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Literary The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories
#1  sun surfer 12-12-2020, 06:13 PM
'The first-ever collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories, culled from rare 19th-century periodicals

During the Victorian era, it became traditional for publishers of newspapers and magazines to print ghost stories during the Christmas season for chilling winter reading by the fireside or candlelight. Now for the first time thirteen of these tales are collected here, including a wide range of stories from a diverse group of authors, some well-known, others anonymous or forgotten. Readers whose only previous experience with Victorian Christmas ghost stories has been Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol will be surprised and delighted at the astonishing variety of ghostly tales in this volume.

“In the sickly light I saw it lying on the bed, with its grim head on the pillow. A man? Or a corpse arisen from its unhallowed grave, and awaiting the demon that animated it?” - John Berwick Harwood, Horror: A True Tale

“Suddenly I aroused with a start and as ghostly a thrill of horror as ever I remember to have felt in my life. Something—what, I knew not—seemed near, something nameless, but unutterably awful.” - Ada Buisson, The Ghost’s Summons

“There was no longer any question what she was, or any thought of her being a living being. Upon a face which wore the fixed features of a corpse were imprinted the traces of the vilest and most hideous passions which had animated her while she lived.” - Walter Scott, The Tapestried Chamber'


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There are two phases of discussion. The first begins immediately and may contain conversations about anything pre-completion of the selection including reading progress, section thoughts, outside info, etc. The second begins on the 1st and also includes anything post-completion. These are recommended to help us discuss things in a similar timeframe but anyone can discuss any part or aspect at any time.


This is the MR Literary Club selection for December 2020. Everyone is welcome so feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time; the more the merrier!


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#2  fantasyfan 12-16-2020, 05:22 PM
That sounds like a fascinating selection!
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#3  Bookworm_Girl 01-03-2021, 08:39 PM
I finished and for bonus points watched The Man Who Saved Christmas movie about Dickens last night. I’ve seen the movie before, but it was fun to rewatch.

I liked this collection. A Victorian ghost story does not have the scary horror aspect that a modern story would have, but it was still fun. It started out a bit repetitious with the country house setting, but I am glad there was more diversity in the second half. I liked how each story had an introduction about the author and why that story had been selected and what was special about it in regards to the Victorian Christmas ghost story traditions. I read a story or two each day usually by the Christmas tree light or fireplace to set the mood.

I am not sure which one was my favorite. Maybe The Lady’s Walk by Margaret Oliphant. I also liked The Doll’s Ghost which added a haunted object (toy) to the collection.

Has anyone else finished? Did anyone have a clear favorite story?
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#4  sun surfer 01-07-2021, 01:41 AM
Quote fantasyfan
That sounds like a fascinating selection!
Are you reading it too? I'd be curious what you thought of the stories.

Quote Bookworm_Girl
I finished and for bonus points watched The Man Who Saved Christmas movie about Dickens last night. I’ve seen the movie before, but it was fun to rewatch.

I liked this collection. A Victorian ghost story does not have the scary horror aspect that a modern story would have, but it was still fun. It started out a bit repetitious with the country house setting, but I am glad there was more diversity in the second half. I liked how each story had an introduction about the author and why that story had been selected and what was special about it in regards to the Victorian Christmas ghost story traditions. I read a story or two each day usually by the Christmas tree light or fireplace to set the mood.

I am not sure which one was my favorite. Maybe The Lady’s Walk by Margaret Oliphant. I also liked The Doll’s Ghost which added a haunted object (toy) to the collection.

Has anyone else finished? Did anyone have a clear favorite story?
Reading these by Christmas lights or a crackling fire sounds so cosy and charming!

I've never seen The Man Who Saved Christmas before; it sounds good.

I'm halfway through currently and really enjoying it. I thought the first story (by Walter Scott no less!) was mediocre but so far it was also the shortest and the quality has been steadily improving. Maybe the first story was meant as a palate cleanser to be ready for the rest, a short example by a famous author to get us in the mood. I have a weakness for country estate type settings so all of them so far in the first half being set there hasn't bothered me at all.

I love the care that this collection has been put together with. One of my biggest gripes about assembled short story collections by various authors is that they can seem slipshod and careless. That was true before self published ebooks but has multiplied a thousandfold since it's now so much the easier to put together a public domain collection for sale. With this collection it's obvious the editor has pored over who knows how many Victorian Christmas ghost stories looking for the best gems, and then also writing a brief introduction for each giving some historical context and other info. It's definitely quality, and was obviously well received since there's been sequels. I hadn't heard of Valancourt before but now associate them with a high caliber.

