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10 Classic Victorian Ghost Stories Everyone Should Read

The best ghost stories from the Victorian era to read for Halloween or Christmas

As the nights are drawing in, how about a ghost story? The Victorians loved a ghost story, and many of the most celebrated writers of Victorian novels had a go at this ghoulish genre, from Elizabeth Gaskell to Charles Dickens to Robert Louis Stevenson. Here are ten of our favourites. If you like the sound of these suggestions, more blood-curdling reading matter can be found in our pick of Edgar Allan Poe’s best stories.

Elizabeth Gaskell, ‘The Old Nurse’s Story‘ (1852). Gaskell is best known for writing such classic realist novels as North and South (which we include in our list of best Victorian novels), but she could also write spookily about the supernatural. ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ was written for Charles Dickens’s magazine Household Words. The narrator – the old nurse of the title – is an old family retainer who has worked in the service of the same family for three generations. She tells the young children about a dark incident that she experienced in the company of the children’s mother, when she was a young woman and visiting her mother’s ancestral home (this isn’t the last time a haunted house will feature on this list). Mysterious goings-on involving a spooky organ playing music and a scene reminiscent of Wuthering Heights ensue. Read the rest of this entry


The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 17

Over the last few days, we’ve discussed Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and the various interesting facts that we’ve unearthed surrounding its composition, publication, and legacy. It is, of course, one of the most enduring stories of the Victorian age – perhaps of all time.

Gabriel GrubBut A Christmas Carol wasn’t the first Christmas story Dickens wrote. It wasn’t even the first Christmas ghost story Dickens wrote.

He’d already written ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’, featuring miserly Gabriel Grub, an inset tale in his first ever published novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836-7).

The tale shares many of the narrative features which would turn up a few years later in A Christmas Carol: the misanthropic villain, the Christmas Eve setting, the presence of the supernatural (goblins/ghosts), the use of visions which the main character is forced to witness, the focus on poverty and family, and, most importantly, the reforming of the villain into a better person at the close of the story. It is hard to see it as anything other than the dress rehearsal for the more celebrated story Dickens would go on to write a few years later.

You can read ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’ here.

Image: The Goblin and the Sexton, by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz), author: Philip V. Allingham.

The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 16

Yesterday we revealed why A Christmas Carol, despite being a huge success immediately after it was published in December 1843, didn’t make Dickens much money. Today, we’re looking at some of the surprising legacies and adaptations of this classic book.

For instance, take the world of gastropods. There is a species of Fijian snail called Ba humbugi, named after Muppets1Scrooge’s famous exclamation in A Christmas Carol. This may have been because the snail was discovered on the island of Mba, and this suggested ‘ba’, and, in turn, Scrooge’s catchphrase. We say ‘catchphrase’, but Scrooge only utters the words ‘Bah, humbug!’ twice in the whole story (though he exclaims ‘Humbug!’ a number of times).

There have been countless stage, screen, and radio adaptations of A Christmas Carol. The first film adaptation was a short silent movie version in 1901, titled Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost. You can watch it here. There have been opera and ballet versions, an all-black musical called Comin’ Uptown (1979), and even a 1973 mime adaptation for the BBC starring Marcel Marceau. The Muppets, Mickey Mouse, and Mr Magoo have all featured in adaptations of the book. In the last few years there have been film adaptations in 1997, 2001, 2006, and 2009, suggesting that this classic tale is likely to endure for some time yet.

Image: The Muppet Christmas Carol 2 (author: Eustace Dauger), Flickr, labelled for reuse.