Before ghost stories and the uncanny, crime fiction was my genre of choice. I’ve gone back to reading a lot of mystery lately, especially Golden Age mystery, and
recently I came across an early Rex Stout story — pre Nero Wolfe. The Last Drive (1916) is an enjoyable enough story of its kind, but got more interesting when I realized that this golf-themed mystery is an early version of the central conceit in the first Nero Wolfe novel, Fer-de-Lance (1934). Aha!
The Last Drive was originally published as a five-part serial in Golfers Magazine, and had been long forgotten, even by Rex Stout scholars. The story was rediscovered in 2011 by Cattelya Concepcion, then a student at George Mason University School of Law. She and her professor, Ross Davies, published their discovery in the 2012 Green Bag Almanac and Reader, an annual almanac that highlights the previous year’s exemplary legal writing.
Two more translations! One by Juana Manuela Gorriti, and one by Emilia Pardo Bazán. This is a kind of matched pair: two stories about the tension between rational explanations and the desire to believe in the supernatural.
Many marvelous-seeming phenomena in the world are really quite natural; Sir Walter Scott dedicated an entire letter from his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft to debunking ghost stories of this type. One such example is the tale of the dead club president’s ghost, which has a perfectly rational explanation.
As a story, though, the supernatural explanation is far more satisfying. And that may be the case with Gorriti’s and Pardo Bazán’s stories as well.
Featured Image: Mandrake. Folio 90 Folio 90 from the Naples Dioscurides (7th century). Source: Wikimedia
Today’s featured writer Kristine Ong Muslim is a native and resident of Maguindanao province, southern Philippines. Her uncanny fiction, poetry and translations of other Filipino writers have been widely anthologized, and her most recent book is the collection of apocalyptic short fiction, The Drone Outside (2017).
My introduction to Ong Muslim was her short story “The Pit,” in the uncanny fiction anthology Uncertainties, Vol 4 (editor Timothy J. Jarvis), from Swan River Press. It’s short, unsettling, and ambiguous. There is much for the reader to reconstruct between the lines–as is generally true of the type of fiction that shows up in the Uncertainties anthologies. It’s the kind of story that will work for some readers, and not for others. I was intrigued; I wanted to find more.
Ong Muslim writes on a variety of dark themes, with a mixture of horror, science fiction, weirdness, and allegory. Not all of her tales are necessarily “weird,” but there’s always at least a trace of the uncanny in her prose. In the last few years especially, much of her fiction has had a decidedly apocalyptic theme running through it, and a deep pessimism about human nature. I won’t lie; a lot of her stories are hard to read, at this time, in the present pandemic situation. But they’re beautiful.
Much of her work is available online, and here are some stories that I especially liked. This is more links than I usually share, but many of these, even the “longer” ones, are quite short. The longer pieces are in roughly chronological order.
Switching back to a couple of contemporary Filipina writers for the next couple of posts, each of whom are featured in a collection from one of my favorite publishers!
Yvette Tan is a freelance writer who has written about many topics for magazines and other media sources. The supernatural is one of her special interests, and her fiction was brought to my attention by a fellow member of the Facebook Classic Ghost Story Tradition group. Unfortunately, the short story collection he recommended to me was in Filipino (which I don’t read); she also has an English language collection called Waking the Dead, which looked interesting, but seems to be out of print/only available in the Philippines. Darn!
As far as I can tell, most of Tan’s fiction has been published in Filipino collections that don’t always make it to the U.S., or at least not for very long. However, some internet searching uncovered her personal blog and a few stories as well. They fall more directly into the horror category than the ghost stories and weird tales that I usually talk about (two of them do, at least), but I love their quirky dark humor.
Today’s authoress of the fantastic is Henrietta Dorothy Everett (1851-1923), who wrote under the name Theo Douglas. Though mostly forgotten today, she wrote some 22 novels, at least half of which were fantastical or supernatural. There isn’t a lot known about her life, but from the descriptions in both the Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Wikipedia, her novels look worth digging up, if you are into quirky pulpish stuff .
Today, however, I’ll talk about Everett’s ghost stories, mostly collected in The Death Mask and Other Ghosts (1920), published under her real name. The Death Mask drew notice from both M. R. James (“of a rather quieter tone on the whole, but with some excellently conceived stories”) and H. P. Lovecraft (“though adhering to very old and conventional models, [she] occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror”).
Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) was an American writer probably best known today for her supernatural short stories, which combine “domestic realism and supernaturalism” (as Wikipedia says), generally in a New England setting. Her stories have a feminist sensibility, and tend to feature self-reliant, often unmarried women as their protagonists. M. R. James spoke favorably of Freeman’s collection Wind in the Rosebushin a letter to Nico Davies, saying “I like it.”
