During the late Victorian period and into the twentieth century, women’s supernatural fiction became much darker as newer, more ominous presences emerged beside the traditional figure of the ghost. Women’s weird fiction in these decades incorporated other themes besides the primarily domestic concerns of earlier supernatural fiction, and, while many later stories are still concerned with gender, they also explore more universal imaginings of fear, unease, and dread. This collection surveys a variety of these experimental forms to show how women moved beyond the traditional ghost story and into areas of weird fiction and dark fantasy.
Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890-1940 showcases 50 years of women’s Weird fiction and includes the following: THE WEIRD OF THE WALFORDS by Louisa Baldwin, LET LOOSE by Mary Cholmondeley, THE GIANT WISTARIA by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, THE SHADOW by Edith Nesbit, KERFOL by Edith Wharton, UNSEEN—UNFEARED by Francis Stevens, HODGE by Elinor Mordaunt, WHERE THEIR FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED by May Sinclair, THE HAUNTED SAUCEPAN by Margery Lawrence, THE TWELVE APOSTLES by Eleanor Scott, THE BOOK by Margaret Irwin, COUCHING AT THE DOOR by D.K. Broster, and WITH AND WITHOUT BUTTONS by Mary Butts.
Published by Handheld Press in October 2019. Order here.
Women’s Colonial Gothic Writing, 1850-1930: Haunted Empire (Palgrave Macmillan) is the first extended critical study of Colonial Gothic writing by nineteenth and early twentieth-century women who lived within the borders of the British Empire during its height. Women were some of the first authors to examine the negative effects of colonialism in the nineteenth century, but were one of the last groups to have their writings recognized as legitimate and worthy critiques of the British colonial experience. Much of their fiction uses ghosts and other paranormal events to comment on social issues such as race, gender, class, and imperialism, thus making these Gothic texts something more than just a good scare. This book will expand on recent critical interest in women’s involvement with the Gothic to explore how these writers appropriated the genre – and its emphasis on fear, racial otherness, identity, and sexual deviancy – in order to take these anxieties into the farthest realms of the British Empire. When read in light of the Colonial Gothic, the unique histories and social structures of these individual colonies are thus transformed into wide-reaching critiques of power structures and the impact colonialism had on both the British colonizers and the local populations. As many of these women were truly cosmopolitan – frequently moving back and forth from Great Britain to the various locations of empire, their writing gives us a unique view of the colonial experience, especially for women during this period. The varied subject matter in their fiction reflects a broad range of colonial experience: from imperialism in Africa and the dehumanizing effects of the ivory trade, to the destructive aftereffects of slavery in Jamaica and the violent consequences of imperial rule in India. Grisly death and violent crime are frequently present in these works, as are more personal stories of the harsh realities of settler life in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Women’s Colonial Gothic thereby insists on bringing to light the darker, hidden motives and untold stories that complicate the contemporary narratives which foregrounded British expansion as a noble quest that would improve the lives of colonist and colonizer alike.
“Edmundson’s book is a veritable treasure trove of undiscovered women’s postcolonial and Gothic work and fills an amazing gap in our understanding, which ranges round British and American, some colonial Gothic, nineteenth century work, early twentieth century and contemporary work. The scholarship and the focus are impeccable, using established and new critics’ work on gender, the Gothic and postcolonial writing to provide a new reading of a very under researched area.” —Gina Wisker
From the Victorian Secrets website: Ghost stories have always provided a popular source of entertainment, thrilling readers with tales of remote gothic castles and dark dungeons. In the nineteenth century, authors made the genre even scarier by bringing the uncanny within the sanctity of the middle-class home. Women writers especially saw the ghost story as an empowering form, using it to make subversive arguments about gender, class, sexuality, race, and money. In this electrifying collection, Melissa Edmundson showcases ten authors who led lives that challenged Victorian notions of how women should behave and brought those transgressive ideas into their fiction.
This collection includes: THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS by Amelia B. Edwards, SINCE I DIED by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, THE SHADOW IN THE CORNER by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, THE GHOST AT THE RATH by Rosa Mulholland, FROM THE DEAD by Edith Nesbit, IN THE SÉANCE ROOM by Lettice Galbraith, THE HOUSE WHICH WAS RENT FREE by G. M. Robins, THE LOST GHOST by Mary E. Wilkins, THE STRIDING PLACE by Gertrude Atherton, and THE PRAYER by Violet Hunt.
My reading list for other collections of women’s ghost stories can be found here.
Read my interview about Victorian women and ghost stories on the Sublime Horror website here.
