Now that summer is officially over, do you know what season it is? It’s Halloween season! I’m a firm believer in beginning my celebrations of the greatest holiday of the year at least a month in advance. You may be mourning the end of summer or feeling distracted by a new school year, but that’s no reason you can’t start getting excited for the night when the veil between the worlds is thinnest! To that end, I’ve complied a list of ghost stories below that will help get you into the “spirit” for Halloween. (See what I did there?)
1. “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell (1852)
The Victorian era was the heyday for ghost stories, and you’ll find that all of the stories in my list where written during or just after this near-century of morbid obsession. The first of my recommendations to you is a short story by Elizabeth Gaskell, whose name is often associated with other prominent Victorians such as Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens. Gaskell is most often talked about today in terms of her three most popular novels, Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters. However, much of her initial popularity came from the ghost stories she published in Charles Dickens’ magazine Household Words. One of these was a tale called “The Old Nurse’s Story” in which a young nursemaid struggles to shield her orphaned ward from the little ghost girl who haunts the Furnivall estate. In classic Gothic style, the nurse inadvertently digs up dark secrets from the aristocratic family’s past. You can find the story online here.
2. “The Cold Embrace” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1860)
Mary Elizabeth Braddon was another popular Victorian author of sensation fiction. Though she is known mostly for her novel Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon also wrote a number of short ghost stories that are worth a read. I particularly recommend “The Cold Embrace,” which features a pair of young lovers haunted by tragedy. In the story, a young artist named Wilhelm betroths himself to his first love and promises that not even death can separate them. However, Wilhelm goes abroad and forgets all about his betrothed, until he comes home to find that she has committed suicide by drowning. Much to his chagrin, Wilhelm discovers that she has taken his promises seriously and he can feel her cold, wet arms around his neck whenever he is alone. He attempts to flee to Paris and remain always in the company of others, but there is no escaping her cold embrace. You can find the full text of the story here.
3. “Selecting a Ghost” by Arthur Conan Doyle (1883)
I’ve spoken before about Arthur Conan Doyle’s contribution to gothic literature through his development of the detective genre, but many don’t know that he also wrote a somewhat humorous ghost story called “Selecting a Ghost.” In this short story, a rich man named Silas D’Odd decides to use is newly gained wealth to purchase a medieval castle called Goresthorpe Grange in order to feel like a real aristocrat. However, his castle is missing one absolute necessity: it has no ghost. While searching for a solution to this problem, Mr. D’Odd comes across a man who offers him a potion that will help him see ghosts. After the ghosts parade before him and he finally selects the perfect one for his castle, Mr. D’Odd learns that you probably shouldn’t trust strange men handing out potions… You can read the story for yourself on the Arthur Conan Doyle website.
4. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
I have already discussed this novella by Henry James at length in my post on the gothic trope of unreliable narrators, but it is still one of my favorite ghost stories—even if the existence of the ghosts remains up for debate. The story is told from the perspective of a nameless narrator who takes a job as a governess for two children in a country home called Bly. The governess soon begins to see the specters of a pair of dead servants and believes that they may be trying to corrupt the children. But is Bly really haunted by malicious ghosts or merely plagued by a mad governess? Find out for yourself by reading the full text of the story on Project Gutenberg.
5. Tales of Men and Ghosts by Edith Wharton (1910)
Edith Wharton was an American novelist during the early twentieth century, whom some of you may have encountered in your English classes in the form of her novella Ethan Frome or her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence. However, like Arthur Conan Doyle, this prominent author also wrote some lesser-known ghost stories. In 1910, Wharton published a collection of ten of these tales in a volume titled Tales of Men and Ghosts. Some of these stories, along with a number of others, were later republished in a 1973 collection called The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. Either of these volumes would serve well as the capstone to this collection of tales to titillate your taste for terror. I particularly recommend her story “The Eyes” which appears in both volumes and tells of a man haunted by a mysterious pair of hideous eyes that watch him while he sleeps. You can find the full text of “The Eyes,” along with the rest of Tales of Men and Ghosts available for download here.
Check out these stories, and be sure to let me know if any of them give you a good scare! Have you started your Halloween preparations yet? How are you getting in the spirit? What other ghost stories might you recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments!