On this night after Halloween, it makes sense that I close my RIP IX readings with Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Gothic Tales” (Yeah!! I know I am day late, but with everyone going crazy with the “Halloween rage” thingy, it’s good that I did not pile on to already overcrowded bandwagon of Halloween celebrations). I state close, though I did mention in my RIP post that I would be reading 4, besides the read along is because my 4th book is completely untenable, unpalatable, un-everything!! If I thought “Rebecca” was OTT and “The Sign of Four” had a weird appraisal of women, then “Angelica” wins hands down on all that is unbelievable dumb, stupid and all kinds of unpleasant adjective. I could not go on beyond the 100 pages – there is not one bit of scare and I completely hated Angelica and the entire family. I am not sure if the book gets better later but I am no longer making an effort to find out. I am so thoroughly disappointed – I was really looking forward to Arthur Phillips’s work and it was such a letdown!
Anyway, this post is about “Gothic Tales” and not “Angelica” which does not deserve even one sentence and I have already wasted 3! “Gothic Tales” is an anthology of all works mystery, gothic and horror genre written by Elizabeth Gaskell between 1851 and 1861, published mostly in Household Words and the Christmas special edition of All Year Round. Elizabeth Gaskell with her complete flexibility and virtuosity of the art weaves tales which are old legends like “Disappearances” as well as a ghastly ghostly tale of a secret marriage and a mysterious child that roams the freezing Northumberland in “The Old Nurse’s Tale.” There is an absolutely terrifying doppelgänger and threatens the future of the one person the witch who gave the curse loves in “The Poor Clare”. “Lois the Witch” is a sympathetic take on the young women accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witch hunt in 16th Century. Another sympathetic and heartbreaking novella is the “Crooked Branch”, a tragic tale of love gone awry. “The Doom of the Griffiths” is also a sympathetic narrative of loneliness, filial love and loyalty. Then there is “Curious if True” a fun and extremely weird narrative that includes all famous fairy tale characters including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast etc. The other novellas include “The Squire’s tale” and “The Grey Woman”, stories about ruthless highway men and chases across countries.
The book is a brilliant collection of all kinds of weird tales, some downright scary and others plain bizarre and yet others which points to utter foolishness of men and women in believing in stupid superstitious nonsense. Each tale is distinctive and is located in a different time and different geographies. We move between England, United States, Netherlands, Germany and travel between 17th to 19th centuries. These are not short stories but novellas and reading one does take time, simply because of the lovely details Ms. Gaskell has put in. Like a storyteller from old (I realize that she is from the old!!) she sits around the fire and tells you the story in a “once upon a time” style. There is no rushing, no get to the point in her tale, no breathtaking actions; but a slow meandering walk in which you follow her lead and suddenly you are in the middle of thick events. If you want fast paced adventure, she is not for you, but like a wine, if you savor this book slow, well get ready to sleep with the lights turned on!! This collection more than ever convinces me of the extreme brilliance of Ms. Gaskell – she is completely in her element writing a North and South and can turn her eye equally masterfully to satire; Cranford being the prime example. And now Gothic Tales is a testimony to the fact that an author need not really have a declared “genre” as long as he or she had a great tale to tell and knows how to create the atmosphere and evoke the reader’s imagination with use of words.
Considering that this year, my RIP reads have been borderline, disasters, I am eternally grateful to the last Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell and Ms. Shirley Jackson, from rescuing it from complete and utter annihilation!
P.S. Yes …you know what I will say – I would again urge all too please help us in supporting the project that I am currently leading. This help from you will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –
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