The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, edited by Chris Baldick

There was no way I could have passed by this book and not pick it up, and after picking it up, not wanting to read it. Not even the fact that it was the only copy and looked slightly worn, with a bent corner, could make me put it back on the shelf in the bookstore.

The book is divided into three sections with 37 stories from the 18th, 19th and 20th century. One of them, Sir Betrand: A Fragment, by Anna Laetitia Aikin, can be found here I found the story intriguing, considering it ends just when it gets more interesting. Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle I’ve read before – the rest were new to me.

This is a very good collection of Gothic stories; there are bloody ghosts, evil characters, vampires and haunted houses, religious themes, kidnappings, strange plants, and horrifying acts of cruelty. I got literally sick when reading The Bloody Countess by Alejandra Pizarnik – the story of a beautiful aristocrat who tortured and killed young girls and used their blood in the hope of preserving her youth – the gory details, the vivid descriptions of various ways of torture made for quite a disgusting story.

It was a nice surprise to see stories by authors I’ve read before: Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlett Letter – I read it a few years ago as an assignment for school and liked it very much) with Rappaccini’s Daughter, a tale about the beautiful daughter of a scientist and the mysterious and evil power of a plant; Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island – one of the books of my childhood) with Olalla, in which a man falls in love with a beautiful woman of an accursed lineage; H.P. Lovecraft (I’ve read some short story collection by him but was unable to finish – maybe someday…) with The Outsider, about a creature who lives in a castle and sees itself for the first time with scary consequences.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson sent chills down my spine – I got so engrossed in the story that it became difficult to distinguish reality from a sick imagination, they blurred so well, and only the end provided the key to the mystery.
Sardonicus by Ray Russell is the story of a man punished for his greed: his lips are forever frozen in a horrible grin and no doctor is able to restore his face to normal, until a renowned physician manages to help him but there is a terrible price to pay.

I have been looking for a book like this for a long time; there’s nothing quite like a Gothic tale. There are some good horror stories nowadays but the old ones are still my favorite. I will be reading this again someday.
For some reason I think this song&video by Florence and The Machine fits rather well with the whole atmosphere of the book. I especially love the first part, right before the tempo picks up. The lyrics are good too.

*Read in November 2011

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3 Responses to The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, edited by Chris Baldick

  1. Vishy says:

    Wonderful review, Delia! I love these Oxford Anthologies – I have one which is a collection of essays. I remember watching a movie version of ‘The Bloody Countess’ when I was in school. It was called ‘Countess Lady Dracula’. ‘The Outsider’ looks like a very interesting and poignant story, from your description. It reminds me in some way of ‘Frankenstein’ – it is interesting that sometimes the reader can feel sympathy for a strange creature. Thanks for this wonderful review!

    I discovered a book called ‘Gripping Yarns’ edited by Rosemary Gray. It is in some way similar to this book – it has scary, gothic, ghost stories from the Victorian era. I read the first story and it was quite good. I think you might like it.

  2. Delia says:

    Hi Vishy,
    That story was the bloodiest in the whole book and it created very strong visual images in my mind. I’m not sure I can survive a movie.

    Thanks for the recommendation, I went to the link you provided and read the excerpt of a story, it was quite good. I’m going to look for it at the bookstore; some of the stories sound familiar, maybe I’ve read them before…

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