The Half-Caste: An Old Governess’s Tale (1851) remains relevant to today’s scholars for its daring examination of a mixed-race relationship amidst Britain’s increasing imperial involvement in India. Along with William Browne Hockley’s “The Half-Caste Daughter” (1841), which is a less sympathetic exploration of the consequences of race mixing, it is one of the earliest works to focus on a female mixed-race protagonist. Craik’s novella defies contemporary stereotypes about the mixed-race (or Eurasian) population by portraying Zillah Le Poer as an honest, beautiful, loyal, and sympathetic heroine. This portrayal is in direct contrast to widespread contemporary beliefs about the Eurasian community, a group brought into existence by British officials of the East India Company who took Indian wives and mistresses. These mixed-raced children were marginalized by both the Anglo-Indian British population resident in India, as well as by the Indian community, who considered the native women who made such alliances as forfeiting their caste status.
In addition to issues of race and empire, Craik’s sympathetic narrator, Cassandra Pryor, offers another detailed examination of the inner mind of the Victorian governess. Cassandra’s initial feelings of “coming down in the world” after her family’s loss of wealth, along with her feelings of loneliness and homesickness, are alleviated by her growing interest in the mysterious child, Zillah Le Poer, who is referred to by the other members of the Le Poer family as “cousin” and whose past is deliberately kept from Cassandra by the child’s outwardly respectable yet intensely controlling uncle. As Cassandra becomes increasingly determined to solve the mystery of Zillah’s background (a mystery that Craik sustains nicely, making the novella a very entertaining read), the once emotionally-adrift governess finds a purpose in protecting the girl and secretly seeing to her improvement against the wishes of the family, a family who treats the girl as more of a Cinderella-figure than as a true cousin. This new Broadview Edition features an annotated text of the novella, along with a critical introduction and contextual material.
“Melissa Edmundson has supplied a most useful addition to the literature of Victorian empire and race. Craik’s story is supplemented by excerpts from Philip Meadows Taylor’s novel Seeta along with a story by William Browne Hockley, ‘The Half-Caste Daughter.’ These texts are supplemented by well-chosen supporting materials delineating attitudes toward ‘Eurasians’ in nineteenth-century India, and together they create a rich context for understanding Craik’s often overlooked novella. Edmundson shows how Craik’s work confounds the usual binaries and prejudices of the period even as it creates a sympathetic governess character. This edition would make a fine pairing with Jane Eyre or with Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills in an undergraduate course on Victorian empire.” —Mary Ellis Gibson
“This edition of Dinah Mulock Craik’s long neglected 1851 novella makes a fine contribution to the scholarship on Victorian studies on empire and race. Melissa Edmundson’s ample introduction provides clear biographical, historical, and cultural background to situate Craik’s life and her fiction within the complexities of views about the Eurasian woman, British identity, and colonial power. Deft summaries, expanded by a rich assortment of supplementary materials, point to the frequency with which Victorian authors addressed the fraught gender and race issues the Eurasian woman emblematized and prove that Craik’s The Half-Caste, with its progressive narrative about cultural merging, struck a decidedly different note. Additional materials assist in categorizing The Half-Caste with that other predominant nineteenth-century genre, the governess novel. Comprehensive explanatory footnotes and an informed and wide-ranging bibliography tempt the reader for future critical (as well as fun) reading. Edmundson ensures her own audience hears Craik’s strong voice about the period’s significant contemporary issues and more than demonstrates her own admiration for this important Victorian woman author.” —Joellen Masters
Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain shows the Gothic becoming more experimental and subversive as its writers abandoned the stereotypical Gothic heroines of the eighteenth century in order to create more realistic, middle-class characters (both living and dead, male and female) who rage against the limits imposed on them by the natural world. The ghosts of women’s Gothic thereby become reflections of the social, sexual, economic and racial troubles of the living. Expanding the parameters of Female Gothic and moving it into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries allows us to recognize women’s ghost literature as a specific strain of the Female Gothic that began not with Ann Radcliffe, but with the Romantic Gothic ballads of women writers in the first decade of the nineteenth century. From the supernatural unrest of the ghosts in these Gothic ballads, we are able to see a tradition that was continued in the ghost poems and short stories of the next one hundred years and onward.
As the nineteenth century progressed and ghost stories became increasingly popular, women writers continued to highlight female characters and gender concerns, but there also develops an added emphasis on a diverse range of topics beyond gender, such as rental properties, inheritances, battlefields, race relations and imperialism. If the traditional Gothic has always been concerned with forms of marginalization, then women’s ghost literature of the nineteenth century provides an extended example of the continuance of this concern and an important link between traditional and modern Gothic, while at the same time continuing to expand and redefine the much-contested term ‘Female Gothic’.
Chronologically, this book encompasses the beginnings of women’s ghost literature at the start of the nineteenth century, in the Romantic ballads of Anne Bannerman and Charlotte Dacre, to writers who continued their literary output into the beginning of the twentieth century and beyond, such as Bithia Mary Croker, Mary Louisa Molesworth and Vernon Lee. On a geographic level, this book also covers a broad range, starting in Great Britain, then expanding out to the far reaches of the Empire, as Ellen Wood and Bithia Mary Croker’s supernatural stories highlight the ghosts of India. The women in this study also represent varying economic and social levels. Writers such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Vernon Lee and Christina Rossetti were comfortably middle class, while other authors, like Anne Bannerman and Charlotte Riddell, struggled on the verge of poverty for many years.
