Annie Cargill

Another ghost story by Scottish poet Violet Jacob, from her 1922 short story collection, Tales of my Own Country.

A young man reluctantly goes to spend a fortnight with his gruff and forbidding godfather. While indulging his love of heraldry amongst the ancient tombstones in an old kirkyard (churchyard) near his godfather’s property, he comes across something he doesn’t expect, and learns something about his godfather, too.

Wc churchyard gate by friedrich jpg Large

Plotwise, this is a fairly standard ghost story, but I found it quite charming. The protagonist, in particular, was really well delineated. I got a definite sense of his personality: easygoing, perhaps a bit feckless, but a genuinely enthusiastic amateur of history and heraldry, and just a nice, kind, guy. I even got a pretty clear idea of his relationship with his father — and his father’s personality — even though his father wasn’t even really in the story. The scene where he first encounters the ghost gave me a mild but pleasant shivery feeling up the back of the neck. It wasn’t a terribly scary story, but I don’t think that was the point.

Several of the secondary characters speak in the Scottish dialect, as is appropriate, since Ms. Jacob is best known as a poet of the vernacular. I had to read a few things twice over, but overall the Scottish wasn’t a stumbling block.

You can read or download “Annie Cargill” here.

This and “The Wade Monument” are the only two ghost stories by Violet Jacob that I know of (as yet), but I’ve put the rest of Tales of my Own Country on my “To Read” list. Perhaps there’s another one there.



Featured image: Protestant Cemetery, Walter Crane. Source: WikiArt

Churchyard Gate, Caspar David Friedrich (1826-1827). Source: WikiArt

The Wade Monument

I came across this story not too long ago, and really liked it. It’s not wintery enough to share for my annual Winter Tales series, but I thought I’d pass it along anyway.

It’s certainly a story of occult investigation, though I’m not sure the protagonist quite meets the definition of “occult detective,” at least by Tim Prasil’s definition.  The story probably does meet Sage Leslie-McCarthy’s definition of “psychic detective fiction” — going by her definition as quoted by Tim in his essays. I didn’t read all of Leslie-McCarthy’s dissertation. Yet. I will.

Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden

A young man is on holiday in the town of Mintern Brevil, and notices a mysterious entry on a monument in the local church. He notices that someone else takes an interest in the monument, too. Someone only he can see.

[The Prayer-book] fell against her knees, but, instead of sliding down the slope of her skirt, passed straight through it to the floor, as a stone might fall through transparent water. I could see it lying upon the boards, although the grey folds of her dress and the outline of her limbs were between me and it.

The ghost sends him on a mission. Will he succeed?

The story first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine in 1921. Its author, Violet Jacob, was a Scottish writer best known for her historical novel Flemington, and for her poetry written in the Scottish vernacular. According to her Wikipedia entry, the influential poet and Scottish nationalist Hugh MacDiarmid called her “the most considerable of contemporary vernacular poets”.

Though she also wrote short stories, she wasn’t particularly a ghost story writer — I’ve found two so far, including this one, both of which I like. I plan to investigate her non-genre short fiction, too.

The story at heart is really about family: maternal love, or the lack of it, and about the depth of sacrifice some people will go to for its sake. For that reason I mentally group it with the ghost stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman, and perhaps of Margaret Oliphant. That’s just me, though. I won’t insist on the classification. And of course, I have to mention Dorothy Macardle’s wonderful novel The Uninvited (aka Uneasy Freehold), another (quite different) ghost story of maternal love and the lack of it. Great movie, too.

You can read or download “The Wade Monument” here.



Featured Image: Wallpaper design, Jules-Edmond-Charles Lachaise, Eugène-Pierre Gourdet (1830-97). Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Imagined medieval interior, Gerum Church, Gotland, Sweden, A.T. Gellerstedt (1867). Photographer Lars Kennerstedt, 2013. Source: Swedish National Heritage Board.