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.

A Virtuoso’s Collection, Annotated

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?

C W Peale: The Artist in his Museum (1822)

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.

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A Ghost Story and a Fairy Tale

There’s no real theme to this post; I’m just tying up some loose ends I’d forgotten about. Specifically, a couple of posts to Ephemera that I never boosted here.

866px Horla Apparition

First is a translation that I posted last October of a ghost story, of sorts, by Emilia Pardo Bazán. This is an interesting and ambiguous tale: is the protagonist mad, or possessed? It reminds me a little bit of The Horla, and also a little bit of “The Yellow Wallpaper.” See what you think.

Second is a version of the Snow White fairy tale, in verse, by Aleksandr Pushkin, called (in this version) “The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights” (1833). It’s a mix of the traditional Snow White narrative (Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type 709), with a little bit of “East O’the Sun, West O’the Moon” (Aarne-Thompson-Uther 425 I think? — only in reverse).

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The Dream House: From Fireside Tale to Fiction

Augustus John Cuthbert Hare (1834-1903) was an English writer who wrote mostly, it seems, about his travels and his family. Why he thought anyone would be interested in his six volume autobiography (The Story of my Life), I don’t know; but from it, we do learn that he had a lot of friends who liked to tell ghost stories. And Hare wrote them down.

John Augustus Cuthbert Hare
Augustus Hare (1834-1903). Source: Wikimedia

In that roundabout way that happens while doing research for a potential post, I found myself browsing the last three volumes of The Story of my Life. And I came upon an oddly familiar story, one that Hare records from a “Miss Broke,” the niece of the Gurdons, a family that Hare is staying with in Suffolk.

A woman living in Ireland begins having frequent dreams of “the most enchanting house I ever saw”—detailed dreams, about walking through all the rooms of the house, its garden and conservatory. Eventually the family decides to leave Ireland and move to England, and they proceed to search for a house in the vicinity of London. During their search, they learn of a house near Hampshire.
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The Dance of the Dead

I’m closing out this year’s Winter Tales season with a dark and delightful German gothic tale, as filtered through the pen of British author Dick Donovan. “The Dance of the Dead” is apparently based on one of the German folk legends about the mountain spirit Rübezahl, which means either “turnip counter” or “turnip tale.” He was originally a weather spirit who sent mountain storms, but evolved into a guardian of the poor who lived on his mountain. Like many a good fairy, he can appear to a person as an old man or old woman in need, to test if that person has a kind heart or not. If so, the person is rewarded. This is closer to his role in this story:

Dancing skeletons, Dance of Death

A young artist falls in love with Brunhelda, the lovely daughter of the hateful mayor of Neisse. The mayor has big marriage ambitions for Brunhelda; she’s too good for a penniless painter. But Robert’s “foster father,” the strange old Willibald, is a bagpiper of such amazing abilities that he can make anyone dance—even the dead. Can he help the young lovers out?

Yes, this is a ghost story. Since one could make the (admittedly tenuous) argument that the main action takes place around January, I judge it a fitting tale to finish this season’s Winter Tales series, and kick off the new year.

You can read “The Dance of the Dead” here.

Dick Donovan was the pen name of J. E. Preston Muddock, a British journalist and author who wrote in a number of genres, including non-fiction. He was particularly well known for mystery and detective fiction; most of his stories featured a Glasgow detective named Dick Donovan, who was so popular that Muddock began publishing under that name. He produced two collections of macabre fiction: Stories Weird and Wonderful (1889), and Tales of Terror (1899), from which “The Dance of Death” is taken.

I had originally gone to Tales of Terror for another story that is genuinely a ghost story set at Christmas, but I like this story better. Not just because its folkloric nature appeals to me, but also because the contrast between Robert’s kindhearted (but naive) model of human nature when compared to Willibald’s cynical (but realistic) perspective resonates with me right now.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this round of Winter Tales. Best wishes to all of us for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2021!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Featured Image: Dance of Death, Henri Charles Guérard (c. 1888). Source: Wikimedia

Dance of Death from Folio CCLXIIII of Liber chronicarum, aka Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1493). Source: Wikimedia

Fladda Light

As we head into the twelve days of Christmas, here’s another winter tale to usher in the New Year. “Fladda Light” actually takes place in late November, but it’s a stormy and wintry and spooky tale that feels appropriate to the season.