I shared Freeman’s excellent vampire story “Luella Miller” in my previous post, and I thought I’d share another one today. The narrator of “The School-Teacher’s Story” is a retired schoolmarm, financially comfortable, strong-minded, and perhaps not terribly maternal or domestic (it seems Freeman wasn’t terribly domestic, herself). She’s exactly the type of person that ghost stories shouldn’t happen to (so many ghost story protagonists are). And yet, there was that one student….
The living vampires from my last post were active predators who sought out their victims. Luella Miller is passive, more like a parasitic vine that wraps itself around a healthy plant and clings to it until the plant dies.
She had blue eyes full of soft pleading, little slender, clinging hands, and a wonderful grace of motion and attitude.
Luella doesn’t need to hunt down prey; they come to her willingly, men and women alike, and gladly sacrifice themselves to care for their “helpless” friend. In Luella, Wilkins-Freeman describes a real-life type of abusive personality, what people call a “psychic vampire” or “energy vampire,” and though there seems to be a supernatural element to Luella’s fascination, in many ways it isn’t the point of the story.
Part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.
We tend to think of vampires as revenants, creatures that have come back from the dead and who feast on the living to maintain their existences. But it’s not just the undead who siphon away the life of their prey. Today’s post looks at two stories about such “living vampires”: Mary Elizabeth Braddon‘s “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896), and Emilia Pardo Bazán‘s “Vampiro” (1901).
Both stories have similar structures: young, vulnerable women are “acquired” by an extremely elderly and obscenely rich person–the living vampire–who siphons the life from their victim(s) in order to rejuvenate themselves.
In “Good Lady Ducayne,” the prey is eighteen year old Bella, whose mother was abandoned by Bella’s father. To earn extra money for the family, Bella goes into service. She is hired as a companion by rich old Lady Ducayne, who pays her an incredibly generous salary–and takes her to Italy! If that sounds too good to be true, it is.
Read “Good Lady Ducayne” at Project Gutenberg Australia, here.
In “Vampiro,” the prey is fifteen year old orphan Inesiña, the parish priest’s niece. Inesiña’s uncle arranges for her to marry seventy-seven year old Don Fortunato, the richest man in the province. The town gossips seem to think Inesiña got a good deal; how long can her husband live? Well….
Read my translation of “Vampiro” at the Ephemera blog, here.
Women’s History Month is over, but my series continues! Today I am featuring one of the major figures of Spanish literature: feminist, novelist, journalist, critic, and profilic short story writer Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the Countess of Pardo Bazán. Like George Sand, she is not primarily thought of as a writer of the fantastic , but is a prominent mainstream literary figure, known for her efforts to incorporate naturalism into Spanish literature.
According to her page at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, she “is considered the best Spanish woman novelist of the 19th Century and one of the most distinguished writers in [the history of Spanish literature].” In 1916, she became the first woman to receive a chair at a Spanish university: Chair of Contemporary Literature and Romance Languages at the Universidad Central in Madrid.
I hadn’t read her since my undergrad days (I have a minor in Spanish Language Literature, though I remember almost nothing about it now), and she didn’t catch my attention at the time, focused as I was on the Argentine magical realists. I came across her again recently, while flipping through some of my old textbooks and bilingual anthologies, and this time around, her stories struck me, hard. Her writing feels remarkably contemporary in its psychological acuity and feminist outlook; like Quiroga, she sketches perceptive portraits of some of the darker and/or frailer aspects of human nature. While the stories I initially read don’t quite fit into the types of fiction I discuss on this blog, I really wanted to include her in this series, if possible.
Fortunately, a little digging surfaced several pieces that arguably qualify as fantastic or weird. I think I’ll have translation projects for some time to come! For this post, I’ll start with two that are short, but particularly powerful.
Today’s featured author is Mary Amelia St. Clair (1863-1946), who wrote under the name May Sinclair. She was a novelist, poet, and literary critic; also a feminist who was actively involved in the suffrage movement. She wrote and critiqued works in the modernist tradition, and is credited with having coined the term “stream of consciousness” in a literary context.
She was also greatly interested in philosophy and psychoanalysis, interests that permeate the writings that I’m highlighting today. She wrote extensively on the Brontë sisters, and it seems to have been her Brontë scholarship that led to her interest in the supernatural. Several of her ghost stories and metaphysical tales were published together in 1923 as Uncanny Stories.
I first came across Sinclair’s writing in the excellent Boris Karloff/Edmund Speare anthology And the Darkness Falls. Her story “Where the Fire is Not Quenched” is a dark and dread-inducing description of Hell, with an almost Twilight-Zone vibe. It’s also a great example of Sartre’s maxim “Hell is other people” — written at least twenty years before Sartre wrote No Exit in 1943.
Uncanny Stories went into public domain in the U.S. just before I discovered Sinclair, and I’ve had the collection on my “to read” list ever since. This series gave me the perfect motivation to finally pull it off the list, and I’m glad I did.