I’ve posted a note over on Dark Tales Sleuth about “Peter Rugg, the Missing Man” (1824), a landlocked New England version of the Flying Dutchman story.
This “cursed traveller” tale, about a man doomed to ride forever in search of his home in Boston, evidently caused quite an impression on readers. Like the Angels of Mons or the so-called Legend of the Three Crowns of East Anglia, Peter Rugg crossed over from fiction into the status of “authentic” regional legend.
“Peter Rugg” (and its author, William Austin) are said to have made an impression on a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, who shared Austin’s taste in New England supernatural tales. Hawthorne eventually included Peter Rugg as a character in his allegory “A Virtuoso’s Collection” (which is how I ended up reading and annotating the story not too long ago).
The Peter Rugg saga actually has two parts: “Peter Rugg, the Missing Man,” and “Further Account of Peter Rugg.” You can find a link to both stories together in the above post, as well as links to a few other interesting supernatural short stories by William Austin.
Check it out!
Illustrations from the John W. Luce & Co. edition of Peter Rugg The Missing Man (1910). This is a really pretty edition of the entire Peter Rugg saga as one volume, found at The Internet Archive.
A few months back on my Dark Tales Sleuth site, I wrote about The Necromancer; or the Tale of the Black Forest, which was one of the seven “horrid novels” mentioned in Jane Austin’s Northanger Abbey. The Necromancer is a 1794 translation of the German gothic novel Der Geisterbanner (1792), by “Lorenz Flammenberg” (Karl Friedrich Kahlert).
In my Dark Tales Sleuth post I wrote about having traced down an even earlier (1793) translation of the first half of Der Geisterbanner, by “T. Dutton.” In the post, I pointed to a convenient (but later — 1825) place to read it.
Now The Ex-Classics Website has posted T. Dutton’s translation, taken from the original publication sources, along with the translator’s original footnotes! So you can read this version of The Necromancer (Part I) as it was originally published.
While doing some research for a Dark Tales Sleuth post, I ended up reading a curious piece from Nathaniel Hawthorne, called “A Virtuoso’s Collection” (1842). This is an allegorical metafiction where the (rather straight-laced) narrator happens upon an unusual museum, curated by a mysterious man known only at first as “the virtuoso.” The museum is full of exotic artifacts, culled from mythology, folklore, fiction, and history. But who is the virtuoso?
According to George Lathrop Parsons, who wrote an introduction to The Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Volume II) around 1882 or so, this style of metafiction was a literary trend in the middle of the nineteenth century. Authors would compete to cram the most references into one story, sometimes at the expense of plot. Elizabeth Gaskell’s meta-fairytale “Curious, If True” is a fairly successful example of the genre, in terms of having an actual plot, of sorts.
“A Virtuoso’s Collection,” on the other hand, is fairly low-plot, albeit crammed with references; but it does work as a religious allegory, or maybe a parable. It’s also a peek into what might have been considered “common cultural knowledge” for a classically-educated white American in the mid-nineteenth century. I’m assuming, of course, that the reader is supposed to understand the majority of the references; though Hawthorne did slip in an allusion to one of his own stories, and there’s at least one item that seems just made up.
One of the pieces that Vincent Price reads on his 1974 spooky tales album, A Graveyard of Ghost Tales, is a story called “The Ghostly Hand of Spital House,” by Dorothy Gladys Spicer. This is a fun and engaging tale about some bandits who try to rob an inn with the help of a hand of glory : a candle (or candle-holder) made from the hand of a hanged man. Lighting the hand of glory puts all the sleeping occupants of the house into an even deeper sleep, from which they don’t awaken until the hand is extinguished. You can see how this would be a (cough) handy tool for robbers and catburglars to have.
In the post, I also talk about a supposed pre-Colonial Mexican analog to the hand of glory as a housebreaker’s tool: the left arm and hand of a woman who died in first childbirth. While the source for that piece of folklore was not exactly disinterested (it was written by a 17th century Spanish friar), the story does in a way tie in with how Aztecs regarded women who died in childbirth, as equivalent to warriors who die in battle.
Have I intrigued you yet? If you’d like to read some earlier versions of the Spital House legend, give another listen to Vincent Price’s spooky reading, and learn how this relates to aspects of Aztec mythology, then head on over to Dark Tales Sleuth, and check out The Legend of Old Spital Inn.
Featured Image: Detail of Jacob meets magician Hermogenes, Pieter van der Hayden, after Breughel (1565). Source: Wikimedia.
