Title: Gothic Tales.
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, horror, mystery.
Publication Date: 1851-1861.
Summary: A collection of 9 short stories (one of which is a novella) that, with their ghostly doublings and transgressive passions show the Gothic underside of female identity, domestic relations, and male authority. Disappearances (1851) is the narrator's ode to the police force, and, mixing gossip and fact, recounts several tales inspired by local legends of mysterious vanishings in the 17th century, before the force was established. In The Old Nurse's Story (1852), an old nurse tells of taking her young charge (now the audience's mother), Miss Rosamund, to a relative's house after the child's parents' death, but on arriving there encountering strange paranormal activity and malicious apparitions that seem to be tied into the family's tragic past. The Squire's Story (1853) tells the tale of a new arrival to the Derbyshire town of Barford, where he takes the best house, spends money liberally, and marries the town beauty, but the mysterious Mr Higgins is not what he seems, and gradually darkness begins to shine through the cracks in his social mask. The Poor Clare (1856) is a ghost story about a young woman unwittingly cursed by her own grandmother. The Doom of the Griffiths (1958) is a tale of a forgotten family curse that comes to fruition in the tenth generation after it was cast, when a young, wealthy and affection-starved man falls in love with a beautiful peasant girl, and starts a family with her in secret. Lois the Witch (1859) is a novella based on an account of the Salem witch hunts that, through a young woman arriving in Salem from England to live with her long-lost relatives, shows how sexual desire and jealousy lead to hysteria. The Crooked Branch (1859) is a moralist tale about a humble couple who raise a son to aim above his means and station, but who becomes cruel and deceitful, though outwardly chivalrous and convincingly charming, which spells doom for his parents and betrothed. Curious, If True (1860) is a playful reworking of fairy tales, wherein a young man gets lost in a forest in France and comes across a château in which the heroes of some of the world's best-known fairy tales have gathered for a reunion. The Grey Woman (1861) is a story about a young woman who finds out her new husband is a vicious, cold-blooded murderer, and, pregnant and disguised, flees with the help of her maid.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ The interest was caused by the struggle of man against man; and the uncertainty as to which would ultimately be successful in his object; the unrelenting pursuer, or the ingenious Caleb, who seeks by every device to conceal himself. Now, in 1851, the offended master would set the Detective Police to work; there would be no doubt as to their success; the only question would be as to the time that would elapse before the hiding-place would be detected, and that could not be a question long. It is no longer a struggle between man and man, but between a vast organized machinery, and a weak, solitary individual; we have no hopes, no fears - only certainty. But if the materials of pursuit and evasion, as long as the chase is confined to England, are taken away from the store-house of the romancer, at any rate we can no more be haunted by the idea of the possibility of mysterious disappearances; and any one who has associated much with those who were alive at the end of the last century, can testify that there was some reason for such fears.
♥ That these two similar stories of disappearance on a wedding-day "obtained", as the French say, shows us that anything which adds to our facility of communication, and organization of means, adds to our security of life.
♥ Once more, let me say I am thankful I live in the days of the Detective Police; if I am murdered, or commit bigamy, at any rate my friends will have the comfort of knowing all about it.
♥ ...and to make the mixture thick and slab, you must add for yourselves the bustle, the mystery and the importance which every little event either causes or assumes in a small town...
♥ But there is some one to make ill-natured remarks, and draw ill-natured conclusions from very simple premises, in every place; and in Barford this bird of ill-omen was a Miss Pratt. She did not hunt - so Mr Higgins's admirable riding did not call our her admiration. She did not drink - so the well-selected wines, so lavishly dispensed among his guests, could never mollify Miss Pratt. She could not bear comic songs, or buffo stories - so, in that way, her approbation was impregnable. And these three secrets of popularity constituted Mr Higgins's great charm. Miss Pratt sat and watched. Her face looked immovably grave at the end of any of Mr Higgins's best stories; but there was a keen, needle-like glance of her unwinking little eyes, which Mr Higgins felt rather than saw, and which made him shiver, even on a hot day, when it fell upon him. Miss Pratt was a Dissenter, and, to propitiate this female Mordecai, Mr Higgins asked the Dissenting minister whose services she attended, to dinner; kept himself and his company in good order; gave a handsome donation to the poor of the chapel. All in vain - Miss Pratt stirred not a muscle more of her face towards graciousness; and Mr Higgins was conscious that, in spite of all his open efforts to captivate Mr Davis, there was a secret influence on the other side, throwing in doubts and suspicions, and evil interpretations of all he said or did. Miss Pratt, the little, plain old maid, living on eighty pounds a year, was the thorn in the popular Mr Higgins's side, although she had never spoken one uncivil word to him; indeed, on the contrary, had treated him with a stiff and elaborate civility.
~~The Squire's Story.
