UNCANNY TALES 1
selected by Dennis Wheatley
It is an interesting fact that, although many great authors never wrote a novel with an occult theme, there are comparatively few who did not write a short story about some supernatural occurrence. To fail to include these in our library would be a serious omission, so we propose to publish collections of them every few months under the title of Uncanny Tales.
The first selection consists of tales by authors whose fame has long outlived them and are still, to lovers of thrilling fiction, household words.
Sheridan Le Fanu, an Irishman, provides the major piece. He was one of the most renowned of all Victorian authors who specialised in writing about ghosts, demons and such matters. His most famous novels, Uncle Silas and The House by the Churchyard, we hope to publish in due course. As a specimen of his work I have chosen Carmilla, a novelette which is nearly half the length of an average modern novel. Its plot, although having no resemblance to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is also set in Middle Europe and is about a vampire.
Wilkie Collins was equally famous and, in due course, we plan to publish his great novels. Meanwhile here is a story, The Dream Woman, which is typical of his work.
Sir Walter Scott’s novels still stand high in compulsory reading for education. Personally, I always found their long descriptive passages terribly dull and, as an historical novelist, I think him incomparably inferior to Alexandre Dumas, or even Stanley Weyman, but The Tapestried Chamber stands up well as one of his rare excursions into the occult.
Mrs Oliphant is another author who was also Scottish. She was an indefatigable writer, particularly of historical novels, and achieved great popularity. Before she died in 1897 she had published over a hundred books, and in The Open Door she gives us a splendid example of building up suspense in a really first class ghost story.
Washington Irving is known as the grandfather of American literature. He was born in New York in 1783 and died in 1859. Youngest of eleven children of a stern Protestant father he became, nevertheless, broadminded which he probably owed to having studied and passed the examination for the American Bar. He is particularly famous for his short stories and his The Spectre Bridegroom, published here, is typical of what is known as the Gothic style of fiction.
Edgar Allan Poe first made his reputation with a poem called The Raven. His Tales of Mystery and Imagination is one of the best-known books in English literature. On re-reading them, however, it much surprised me to find that very few of them concerned the supernatural. From those that did I chose Ligeia; for in it the American master produces a finale that is beyond the uncanny. It is breathtakingly gruesome.
Théophile Gautier’s Clarimonde, completes this collection. Gautier was a Gascon and also achieved celebrity as a young poet. Later he became a great traveller, and lived for a time in Spain, England, Algeria, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Russia. He is best known for his splendid novel Mam’selle de Maupin, and must be numbered among the greatest of French writers.