Late Victorian Gothic Tales

Article excerpt

Late Victorian Gothic Tales, edited by Roger Luckhurst (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005), ISBN: 0192804804, 326pp., £8.99.

This elegant collection brings together twelve stories from the 1890s: Vernon Lee's 'Dionea', Oscar Wilde's 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crime', Henry James's 'Sir Edmund Orme', Kipling's 'The Mark of the Beast', B. M. Croker's 'The Dâk Bungalow at Dakor' (the only femaleauthored story in the collection), Conan Doyle's 'Lot No. 249' and 'The Case of Lady Sannox', Grant Allen's 'Pallinghurst Barrow', Jean Lorrain's 'Magic Lantern' and 'The Spectral Hand', Arthur Machen's 'The Great God Pan' and M. P. Shiel's 'Vaila'. It is true that many of these, especially those by Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, are already heavily anthologised and have found a perfectly happy home in other contexts; however, the first page of Luckhurst's vigorous and elegantly written introduction makes a very valiant case for the coherence of the collection.

The introduction is in fact well worth recommending to students for its own sake as a remarkably clear and incisive account of the Gothic, though there is an unfortunate typo, 'demur' for 'demure', on p. xxvii, which may well cause confusion. There is also a helpful chronology, though the 1894 entry 'Novels by the New Woman cause sensation' may well prove opaque to the less informed student. A particularly welcome feature of the collection is the attention to France, which is here revealed as an important context for English fiction of the 1890s. There are also helpful explanatory notes and some token illustrations, and although Luckhurst explains that it is impossible for reasons of cost to reproduce the full effect of the originals in this respect, these do give a flavour of what the experience of reading them would have been like.

As is to be expected from a collection of Gothic stories, many of these narratives are interested in doublings and ambiguities. The first story in particular, Vernon Lee's 'Dionea', is an interesting tale with a number of interesting dualities: it has a 'semi-Genoese' republican narrator who is devoted to an aristocrat indiscriminately identified as Lady Evelyn or Donna Evelina, and who is also a medical man, and hence grounded in the natural, recounting what he clearly takes to be a tale of the supernatural, featuring a girl called Dionea but who was nearly named Maria. Henry James's 'Sir Edmund Orme' uses a splendid, typically Jamesian ambiguity about pronouns - who is the 'him' referred to? …