Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Madam Crowl's Ghost - Sheridan Le Fanu


The companion piece to In A Glass Darkly, this collection put together by the great M R James, no less, is supernatural fiction that Le Fanu himself did not collect. The other stuff, frankly, is better, and yet there are great pleasures and genuine creepiness among the twelve stories here. Some of it is journalism, or what passed for journalism in Le Fanu's time. We have 'Ghost Stories of Chapelizod' and 'Stories of Lough Gair' which are presented as ghost gazeteers. Others, like 'The Vision of Tom Chuff' and 'The Child that went with the Fairies', give the impression of being local legends retold. The title story and 'Squire Toby's Will' are straight ghost stories and both manage a couple of serious shocks, whereas 'Ultor de Lacy' and 'Wicked Captain Walshawe of Wauling' are more gothic and weird.

My favourites were 'An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street', which is essentially a draft version of 'Justice Harbottle' from In A Glass Darkly, and 'Dickon the Devil' which, like a surprising number of the stories here, is set my native Lancashire - 'Dickon', indeed, iun my native Pendle Valley. Le Fanu explains why: he was a fan of the forgotten bestseller Harrison Ainsworth and was familiar with The Lancashire Witches (1848).

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