♥ I suppose, most old men are, like me, more given to looking back upon their own career with a kind of fond interest and affectionate remembrance, than to watching the events - though these may have far more interest of the multitude - immediately passing before their eyes. If this should be the case with the generality of old people, how much more so with me!
♥ She thought, as youth thinks, that life would last for ever, and that two or three years were but a small portion of it to pass away from her mother, whose only child she was.
♥ I knew afterwards, that she and her little dog had wandered off on the long search for her lost daughter. She was too illiterate to have faith in letters, even had she had the means of writing and sending many. But she had faith in her own strong love, and believed that her passionate instinct would guide her to her child.
♥ He was a daring and dissolute fellow in those days: careless and fearless, and one who would rather be in a quarrel than out of it. He had his fits of ill-tempered besides, when he would spare neither man nor beast. Otherwise, those who knew him well, used to say he had a good heart, when he was neither drunk, nor angry, nor in any way vexed.
♥ Now, the chief of this latter family was serving in the Duke of Berwick's regiment, and it was long before I could hear from him; it was more than a year before I got a short, haughty letter - I fancy he had a soldier's contempt for a civilian, an Irishman's hatred for an Englishman, an exiled Jacobite's jealousy of one who prospered and lived tranquilly under the government he looked upon as an usurpation.
♥ "The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children."
♥ Solitary and savage had been her life for many years. Wild and despotic were her words and manner to those few people who cane across her path. The country-folk did her imperious bidding, because they feared to disobey. If they pleased her, they prospered; if, on the contrary, they neglected or traversed her behests, misfortune, small or great, fell on them and theirs. It was not detestation so much as an indefinable terror that she excited.
In the morning I went to see her. She was standing on the green outside her cottage, and received me with the sullen grandeur of a throneless queen. "
♥ "Leave me!" said she, suddenly, and again taking up the cross. "I defy the demon I have called up. Leave me to wrestle with it!"
♥ "Then I have to speak before two gentlemen who, however they may differ from me in faith, are yet fully impressed with the fact that there are evil powers going about continually to take cognizance of our evil thoughts; and, if their Master gives them power, to bring them into overt action."
~~The Poor Clare.
♥ He saw, even in this occasional visits at home (for from school he had passed on to college), that a great change had taken place in the outward manifestations of his father's character; and, by degrees, Owen traced this change to the influence of his stepmother; so slight, so imperceptible to the common observer, yet so resistless in its effects. Squire Griffiths caught up his wife's humbly advanced opinions, and, unawares to himself, adopted them as his own, defying all argument and opposition. It was the same with her wishes; they met their fulfilment, from the extreme and delicate art with which she insinuated them into her husband's mind, as his own. She sacrificed the show of authority for power.
~~The Doom of the Griffiths
♥ How could Lois help thinking of the past, and speculating on the future, as she sat on Boston pier, at this breathing-time of her life?
♥ In his heart he said, "Poor wench! poor wench! it's a strange land to her, and they are all strange folks, and, I reckon, she will be feeling desolate. I'll try and cheer her up." So he talked on about hard facts, connected with the life that lay before her, until they reached Widow Smith's; and perhaps Lois was more brightened by this style of conversation, and the new ideas it presented to her, than she would have been by the tenderest woman's sympathy.
♥ But, somehow, her pleasant face gave the lie to her dress; were it as brown and sober-coloured as could be, folk remembered it bright and cheerful, because it was a part of Widow Smith herself.
♥ Nattee, the old Indian servant, would occasionally make Lois's blood run cold as she and Faith and Prudence listened to the wild stories she told them of the wizards of her race. It was often in the kitchen, in the darkening evening, while some cooking process was going on, that the old Indian crone, sitting on her haunches by the bright red wood embers which sent up no flame, but a lurid light reversing the shadows of all the faces around, told her weird stories while they were awaiting the rising of the dough, perchance, out of which the household bread had to be made. There ran through these stories always a ghastly, unexpressed suggestion of some human sacrifice being needed to complete the success of any incantation to the Evil One; and the poor old creature, herself believing and shuddering as she narrated her tale in broken English, took a strange, unconscious pleasure in her power over her hearers—young girls of the oppressing race, which had brought her down into a state little differing from slavery, and reduced her people to outcasts on the hunting-grounds which had belonged to her fathers.
♥ But it was not Nattee alone, nor young imaginative girls alone, that believed in these stories. We can afford to smile at them now; but our English ancestors entertained superstitions of much the same character at the same period, and with less excuse, as the circumstances surrounding them were better known, and consequently more explicable by common sense than the real mysteries of the deep, untrodden forests of New England. The gravest divines not only believed stories similar to that of the double-headed serpent, and the tales of witchcraft, but they made such narrations the subjects of preaching and prayer; and as cowardice makes us all cruel, men who were blameless in many of the relations of life, and even praiseworthy in some, became, from superstition, cruel persecutors about this time, showing no mercy towards any one whom they believed to be in league with the Evil One.
