The Saga of Peter Rugg

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.

PeterRugg1

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.

Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Mary Wilkins Freeman

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.

Mary E Wilkins Freeman
Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930). Source: Wikimedia
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 Rosebush in 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….

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Bessie Kyffin-Taylor

Today’s post highlights Bessie Kyffin-Taylor, and her collection From Out of the Silence (1920). This seems to be one of only two works by Kyffin-Taylor, the other being Rosemary (A duologue) (1918) — held only by the British Library, at least according to WorldCat. Rosemary isn’t online anywhere that I’ve found.

From Out of the Silence
Image from the Mystery and Imagination blog

Nor is there much information about the author herself, though I did find a bit about her husband [1], and about her name:

From Out of the Silence is an enjoyable collection. I liked Kyffin-Taylor’s authorial voice; her protagonists are well-drawn, fleshed out, and occasionally quirky. There are some lovely discriptions of locale and scenery here, especially regarding Wales. The shadow of World War I hangs over a few of the stories, giving an extra touch of tension. Several of the tales have fairly novel touches to their plotting, though they can be somewhat sentimental in places. Supposedly these stories have been compared to the work of E.F. Benson; I thought of A.M. Burrage (maybe that was the WWI aspect, but Burrage could also get a bit sentimental, too), and “Two Little Red Shoes” made me think, just a bit, of Mary Wilkins Freeman.

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Revisiting Wilbur Daniel Steele

It is always hazardous to prophesy the future course of an admirable writer, but it is safe to say that the rich, human embodiment of the stories collected in this volume assure them a permanence in our literature for their imaginative reality, their warm color, and their finality of artistic execution. Almost without exception they represent the best that is being accomplished in America today by a literary artist.

— Edward J. O’Brien, Introduction to Land’s End and Other Stories (1918)

When I first read Wilbur Daniel Steele’s 1919 short story, “Out of Exile,” it struck me right away. The language was beautiful, the imagery evocative. I loved it. I felt immediately drawn into this New England fishing community, on the fictional Urkey Island, as the love triangle at the heart of the story unfolded through the filter of the narrator’s growing up and coming-of-age. And although the story was not in any way supernatural, somehow it felt like a ghost story. And that, of course, is a plus, as far as I’m concerned. I wondered: who is this Wilbur Daniel Steele? Did he write any actual ghost stories? What are they like?

Wilbur Daniel Steele
Wilbur Daniel Steele, circa 1918. Source: Wikimedia

He’s quite forgotten today (sorry, Mr. O’Brien!), but Wilbur Daniel Steele was one of the most popular American short story writers of the early twentieth century. He wrote both for prestigious fiction magazines and for women’s magazines. Between 1915 and 1933, at least ten of Steele’s stories appeared in Edward J. O’Brien’s annual Best [American] Short Stories of the Year. Over the same period, eleven of his stories were O. Henry prize selections: one more than John Cheever, one fewer than Alice Munro and William Faulkner.

After about 1933, he seems to have published fewer short stories, and these largely in women’s magazines. He had a revival of sorts around the 1950s, when some of his earlier work was republished in crime fiction magazines like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. After that, he dropped off the radar. Steele passed away in 1970, at the age of 84.

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