Book Review: Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell

Gothic TalesAbout the Book

‘Such whispered tales, such old temptations and hauntings, and devilish terrors’

Elizabeth Gaskell’s chilling Gothic tales blend the real and the supernatural to eerie, compelling effect. Whether in ‘Disappearances’, inspired by local legends of mysterious vanishings which mixes gossip and fact, or in ‘Curious, if True’, a playful reworking of fairy tales, all the pieces in this volume form a stark contrast to the social realism of Gaskell’s novels, revealing a darker and more unsettling style of writing.

Format: ebook (347 pp.)    Publisher: Shandon Press
Published: 11th October 2016      Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Horror, Classics

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My Review

Better known now for her novels, such as Mary Barton and Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell became popular in her own time for her ghost stories, aided by Charles Dickens, who published her work in his magazine Household Words.  The stories in this collection date from 1851 to 1861.

Like many short story collections, some of the stories are stronger than others.  I wouldn’t say any of them are particularly scary but in the best of them there is certainly an unsettling air and a sense of the Gothic.  Common features include mysterious disappearances, revenge in the form of curses inherited down through generations, family rifts, ghostly visitations, heroines in peril and gloomy manor houses or chateaux.

Stories I particularly enjoyed were:

‘Lois the Witch’ – in which the reader gets a bad feeling for the fortunes of the heroine, Lois, as soon as it becomes clear she’s headed for 17th century Salem and that not everyone is pleased to see her.

‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ – in which a ghostly presence roams the freezing Northumberland moors

‘The Poor Clare’ – in which an evil double, the result of a woman’s bitter curse, haunts future generations

‘The Grey Woman’ – featuring a full-on Gothic chateau, complete with dark passages and sealed off wings, and a husband of dubious moral character

Gothic Tales is a book on my Classics Club list and my book for the Classic Club’s October Dare which involved reading a book from your list that classified as thrilling, a mystery, Gothic or a book or author that SCARED you (because of its length, it’s topic, it’s reputation etc).

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In three words: Spooky, mysterious, Gothic

Try something similar…Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

Elizabeth GaskellAbout the Author

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, née Stevenson (29 September 1810 – 12 November 1865), often referred to simply as Mrs. Gaskell, was an English novelist and short story writer during the Victorian era. She is perhaps best known for her biography of Charlotte Brontë.

Her novels offer a detailed portrait of the lives of many strata of society, including the very poor, and as such are of interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell

  1. It seems to me that the older classic writers wrote ghosts stories that were creepy and spooky rather than a full-on horror story a la Stephen King. Mystery and suspense rather than gory detail.
    A gentle ‘boo!’ rather than a blood-curdling scream.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve only read ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ from this selection, and that was because it was themed with another Gaskell short story in one of Penguin’s mini-books ( but found it stylish if not necessarily scary. I think, thanks to your comments, I may well give this collection a go!


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