Sunday, 6 October 2019

Women’s Weird. Strange Stories by Women

Published on October 31 (maybe to coincide with the spooky events of Halloween, maybe to coincide with the unfolding horror story of Brexit, who knows?), this magical collection of 13 strange short stories by women is the perfect tonic for today's trying times. 

Weird stories are a late Victorian sub-genre of the supernatural type, addressing the era's fascination with the unknown: ghosts, fortune telling, the alien, the unseen. Factors that were also explored in the popular entertainments of the time including spirit photography, fairies and so on.

Published by Bath-based Handheld Press and edited by Melissa Edmundson, the baker's dozen of stories in Women's Weird all date from 1890 to 1940, and include authors as diverse as Edith Nesbit (better known for writing The Railway Children than the 1910 ghost story The Shadow), Edith Wharton (famed for her novels and plays about the aristocracy, less well known as the writer of 1919's Kerfol, about a cruel husband and some ghostly dogs), and modernist writer May Sinclair whose 1922 short story Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched is a truly ghastly tale of a doomed love story that promises to never, ever end. Sheer hell.

That Edmundson has focused only on women writers is important because, as she explains in her introduction, "women have long been associated with having special power and intuitive connections with the natural and supernatural worlds". And to contemporary readers, who are attuned to jump-laden horror films and gore-infused cinema experiences, there is something extra chilling about this return to the written word. The writers of these 13 historic stories turn to topics that are just as familiar to us today (including domestic abuse, grief and gender inequalities - the latter of which is well illustrated by the fact so many of these stories adopt a male protagonist), but they write with clarity, crispness of tone and an understanding that in a spooky short story there is absolutely no room for any unnecessary words that a novel may get away with.

If I had to pick a favourite from this collection, I would opt for 1947's The Haunted Saucepan by self-professed ghost-hunter Margery Lawrence, which - if any excuse was needed needed - provides the reader with the perfect ammunition to never attempt to cook anything ever again.