It was amusing that the introduction, which for once I read before the book and was pleasantly relieved to find there are no spoilers there, talked about how often Victorian Christmas ghost stories relied on some logical and non-supernatural/non-horrific cause for the scares by the end, and yet so far in this collection as I've read not a one has relied on that. I don't think she mentioned she was only choosing 'true' supernatural and/or horrific stories but that seems to have been her intention, perhaps thinking a modern audience would roll their eyes at too many stories with coincidental and benign logical explanations, and would instead prefer the true ghostly experience.
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#5  sun surfer 01-09-2021, 11:03 PM
I made it farther in and now I've encountered a few that had non-scary explanations. Those so far haven't impressed me as much as the earlier stories and even the Scott is looking better now in comparison.

In particular I did not care for I think it was 'Jack Layford's Friend'. I'm fine with objectionable words in old literature that were of its time, however in a curated short story collection of various authors I feel there should be something extraordinary about a story to be included if it does indeed include very objectionable words. The editor does warn us beforehand but that's beside the point for me. Disregarding the slur I still thought the story was one of the weaker so to me it really doesn't merit any inclusion in the collection. The protagonist/hero is at times rude and unlikeable, and idiotic for not realising the very obvious thing the entire plot relies on. Actually all the major characters were idiotic in their turn to make the plot work. If the story were more enjoyable it would've been easier to not care about that but as it is it just added to the reasons I didn't care for it.

My favourites so far were all in a row near the beginning- 'The Old Nurse's Story', 'Horror: A True Tale' and 'Bring Me a Light!'. I haven't got to your two favourites yet Bookworm_Girl.
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#6  Bookworm_Girl 01-10-2021, 05:44 PM
I thought there were some interesting historical details in the introductions. For example:

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In 1854 the U.S. Senate was petitioned to appoint “a scientific committee to investigate spirit communication,” and the death culture resulting from Civil War casualties further promoted spiritualism
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Victorians, who enjoyed increasing levels of leisure and technology, devoted a portion of each to developing a robust culture of death and mourning, including photography of deceased children and picnicking in cemeteries (Carpenter and Kolmar xix).
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Dog ghosts occasionally feature in Victorian stories, but the active spirits typically belong to dead people until the late nineteenth century. At that point, the “many late Victorian horror stories concerning objects seem to be at least in part a reaction to developments in late nineteenth century capitalism and consumer culture.”
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#7  sun surfer 01-12-2021, 12:14 AM
They are interesting and paint a picture of Victorian society as somewhat death-obsessed, which considering the interest in gothic literature of the time fits well. I just finished the story the middle quote came from the preface to, The Mysterious Visitor, and it's my favourite so far. It was very well written and vivid. Despite the editor's warning beforehand, I didn't expect such descriptive violence and while that's definitely not the reason I liked the story so much I did appreciate that it built a more realistic picture of what horrifically happened in India to that group. I wonder what Victorians who read it at first publication thought.
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#8  fantasyfan 01-12-2021, 03:16 PM
I found "The Old Nurse's Story" quite enjoyable. The old sister with her dark secret, the terrible ghostly old man playing the organ in "Phantom of the Opera" fashion, and the crying wounded child are presented with gusto. The atmosphere really works for me despite its use of all the traditional ghost story machinery.
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#9  sun surfer 01-13-2021, 07:59 AM
Quote fantasyfan
I found "The Old Nurse's Story" quite enjoyable. The old sister with her dark secret, the terrible ghostly old man playing the organ in "Phantom of the Opera" fashion, and the crying wounded child are presented with gusto. The atmosphere really works for me despite its use of all the traditional ghost story machinery.
That's an interesting parallel with Phantom of the Opera. Your reference to traditional ghost story machinery makes me wonder how innovative versus traditional a story like this might have seemed to readers of the time.
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#10  sun surfer 01-16-2021, 12:34 AM
I've finished and thought the last few tales were a good addition. I think my favourite story of the book was probably The Lady's Walk. I like how it veered into territory the other stories didn't and dealt with protagonists who didn't properly heed warnings, and even of the doubtful efficacy of protective ghosts and the turmoil that can cause not only to the living but to the spectre as well. Call me a curmudgeon, but I thought this was a perfect story to end on a sad note without an eleventh hour save; it would have fit the melancholy tone of the story better I think. It would have kept with the pathos of the entire situation.
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