Friday, July 15, 2016


Here's another collection from Wordsworth Editions, this collects a good chunk of Mrs. Riddell's short supernatural fiction. "The Uninhabited House," a novella, was already reviewed here a few years ago, so thankfully I will skip it here. This was a lengthy volume, 449 pages, and it took me forever to get through.

Mrs. Riddell has her strengths and weaknesses; she can be flowery and overly sentimental, but she's also good about giving her characters real economic lives and dealing with the struggles of the middle class. A lot of her haunted-house tales also deal with the notion of haunted houses as economic liabilities; they seem to be more about haunts from a real-estate perspective.

"Nut Bush Farm" deals with hauntings at a rural farm, a struggling middle-class man seeks a quiet country retreat, but finds it haunted by the ghost of a former owner. "The Open Door" deals with a desperate young man jumping at a chance to solve a haunting in a baronial it can be sold or inhabited. It all ends up with a door that can't be shut, a re-enacted murder, and a missing will.

"The Last of Squire Ennismore" is a folktale, basically, of a wicked noble being carried off by the devil. "A Strange Christmas Game" is a brief tale of an old murder being solved by ghostly manifestations. A young man, kicked out by his father, resorts to staying in a haunted house in "The Old House in Vauxhall Walk," much to his economic benefit. "Sandy the Tinker" deals with ghosts and approaching doom.

"Forewarned, Forearmed," deals with prophetic dreams, but also has memorable atmosphere. "Hertford O'Donnell's Warning" is a romantic tale of visions and destiny. "Walnut-Tree House" has more romance and more missing wills. "Old Mrs. Jones" was a bit odd...a ghost story that might not actually be a ghost story, with a milieu of a boarding-house and middle-class characters.

"Why Dr. Cray Left Southam" deals more with psychic visions than ghosts, with a mortal woman having visions (maybe) of a murdered woman (maybe). It's actually a bit vague and unresolved, which a lot left up to the reader to decide, which actually makes it a very forward-thinking and modern work. While I wasn't enthused about the plot, I was impressed by its literary merit.

"Conn Kilrea" has an Irish officer having visions and ghostly visitations (because that's what happens when you're Irish, it seems), and "Diarmid Chittock's Story" is a tale of murder being revealed by the supernatural. And "A Terrible Vengeance" is nasty tale of a murdered woman who seeks spectral vengeance, but it's also boosted by some very good characterizations, including some very nasty people.

It's got good stories in it, but it's a bit of a slog. There's some repetition, and the style can drag, and it's a lot of Riddell to take in. There were many times when I picked it up, meaning to read it over lunch in the break room, or the like, but found myself unwilling to do it. This is something to have on hand by your reading chair for the occasional dip, rather than try to make all the way through.

Still, it's worth it for a glimpse into Mrs. Riddell's middle-class Victorian world, and also for some of her more modern tales. She ranges from the folkloric to the almost avant-garde nature of "Why Dr. Cray Left Southam." So yeah, worth purchasing if you like Victoriana.

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