Hudson Burke is the new keeper of Fladda Light, a lighthouse with a dark reputation.

Neapolitan lighthouse 1842 jpg Large

‘It was not a good place for men to be in,’ the informant would say; and then he would lean over to his hearer in an infectious ecstasy of fear. ‘There were things that came out of the sea that it was not good for men to be with.’

Will Burke survive with body and mind intact?

“Fladda Light” appeared in Cornhill Magazine in 1924. I came across it a few years ago, and loved the story, but it did not go into the US public domain until 2020, and so I had to hold on to it. I hope you agree with me that it was worth it.

You can read “Fladda Light” here.

The story’s author, Hilton Brown, was a Scottish poet, biographer, and novelist who wrote extensively about both Scotland and South India, where he served in the Indian Civil Service during the British Colonial period. Though he apparently didn’t write often in Scots, there is a touch of dialect in this story, which adds nicely to the atmosphere.

Brown wrote at least one other ghost story that I know of: “The Fourth Man,” an excellent, darkly humorous tale set in South India and published in 1930. You can find it in The Penguin Book of Indian Ghost Stories, which is a collection of tales in the “Classic English Ghost Story” tradition, some penned by Indian authors and others by British authors, but set in India. Both stories are great, but “Fladda Light” (in addition to being US public domain) is a better tale for this time of year.

And speaking of the season: have a Happy New Year, and enjoy this winter tale!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Neapolitan Lighthouse, Ivan Aivazovsky (1842). Source: WikiArt

Longship Lighthouse, Lands End, J.M.W. Turner (c. 1834-1835). Source: WikiArt

Oberon Road

Happy Christmas Eve! It’s become a custom for me to share lighter winter tales on Christmas Eve, to match the festive spirit. Today, I’m sharing a story by A. M. Burrage.

Burrage’s best known Christmas tale is, of course, “Smee,” which is as dark a winter tale as you could want. Last year I shared Burrage’s “The Fourth Wall,” which is not quite as dark, but still has a grim undertone.

Opera rainy day 1909 jpg Blog

But today’s tale, “Oberon Road,” is more like a fairy tale, or a gentler version of A Christmas Carol. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Michael Cubitt is a bit of miser, a man neither good nor bad.

He had no friends and no enemies, because so far as could be discovered, he had never done anybody a bad or a good turn. … He had no apparent vices and no apparent virtues. Nobody but himself knew exactly what he got out of life.

But then one rainy evening just before Christmas, Cubitt meets an odd little man who (literally) sets Mr. Cubitt on a new path.

You can read “Oberon Road” here.

Whether it’s sunny or rainy or snowy where you are, I hope you enjoy this sweet little tale. Here’s wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and a joyous day to all who don’t.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Featured Image: Columbus Avenue, Rainy Day, Childe Hassan (1885). Source: WikiArt

Opera, Rainy Day, Pierre Dubreuil (1909). Source: WikiArt

The Ghosts at Grantley

As Christmas week rolls around I’m switching to a couple of gentler, humorous ghost stories. This may or may not be in keeping with the traditional customs of winter tales, but it’s been my custom. This is my regular story for the week, and I’ll present another one on Christmas Eve.

Sir john sherard jpg Large

This week’s tale is “The Ghosts of Grantley,” by Leonard Kip. Grantley Grange boasts not one, but two remarkably similar ghosts: one for the upstairs and one for the downstairs. They show up regularly every Christmas, and they don’t seem to know that they’re dead! Can our hero convince them of this unpleasant reality so that they can move on?

You can read “The Ghosts at Grantley” here.

