Many of you already know that ghost stories were popular at Christmas time in Victorian England. Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is the most well-known example.
What you may not know is that many Victorian publishers capitalized on that popularity by publishing periodicals filled with ghost stories. Valancourt Books, a present-day publisher in Richmond, VA, has gathered some of these stories in The Valancourt Book of Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, Volumes 1, 2, and 3. I have access to Volume 1 through Scribd, and will be highlighting one or two of the 13 stories in that volume every day until Christmas.
Although you’ll be able to read most of the stories online if you like, since they’re old enough to be in the public domain, there is value in reading the Valencourt collection. Each volume is thoughtfully curated, and in Volume 1, at least, editor Tara Moore has cited her sources and written introductions to the book and to each story.
According to the book, Victorian Christmas ghost stories were written to be read aloud to an intimate group, by evening candlelight or firelight. When the story was over, terrified listeners were then expected to make their way through a dark house to their cold beds, imagining ghosts in every candlelit shadow.
This evening I’ll spotlight Sir Walter Scott’s “The Tapestried Chamber,” about a gentleman named General Browne who has occasion to spend some time at the very, very old home of his friend Lord Woodville after returning from “the American war.” He has a fright in the night (in the tapestried chamber where he sleeps), and tries to hide that fact in the morning.
I’ve not read anything by Scott, and I was pleasantly surprised at the humor he employed in depicting General Browne’s feeble attempts to hide his state of mind after spending a terrifying night in a haunted bedroom and then walking outdoors in the wee hours of the morning to escape that room. The interchange that follows as his friend shares a bit of information about that particular chamber has some delightful dry humor.
The narrative is initially in the first person, but Scott then invokes the voice of a Miss Seward, a gifted storyteller who relayed the story to the author. The narrative gradually morphs into third person, as Miss Seward is mentioned only once or twice more. (I think this layered narration may be a common device in Victorian ghost stories -but we’ll soon see!)
If you don’t have free access to the Valancourt book and don’t want to buy it, you can read “The Tapestried Chamber” online, since it’s in the public domain. One site to find it is Project Gutenberg; you can read the complete story – as well as another Scott tale, by clicking the link.
Come back tomorrow to read about Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story.” A link that story, which you can also read for free, will be included.