Every year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I like to share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around. This year I’ll open with a lesser-known story from F. Marion Crawford.
“The Doll’s Ghost” first appeared in the 1896 Christmas supplement of the Illustrated London News1, and again in Crawford’s posthumous 1911 collection Wandering Ghosts (Uncanny Tales in the UK). In his lifetime, Crawford was well known and well regarded for his historical novels and romances; today, he is mostly known for his supernatural tales, especially “The Upper Berth,” which M.R. James called a “horrid story” — in the positive sense of “full of horror” — in “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories.”
I picked “The Doll’s Ghost” to open up this year’s series because I like it, of course; also because the doll of the title shares my name, and Mr. Crawford and I share a birthday. It’s a “benign ghost” story, the kind M.R. James disapproved of, but it does have its creepy moments. For parents, it has genuinely scary moments. I think it’s good for the season.
I really like the story’s strong, humorous opening, in which the spoiled six-year-old Lady Gwendolen drops her doll Nina down a marble staircase, breaking it. She doesn’t seem all that upset for very long.
Lady Gwendolen was occupied in digging a hole in the ground with a little spade, and paid no attention to the nurses.
“What are you doing?” enquired the nursery-maid, looking on.
“Nina’s dead, and I’m diggin’ her a grave,” replied her ladyship thoughtfully.
Luckily Mr. Puckler the doll doctor is there to make Nina better again. Mr. Puckler loves his job and the dolls that he repairs, but he loves his daughter Else more. He develops a special fondness for Nina, perhaps because she reminds him a little of Else.
 Tara Moore, preface to “The Doll’s Ghost,” Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Stories, Valancourt Press, 2016.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
My post about Crawford’s story “The Screaming Skull” is here. It’s another story with a great opening.
Image: Curtain Design with Doll, Serge Sudeikin, circa 1924. Source: WikiArt