How Old Is Our Very First “Ghost Story”? Here is one from Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (aka. “Pliny the Younger”)

The Gothic Tower

3bb3f5d50ff0c26b8be9dc8a0a1eb147“The Story of a Ghost”

From a “Letter to Sura”

Pliny, the Younger*, ca. 70s AD


Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you, and you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish to know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms, possessing an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain supernatural power, or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from our fears. For my part, I am led to believe in their existence, especially by what I hear happened to Curtius Rufus.

While still in humble circumstances and obscure, Curtius Rufus was a hanger-on in the suit of the Governor of Africa. While pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there appeared to him a female form of superhuman size and beauty. She informed the terrified man that she was “Africa,” and had come to foretell future events; for that he would go…

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“The Story of the Rippling Train” a Short Ghost Story by Victorian Writer Mary Louisa Molesworth

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The Story of the Rippling Train

Mary Louisa Molesworth, 1888


 

‘Let’s tell ghost stories then,’ said Gladys.

‘Aren’t you tired of them? One hears nothing else nowadays. And they’re all “authentic,” really vouched for, only you never see the person who saw or heard or felt the ghost. It is always somebody’s sister or cousin, or friend’s friend,’ objected young Mrs Snowdon, another of the guests at the Quarries.

‘I don’t know that that is quite a reasonable ground for discrediting them en masse,’ said her husband. ‘It is natural enough, indeed inevitable, that the principal or principals in such cases should be much more rarely come across than the stories themselves. A hundred people can repeat the story, but the author, or rather hero, of it, can’t be in a hundred places at once. You don’t disbelieve in any other statement or narrative merely because you have never seen the prime mover in it?’

‘But I didn’t say I discredited them on that account,’ said Mrs Snowdon. ‘You take one up so, Archie. I’m not logical and reasonable–I don’t pretend to be. If I meant anything, it was that a ghost story would have a great pull over other ghost stories if one could see the person it happened to. One does get rather provoked at never coming across him or her,’ she added, a little petulantly.

She was tired; they were all rather tired, for it was the first evening since the party had assembled at the large country house known as ‘The Quarries’, on which there was not to be dancing, with the additional fatigue of ‘ten miles there and ten back again’; and three or four evenings of such doings without intermission tell, even on the young and vigorous.

Tonight, various less energetic ways of passing the evening had been proposed. Music, games, reading aloud, recitation–none had found favour in everybody’s sight, and now Gladys Lloyd’s proposal that they should ‘tell ghost stories’, seemed likely to fall flat also.

For a moment or two no one answered Mrs Snowdon’s last remarks. Then, somewhat to everybody’s surprise, the young daughter of the house turned to her mother.

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Ghosts & Christmas—in Case You’ve Ever Wondered…

Wick Press

IMG_0241How to Read a Victorian Christmas Ghost Story

Imagine a midwinter night, an early sunset, a long, drafty evening spent by candlelight. The season of Christmas coincides with the shortest days of the year and, for middle-class Victorians, a chance for families to reconnect in story-telling circles. Urban dwellers, disconnected from village legends, simply picked up a magazine specially made to lace children’s dreams with terror. The bleak, shadow-filled walk from the story circle to one’s dark bedroom presented an uncomfortably eerie space to reflect on the mental images conveyed by those grisly tales.

To capture the Victorian ghost story experience is to whisper it by candlelight, to feel the tendrils of December’s chill reaching from the darkness outside the hearth’s glow. While our culture associates the summer campfire with this type of tale, the Victorians looked to Christmas fires instead. Walter Scott, at the opening of his ghostly tale…

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The Haunted House, a Poem by Tom Hood

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Unhinged, the iron gates half-open hung,
Jarred by the gusty gales of many winters,
That from its crumbled pedestal had flung
One marble globe in splinters.

The wood-louse dropped, and rolled into a ball,
Touched by some impulse, occult or mechanic;
And nameless beetles ran along the wall
In universal panic.

The subtle spider, that from overhead
Hung like a spy on human guilt and error,
Suddenly turn’d, and up its slender thread
Ran with a nimble terror.

O’er all there hung the shadow of a fear;
A sense of mystery the spirit daunted;
And said, as plain as whisper in the ear,
The place is haunted!

– Tom Hood

Photo: Pinterest (uncredited)

31 Days of Horror Book Covers: #26

Douglas Graham Purdy

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#26 – Dead White – Alan Ryan (Tor, 1983)

An underrated novel that seeps under the skin with its deceptively simple prose. Evil, floating clowns arrive in a ghost caravan to get revenge on a small upstate town.

Check review here.

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Writers

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Douglas Graham Purdy

As a writer, when you’re at your lowest, it’s time to remember and re-read the writers you love and cherish and emulate. For me: Horror, Ramsey Campbell. For Science Fiction, Thomas Disch. For Fantasy, Lucius Shepard. For Crime, David Goodis. And all this peaks and sings true when you watch a clip of Ursula K. Le Guin talking about the importance of writing using only your imagination, plain and simple, because that’s all writers have.

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