“Let Loose” first appeared in an 1890 issue of Temple Bar Magazine.
The dead abide with us! Though stark and cold Earth seems to grip them, they are with us still.
Some years ago I took up architecture, and made a tour through Holland, studying the buildings of that interesting country. I was not then aware that it is not enough to take up art. Art must take you up, too. I never doubted but that my passing enthusiasm for her would be returned. When I discovered that she was a stern mistress, who did not immediately respond to my attentions, I naturally transferred them to another shrine. There are other things in the world besides art. I am now a landscape gardener.
But at the time of which I write I was engaged in a violent flirtation with architecture. I had one companion on this expedition, who has since become one of the leading architects of the day. He was a thin, determined-looking man with a screwed-up face and heavy jaw, slow of speech, and absorbed in his work to a degree which I quickly found tiresome. He was possessed of a certain quiet power of overcoming obstacles which I have rarely seen equalled. He has since become my brother-in-law, so I ought to know; for my parents did not like him much and opposed the marriage, and my sister did not like him at all, and refused him over and over again; but, nevertheless, he eventually married her.
I have thought since that one of his reasons for choosing me as his travelling companion on this occasion was because he was getting up steam for what he subsequently termed ‘an alliance with my family’, but the idea never entered my head at the time. A more careless man as to dress I have rarely met, and yet, in all the heat of July in Holland, I noticed that he never appeared without a high, starched collar, which had not even fashion to commend it at that time.
I often chaffed him about his splendid collars, and asked him why he wore them, but without eliciting any response. One evening, as we were walking back to our lodgings in Middeburg, I attacked him for about the thirtieth time on the subject.
‘Why on earth do you wear them?’ I said.
‘You have, I believe, asked me that question many times,’ he replied, in his slow, precise utterance; ‘but always on occasions when I was occupied. I am now at leisure, and I will tell you.’
And he did.
I have put down what he said, as nearly in his own words as I can remember them.
‘”Listen. I hear bad things about you,” he said.
“I’m afraid so. I’m told you attacked one of my boys.”
Gavin took six paces before he answered.
“Not me. You’ve got the wrong man.”
“He recognised you, trash. You did him some serious mischief.”
“I told you: not me.”
“You’re a lunatic, you know that? You should be put behind fucking bars.”
Preetorius was raising his voice. People were crossing the street to avoid the escalating argument.
Without thinking, Gavin turned off St Martin’s Lane into Long Acre, and rapidly realised he’d made a tactical error. The crowds thinned substantially here, and it was a long trek through the streets of Govent Garden before he reached another centre of activity. He should have turned right instead of left, and he’d have stepped onto Charing Cross Road. There would have been some safety there. Damn it, he couldn’t turn round, not and walk straight into them. All he could do was walk (not run; never run with a mad dog on your heels) and hope he could keep the conversation on an even keel.
Preetorius: “You’ve cost me a lot of money.”
“I don’t see.”
“You put some of my prime boy-meat out of commission. It’s going to be a long time ’til I get that kid back on the market. He’s shit scared, see?”
“Look… I didn’t do anything to anybody.”
“Why do you fucking lie to me, trash? What have I ever done to you, you treat me like this?”
Preetorius picked up his pace a little and came up level with Gavin, leaving his associates a few steps behind.
“Look…” he whispered to Gavin, “kids like that can be tempting, right? That’s cool. I can get into that. You put a little boy-pussy on my plate I’m not going to turn my nose up at it. But you hurt him: and when you hurt one of my kids, I bleed too.”
“If I’d done this like you say, you think I’d be walking the street?”
“Maybe you’re not a well man, you know? We’re not talking about a couple of bruises here, man. I’m talking about you taking a shower in a kid’s blood, that’s what I’m saying. Hanging him up and cutting him everywhere, then leaving him on my fuckin’ stairs wearing a pair of fucking’ socks. You getting my message now, white boy? You read my message?”
Above, right: “Once I tried to go back; but she turned and looked at me.”
Illustration by Walter Appleton Clark for Edith Wharton,
“The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” Scribner’s Magazine 32 (1902).
(Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library)
Table of Contents
I: Until Death Do Us Part . . . and After: Marriage
The Lady’s Maid’s Bell (1902)…Edith Wharton…27
The Readjustment (1908)…Mary Austin…46
The Shell of Sense (1908)…Olivia Howard Dunbar…52
Spunk (1925)…Zora Neale Hurston…62
A Legend of Sonora (1891)…Hildegarde Hawthorne…68
II: The Tie that Binds: Motherhood
The Children (1913)…Josephine Daskam Bacon…73
Broken Glass (1911)…Georgia Wood Pangborn…91
The Little Gray Ghost (1912)…Cornelia A. P. Comer…99
Hunger (1907)…Katharine Holland Brown…112
The Giant Wistaria (1891)…Charlotte Perkins Gilman…123
III: The “Other” Woman: Sexuality
At La Glorieuse (1898)…M. E. M. Davis…133
The Past (1920)…Ellen Glasgow…154
Secret Chambers (1909)…Mrs. Wilson Woodrow…175
Her Letters (1895)…Kate Chopin…192
IV: Madwomen or Mad Women? The Medicalization of the Female
The Second Wife (1912)…Mary Heaton Vorse…203
Her Story (1872)…Harriett Prescott Spoffor…217
The Gospel (1913)…Josephine Daskam Bacon…235
Clay-Shuttered Doors (1926)…Helen R. Hull…252
V: Shades of Discontent: Widows and Spinsters
Lois Benson’s Love Story (1890)…Anne Page…271
A Dissatisfied Soul (1904)…Annie Trumbull Slosson…284
Mistress Marian’s Light (1889)…Gertrude Morton…300
Luella Miller (1902)…Mary E. Wilkins Freeman…305
“You’re wondering why I take this so cool, as if it wasn’t anything so much out of the common. . . . It appeared to come about so natural, just in the course of things. . . .”
– Annie Slosson, “A Dissatisfied Soul”
These homely words of explanation, spoken by Annie Slosson’s Mrs. Weaver about the day her dead sister-in-law walked through the front door, could stand as a motto for all of the tales collected here. In these ghost stories by turn-of-the-century American women, there is free and easy passage between the natural and supernatural worlds. This does not mean that the appearance of a ghost isn’t frightening; even the placid Mrs. Weaver feels “‘a swimmy feeling in my head and a choky feeling down my throat, and a sort of trembly feeling all over.'” Yet she sees no point in making a fuss: “‘I says, ‘Why, good-morning, Maria, you’ve come back.’ And she says, ‘Good-morning, Lyddy: yes, I have.'” Mrs. Weaver is not alone in her no-nonsense attitude toward the supernatural. Her emphasis on realism and the everyday ”’we sort of got used to it after a spell, as you do to anything'” is characteristic of most seers of ghosts in these stories. In the worldview espoused by the authors gathered here, the doors stand wide open between living and dead, present and past, natural and supernatural.
The present collection itself hopes to open a door into a part of America’s literary past that has been closed for the better part of a century. 1 Although aficionados of the ghost story will probably recognize the names of Edith Wharton, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Ellen Glasgow, they will not likely be familiar with those of Gertrude Morton, M. E. M. Davis, or Anne Page. Yet these women, and others whose tales appear here, had enormous popular success with the ghost story in the turn-of-the-century United States.2 These authors contributed a uniquely feminist chapter to the annals of supernatural literature. Unlike most fiction produced during this heyday of the genre, with its male narrators, ghosts, and protagonists, American women’s ghost stories revolve very much around a female world. The narrative voice is (almost always) female, the characters are (almost entirely) female, even the ghosts are (almost without exception) female. Male characters are generally peripheral, because they show themselves to be antipathetic to the very possibility of the supernatural. As Mary Heaton Vorse’s Beata realizes with resignation in “The Second Wife,” her husband “couldn’t admit what he had seen. In his man’s world such things couldn’t be.”
A shtriga (Latin: strix; Italian: strega; compare also Romanian: strigă; and Polish: strzyga) is a vampiric witch in traditional Albanian folklore. It is said that the shtriga sucks the blood of infants at night while they sleep, and then turns into a flying insect (traditionally a moth, fly, or bee) and flies away. Only the shtriga itself can cure those it has drained. The shtriga is often pictured as a woman—with a hateful stare (sometimes wearing a cape) and a horribly disfigured face—however, the possibility of a male shtriga (male nouns would be shtrigu or shtrigan) is just as likely.
According to legend, only the shtriga itself could cure those it had drained (often by spitting in their mouths), and those who were not cured inevitably sickened and died.
The name can be used to express that a person is evil. Northern Albanian folklore says that a woman is not born a witch; she becomes one, often because she cannot have babies or they die and the envy makes her evil. A strong belief in God could make people immune to a witch as God would protect them.
Usually, shtrigas were described as old or middle-aged women with grey, pale green, or pale blue eyes (called white eyes or pale eyes) (sybardha) and a crooked nose. Their stare would make people uncomfortable, and people were supposed to avoid looking them directly in the eyes because they have the evil eye (syliga) . To ward off a witch, people could take a pinch of salt in their fingers and touch their (closed) eyes, mouth, heart and the opposite part of the heart and the pit of the stomach and then throw the salt in direct flames saying “syt i dalçin syt i plaçin” or just whisper 3–6 times “syt i dalçin syt i plaçin” or “plast syri keq.”