Elizabeth Gaskell was famous for writing horror stories in her time. This collection consists of nine Gothic short stories from the year 1852-1863.
The stories are “The Old Nurse’s Story”, “Disappearances”, “The Poor Clare”, “The Doom of the Griffiths”, “Lois the Witch”, “The Crooked Branch”, “Curious If True”, “The Grey Woman”, “Crowley Castle”. The editions are the sequels of the last versions which were published during Gaskell’s lifetime.
How were the ghost stories?
Elizabeth Gaskell became popular for writing her ghost stories. The stories are edited by Charles Dickens, who published her work in his own magazine Household Words. Her ghost stories are in the “Gothic” temperament, which makes these quite different from her industrialism fiction.
Gaskell Gothic Tales Analysis
English novel writer Elizabeth Gaskell wrote some of the most popular ghost stories of her time; thrilling and gruesome but always with an inner message. There’s something about a Gothic tale that goes well with the autumn months particularly.
A 19th-century novelist specializing in social problem novels, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote some very thrilling ghostly fiction. Well Textured, quality and moralistic, these stories are just so well balanced.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s thrilling Gothic tales mixed the real and the supernatural to ghostly, compelling effect.
Although she was praised by her contemporaries and publishers, her ghost stories were considered an attempt to entertain the public and satisfy its need for adventure and mystery. She wrote them assiduously and used in household words.
In ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ a mysterious child roams around the freezing Northumberland plateau.
‘Disappearances’ is inspired by local legends of enigmatic vanishings, mixes gossip with fact.
‘Lois the Witch’ is a story based on an account of the Salem witch hunts, shows how sexual desire and jealousy can lead to exaggerated excitements.
Darkly bizarre, such as ‘The Poor Clare’, where an evil doppelganger is formed by a woman’s curse.
‘Curious, if True’, is mischievous, a playful fairy tales.
All the pieces in this volume create a contrast to the social realism of Gaskell’s novels, revealing a darker and more unusual style of writing.
Gothic Tales Theme
Elizabeth Gaskell experimented with both Gothic tales of Mystery and Suspense and Gothic tales of Supernatural, so the classification of each will be discussed later in the work.
Out of her thirty works of short fiction, nine of these are Gothic. Among these, six stories are the most successful.
By introducing supernatural elements, building a plot around a world of mystery, she was expressing her opinion on the sexual and social powers of the patriarchal society of the age. When Gaskell started writing her short stories, she transformed her usual topics into highly symbolical ones.
In an introduction to the first collection of her tales of mystery and gruesome, She was a strong woman with a fierce independent streak and was not all at impressed or flattered by the famous author’s overtures.
During the Victorian period, ghost stories became popular through literary magazines and periodicals.
Her interest in the macabre was present in many of her shorter works, and she used to sit by the fire with her friends and tell ghost stories.
She had confessed that she was superstitious and prone at all times to the involuntary recurrence of any thoughts of gloom.
The telling of tales around the fireside makes explicit a particular aspect of the ghost story which depends upon a tension between the cosy familiar world of life and the mysterious unknowable world of death.
Gaskell found it hard to share her passion for ghost stories with her friend Charlotte Bronte mentioning that fact in her biography that she was on the point of relating some gloomy story, just before bed-time.
The witch-figures who appear in her fiction are essentially victims, with no actual magical ability. Frequently they are witches demonised by others. Women become demonic in their double self which unintentionally hurts the innocent.
Female writers have felt some special empathy and more imaginative modes of expression, Gothic, often includes some element of rebellion against existing social norms. Gaskell’s interest in the Gothic, especially in its supernatural, mystery and suspense forms, is usual as she belongs to a strict Unitarian background.
Still, Gaskell was fearless and felt comfortable in such a genre, especially while expressing her own profound discontent with the condition of women in the patriarchal society through her Gothic tales.
Gothic Tales Review
Elizabeth Gaskell, better known for her novels such as Mary Barton and Cranford, became popular in her own time for her ghost stories, edited by Charles Dickens, who published her work in his magazine Household Words.
Like many other short story collections, some of the stories are powerful than others. They are not completely scary but there is certainly an unsettling air and a sense of the Gothic.
Common features include mysterious disappearances, ghostly hallucinations, and gloomy manor houses or chateaux, revenge in the form of curses inherited down through generations.
These stories are perfect for readers who prefer gothic horror fiction, early tales of crime, mystery, and suspense.
Summary of some stories
The old nurse’s story
By far Gaskell’s most popular story, this work raises questions as to whether an evil action can ever truly be forgiven.
As the title suggests, in this tale a nurse recalls a series of incidents that confronted her and her former charge.
Miss Rosamond, is left an orphan after the death of both parents. So Hester, the nurse, follows her to Furnivall Manor, where an old relative lives. It is an old and thoroughly spooky place.
Hester is sure that she hears someone playing the organ at night, even though the instrument is quite broken. One day, Rosamond goes missing, only to be found nearly dead from cold out in the snow.
She claims that a little girl led her outside, where a lady met her and lulled her to sleep. Miss Furnivall, the decaying mistress of the house, seems tortured by guilt at the news.
The Grey Woman
A visitor to a German household discovers a portrait of a beautiful girl, and, upon enquiring as to its subject, is presented with a letter written by that lady, Anna Scherer. This letter details her rash marriage and the subsequent tyranny of her French husband, who keeps her more or less sequestered in one room of his chateau.
When Anna inadvertently witnesses her husband bring in a corpse in the dead of night, and so discovers that he is at the head of a violent gang, she and her servant must make an escape so harrowing that Anna will be left forever changed.
The Doom of the Griffiths
This story concerns a curse by a legendary figure in Welsh culture. The object of the curse was a friend who had betrayed him, and the curse entails that for nine generations. His line would live in destitution until finally, a son would kill his father.
The curse holds fast right up until the eighth generation, when a Griffith son turns out right-headed and sober, and reasonably wealthy. This son, Robert, comes to have his own son, Owen, who would be the one fated to kill him.
Their relationship is weird. When Owen marries happily that things begin to turn disgusting.
Rapturous hope and inevitable sorrow are forever competing in this story of betrayal and destiny.