, The Vampyre Family: Passion, envy and the curse of Byron.