Illustration of Hand of Glory, annotated as from The Grimoire of Pope Honorius Grimorium Verum Petit Albert by Albertus Parvus Lucius. Source: Wikimedia.
Remember my other blog,The Dark Tales Sleuth? That’s where I’m tracking down the sources of the unattributed stories in the 1856 anthology, Evening Tales for the Winter, edited by Henry St. Clair. I’m still working on it!
After wrapping up Volume One, I started on Volume Two with what seemed like a straightforward case, which quickly turned super interesting. I began with what I thought was a plagiarism of one of the seven “horrid novels” from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and found what I think is an alternative (and earlier!) translation of the first section of the German source novel. Pretty cool!
First things first: “Adela’s House” is the best haunted house story I’ve ever read. It’s eerie and dark, enigmatic, and just a little bit bloody. Like most great ghost stories, it starts out in a quirky but fundamentally prosaic world and just…goes sideways. Real sideways. I love it, and for this story alone, I’d recommend Things We Lost in the Fire.
But the rest of this collection, by Argentine writer Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell) is nothing to ignore, either. I sought her work out after seeing her featured in a BBC special on women ghost story writers, but not all the stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are supernatural. Rather than a “ghost story writer,” I lean towards calling her a “writer of the macabre.” The stories in this collection, supernatural or not, are all uncanny, dark, “weird” in the sense that the VanderMeers use the term, and sometimes outright horror. Whatever you choose to call them, they are compelling and unsettling, and a really great read.
I don’t remember how I came across Yellow Glass and other ghost stories, but I am glad that I did. This debut collection by historian Francis K. Young just came out in September, and it’s a fine contribution to the antiquarian ghost story genre.
Francis Young was born and raised in the same Suffolk environs as M.R. James, and seems to share many of James’s professional and personal interests. His collection opens with a short but thoughtful essay on the relationship between historians and ghost stories, and the affinity of one for the other. I liked the idea that writing ghost fiction can give professional historians a way to express their relationship to the past, in a way not possible through the drier medium of scholarly writing.
M.R. James famously expressed a preference for ghost stories placed in familiar settings and near contemporary times: “a slight haze of distance is desirable” , but “the seer of ghosts must talk something like me, and be dressed…not too much like a man in a pageant” . I love James’s ghost stories, which in my opinion hold up quite well; but after a century these tales may no longer qualify as having “nothing antique about them”  — and that’s not getting into the cultural differences among international readers. So it’s always a treat to see solid, well-written, modern tales with an antiquarian sensibility.
As if I didn’t have enough to do, a new series: The Uncanny in Translation! Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I have an interest in non-Anglophone weird fiction. In this series, I plan to share interesting works in translation that I come across, which are possibly less well-known to English language readers.
First up: Fantastic Tales (Racconti Fantastici), by nineteeth century Italian author Iginio Ugo Tarchetti (1839 – 1869), translated by Lawrence Venuti. According to the book cover, Tarchetti was “the first Italian writer to experiment with the gothic style,” and is “often compared to Edgar Allan Poe.” He was part of the Scapigliatura movement in Italian literature, a sort of anti-bourgeois, anti-establishment movement influenced by German Romanticism, French bohemians, Baudelaire — and Poe.
Not a lot seems to be known about Lettice Galbraith. She published two short story collections (New Ghost Stories, and Pretty Miss Allington and other tales) as well as a novel(?) (Spin of the Coin) around 1893-1894. A further story from her pen came out in 1897, and then, as far as I know, nothing. I suppose we don’t even know if Lettice Galbraith is the author’s real name.
I’m including Ms. Galbraith in my Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic series for New Ghost Stories (1893), a really delightful collection. The stories are crisp and well-paced, and are frequently more direct about unsavory topics like adultery, seduction, and suicide than one might expect in Victorian-era tales. The characters are generally well-fleshed out, and every story is quite different in its haunting, as well.
Just an update on some recent(ish) posts to my other blogs. By coincidence, both posts relate to the theme of Faustian bargains, so they go rather well together.
Over on Ephemera, here’s the latest of my Emilia Pardo Bazán translations. This is from a few months ago, but I got distracted by Pedro Escamilla and Dark Tales Sleuth, so I never announced the translation here.
The Spell (El conjuro): A philospher performs an incantation of the last day of the year, in hopes of summoning a being that can grant his desire.
The protagonist of the tale is referred to as “el pensador” (the thinker) in the original Spanish. I rendered that as “the philospher” in my translation, because it felt better to me in English, and in my opinion still retains the connotations of the original Spanish term.