♥ With savage, untutored people, it is not "Love me, love my dog", they are often jealous of the creature beloved; but it is, "Whom thou hatest I will hate"; and Nattee's feeling towards Pastor Tappau was even an exaggeration of the mute, unspoken hatred of Faith.
♥ But, besides this, there was much to tell upon the imagination in those days, in that place, and time. It was prevalently believed that there were manifestations of spiritual influence—of the direct influence both of good and bad spirits—constantly to be perceived in the course of men's lives. Lots were drawn, as guidance from the Lord; the Bible was opened, and the leaves allowed to fall apart, and the first text the eye fell upon was supposed to be appointed from above as a direction. Sounds were heard that could not be accounted for; they were made by the evil spirits not yet banished from the desert place of which they had so long held possession. Sights, inexplicable and mysterious, were dimply seen—Satan, in some shape, seeking whom he might devour. And at the beginning of the long winter season, such whispered tales, such old temptations and hauntings, and devilish terrors, were supposed to be peculiarly rife. Salem was, as it were, snowed up, and left to prey upon itself. The long, dark evenings, the dimply-lighted rooms, the creaking passages, where heterogeneous articles were pulled away out of reach of the keen-piercing frost, and where occasionally, in the dead of night, a sound was heard, as of some heavy falling body, when, next morning, everything appeared to be in its right place—so accustomed are we to measure noises by comparison with themselves, and not with the absolute stillness of the night-season—the white mist, coming nearer and nearer to the windows every evening in strange shapes, like phantoms,—all these, and many other circumstances, such as the distant fall of mighty trees in the mysterious forests girdling them round, the faint whoop and cry of some Indian seeking his camp, and unwittingly nearer to the white men's settlement than either he or they would have liked could they have chosen, the hungry yells of the wild beasts approaching the cattle-pens,—these were the things which made that winter life in Salem, in the memorable time of 1691-2, seem strange, and haunted, and terrific to many...
♥ No! she never could fly out of that deep dungeon; there was no escape, natural or supernatural, for her, unless by man's mercy. And what was man's mercy in such times of panic? Lois knew that it was nothing; instinct more than reason taught her, that panic calls out cowardice, and cowardice cruelty.
~~Lois the Witch.
♥ Virtue met with its own reward in this instance, and in a clear and tangible shape, too, which need not delude people in general into thinking that such is the usual nature of virtue's rewards.
♥ —what ardently we wish we long believe—
♥ Since their sorrows, her uncle had taken to reading a chapter in the Bible aloud, the last thing at night. He could not read fluently, and often hesitated long over a word, which he miscalled at length; but the very fact of opening the book seemed to soothe those old bereaved parents; for it made them feel quiet and safe in the presence of God, and took them out of the cares and troubles of this world into that futurity which, however dim and vague, was to their faithful hearts as a sure and certain rest. This little quiet time—Nathan sitting with his horn spectacles; the tallow candle between him and the Bible, and throwing a strong light on his reverent, earnest face; Hester sitting on the other side of the fire, her head bowed in attentive listening, now and then shaking it, and moaning a little, but when a promise came, or any good tiding of great joy, saying "Amen" with fervour; Bessy by her aunt, perhaps her mind a little wandering to some household cares, or it might be on thoughts of those who were absent—this little quiet pause, I say, was grateful and soothing to this household, as a lullaby to a tired child.
♥ She had long given him up as lost for ever to her, if not actually dead; but this very giving him up for ever involved a free, full forgiveness of all his wrongs to her.
♥ The old man's eyes fixed themselves upon his questioner, with the look of a creature brought to bay. That look the barrister never forgets. It will haunt him till his dying day.
~~The Crooked Branch.
♥ —and I was going on with my explanation, when he, as if quite indifferent to it, led the way up a great stone staircase, as wide as many rooms, and having on each landing-place massive iron wickets, in a heavy framework; these the porter unlocked with the solemn slowness of age. Indeed, a strange, mysterious awe of the centuries that had passed away since this château was built, came over me as I waited for the turning of the ponderous keys in the ancient locks. I could almost have fancied that I heard a mighty rushing murmur (like the ceaseless sound of a distant sea, ebbing and flowing for ever and for ever), coming forth from the great vacant galleries that opened out on each side of the broad staircase, and were to be dimly perceived in the darkness above us. It was as if the voices of generations of men yet echoed and eddied in the silent air.
♥ "For my part," said he, "if a man does not stick at trifles, if he knows how to judiciously add to, or withhold facts, and is not sentimental in his parade of humanity, he is sure to do well; sure to affix a de or von to his name, and end his days in comfort."
~~Curious, If True.
♥ And then the conversation took a turn, not uncommon to those whose lives are quiet and monotonous; every one seemed to vie with each other in telling about some horror...
~~The Grey Woman.