This book examines the cultural importance of the ghost story by analyzing women’s writing during the nineteenth century from not only a specific genre, the supernatural, but also from a particular position, that of social critique. In so doing, the authors discussed, along with the works they dedicated their writing careers to, will once again come to light and will hopefully spark new conversations about the continuing significance of the Female Gothic and ghost literature. When we think about ghosts, social critique is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Ghost literature by women, however, offers us spectres that are more ‘real’ because they are grounded in contemporary social concerns that affected real people. Women writers of the nineteenth century truly brought ghosts home – in all senses of the phrase. They positioned their ghosts on British soil and made those spectres matter to the British reading public in a body of literature that reflected fears that were as real as they were supernatural. The ghosts are often scary, and all the more so because they bring with them a heightened awareness of problems that already haunt the living. In this literature, characters and readers alike are left with the uneasiness of these issues long after the ghosts disappear.
Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain recovers and analyzes for a new audience this “social supernatural” ghost literature, as well as the lives and literary careers of the women who wrote it. Chapters include: Female Revenants and the Beginnings of Women’s Ghost Literature, Ghostly Lovers and Transgressive Supernatural Sexualties, “Uncomfortable Houses” and the Spectres of Capital, and Haunted Empire: Spectral Uprisings as Imperialist Critique.
“As a whole, the study is extremely convincing in challenging the traditional parameters of the Female Gothic through her careful selection of texts and thorough analysis of women’s ghost literature in nineteenth-century Britain. She offers an extremely comprehensive study of this topic and I would certainly add it to the definitive titles of this subgenre as it is a substantial text for any researcher of the Female Gothic.” —Donna Mitchell, The Gothic Imagination
Originally published in 1901, East of Suez was Alice Perrin’s first collection of short stories. Her fascinating and thought-provoking tales of Anglo-Indian life rival the best work of Kipling, and were hugely successful in their day. Perrin tells stories of illicit love and betrayal set against a beautifully-drawn backdrop of the mystical east, interweaving the supernatural with exquisite details of her characters’ lives.
As the Times wrote in Perrin’s obituary: “She wrote a simple, unforced style, and the reader feels keenly the heat, the dust, the moonrise, the night calls, and all the sights and sounds and smells of the unchanging East.” Her use of ghosts as a form of social critique makes Perrin’s work both daring and distinctive. Although she often denies her readers a happy ending, she always gives them a memorable story.
This first-ever critical edition of Alice Perrin’s work includes an author biography, suggestions for further reading, explanatory notes, contextual material on representations of the British Raj, and illustrations from The Illustrated London News and The Windsor Magazine.
“The volume is beautifully produced and bookended by a learned and perceptive literary Introduction to Perrin’s work by editor Melissa Edmundson Makala and by two interesting appendices depicting the cultural context of the British Raj as the historical frame of the author’s body of work. Highly recommended.” —Mario Guslandi, The Short Review.
The CW’s long-standing fan favorite series Supernatural follows the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester as the brothers follow the “family business” of hunting the supernatural. With its unique blend of monster-of-the-week storylines intermixed with the ongoing saga of the brothers’ often troubled relationship, the show is directly tied to traditional Gothic concerns of anxiety, the monstrous, family trauma, and of course, the supernatural itself. Supernatural constantly blurs the line between human and monster, good and evil, and like the Gothic itself, individual identities and motivations resist easy categorization.
Along with the variety of supernatural beings that emerge on the show, Supernatural provides a rich framework with which to discuss various incarnations of the Gothic, such as the American Gothic, Queer Gothic, Female Gothic, and Postmodern/Meta Gothic. The thirteen essays in The Gothic Tradition in Supernatural discuss how the series both incorporates and complicates Gothic concerns related to traditional tropes, storytelling, women and gender issues, and monstrosity. Just as the Winchester brothers travel across the country in their 1967 Impala, this collection takes readers on a journey through the many ways the Gothic is imagined in Supernatural.
“Melissa Edmundson’s The Gothic Tradition in Supernatural: Essays on the Television Series is a welcome addition to the study of the show. In her introduction, Edmundson provides an excellent overview of the existing scholarship on Supernatural and makes it clear why alongside these established critical approaches, it is important to consider it as a Gothic text.” —Stacey Abbott, Revenant Journal
“Edmundson has gathered a wonderful set of articles that will impact not only future studies of the series Supernatural, but also contemporary horror TV in general. Both the editor and the publisher deserve praise for their meticulous editing of the essays in the collection….The Gothic Tradition in Supernatural: Essays on the Television Series is an important scholarly contribution that will be of interest to a variety of readers—academic and general, let alone numerous fans of the show—and its essays may be used in a variety of academic contexts, from courses in English or comparative literature to film studies and folklore.” —Svitlana Krys, H-Net Reviews.