Given the setting of the tale, I was surprised to discover that the author, Leonard Kip, is an American. He seems to be chiefly remembered today for his memoirs of his experiences in the California Gold Rush. This is a bit ironic, since he disliked California and returned to his native New York, settling in Albany for a career in law. He did, however, continue to write, and “The Ghosts at Grantley” was originally written for one of the Christmas numbers of The Argus, an Albany, NY periodical. I couldn’t figure out the exact first publication date of the story, but four of Kip’s Argus Christmas contributions, along with two other stories, were collected into the volume Hannibal’s Man and Other Tales in 1878.

As I mentioned, this story is played for humor, but it is a real ghost story, with a fairly grim story behind the haunting. I hope you enjoy reading it as you get ready for Christmas week.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Portrait of Sir John Sherard, John Riley (c. 1675) Source: WikiArt

Featured image: Locksley Hall, illustration by William Goodrich Beal for Tennyson Gems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (c. 1889). Source: Old Book Illustrations

The Blue Room

This week’s Winter Tale is “The Blue Room“, the last known published fiction by the writer known as Lettice Galbraith. It appeared uncredited in Macmillan’s Magazine October 1897, and if it was indeed Ms. Galbraith’s last published short story (for she may also have been writing under other names), then it was a great way to wind up her writing career.

Misty outline 768

Something is wrong with the Blue Room at Mertoun House. No one will say quite what, and several people have safely spent the night there. And yet the Mertouns keep the room unoccupied. Until one ill-fated Christmas evening….

You can read “The Blue Room” here.

I like this story for several reasons. First, it’s an interesting and well-written variation on the haunted room and occult investigation genres. Second, the “principal investigator” is a strong female character! Edith Erristoun attends Cambridge University, something still unusual for women at the time (in fact Cambridge didn’t actually grant degrees to women until 1948). She’s curious and brave, and her relationship with her fellow occult investigator is purely one of common intellectual interests, not romance. I can’t exactly say she doesn’t need rescuing, but her rescuer is also a woman: the narrator, Mrs. Marris, the housekeeper at Mertoun House.

And of course, like all of Lettice Galbraith’s stories, it’s a great read. I’ve noted before that Ms. Galbraith seems to touch more directly on sex-related topics than one might expect for her era; that’s kind of true for this story too, in a subtle way. So subtle that it took me two reads to notice.

But even it you don’t catch the allusion, it doesn’t diminish the pleasure of the tale. So grab a warm drink, curl up under your blanket, and enjoy!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

I featured Lettice Galbraith in my Women of Folklore and the Fantastic series in September. You can read that post (with a link to her collection New Ghost Stories) here.

Images

Featured Image: A bed, Mikhail Vrubel (c. 1904). Source: WikiArt

Misty Outline of a Human Figure, Odilon Redon (1896). Illustration intended for La maison hantée by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Not included in final publication. Source: Old Book Illustrations

Winter Tales 2020! House of Strange Stories

It’s that time of year again! In the tradition of the season, I’ll be sharing spooky winter-themed tales from now until Epiphany, ghost stories for you to read with a hot drink and a warm blanket. My favorite Christmastime ritual!

Old family mansion 768

This year I’ll begin with “House of Strange Stories,” by Andrew Lang, from the collection In the Wrong Paradise, and Other Stories (1886). Yes, that Andrew Lang, famous for his series of colored fairy tales books. But he was also interested in anthropology, history, and psychical research, even serving as the president of the Society for Psychical Research in 1911. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he sometimes wrote ghost stories, too.

“House of Strange Stories” is a perfect tale to start winter tales season, as it epitomizes the yuletide tradition of ghost story telling around the fire:

…all of us, men and women, were sitting at afternoon tea in the firelit study, drowsily watching the flicker of the flame on the black panelling…

Naturally, in such an environment, they eventually begin to swap eerie, “true” experiences. Of special interest is the anecdote from the Bachelor of Arts, which is strikingly similar to–and possibly an inspiration for?–a famous 1906 story by E.F. Benson.

You can read “House of Strange Stories” here.

Enjoy, and I look forward to sharing more tales with you for the rest of the season.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Images

Engraving by James D. Cooper, for Old Christmas, by Washington Irving (1886). Source: Old Book Illustrations

Featured Image: Telling Christmas stories by the fire, circa 1903. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collection