Tis the season to get spooky fa la-la-la la-la la-la AAAAAAARGH. Now call me old fashioned but there’s nothing nicer than curling up with a ghostly short story in front of a fire.
Traditionally in Britain ghost stories are a Christmas activity with those morbid Victorian’s telling their most chilling tales whilst roasting chestnuts on an open fire (so the song goes) and if the BBC doesn’t show a ghost story drama over the festive period, it fucking ruins Christmas for us.
BUT, we also love reading chilling tales throughout October or ‘Goth Christmas’ as we like to call it, so we’ve pulled together our favourite nightmare-fuelled-historical-spectral tales from masters of the craft. Don’t blame us if you have to sleep with the light on.
The Signalman – Charles Dickens – 1886
Now we’re all familiar with Dicken’s in some capacity and arguably he created the most well-known ghost story in the Western World with A Christmas Carol that story of curmudgeonly old bellend Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to becoming less of a bellend when he’s visited by three Christmas ghosts. Everyone knows this story, even the Muppets have a version of it.
Dickens himself liked a good ghost story and had a keen interest in all kinds of supernatural shiz. So no surprise that he’s have a go at writing ghostly tales himself. The Signalman was published in 1866 as a Christmas short story for part of a collection entitled Mugby Junction.
If you’re new to ghost stories I’d start with this one. It’s a short and unsettling read about a train enthusiast who decides to go have a chat with a signalman, back in those days train signalling was done by human hand. Our narrator finds a confused and terrified signalman who is being haunted by a spectre that foreshadows some seriously shitty events.
Pomegranate Seed – Edith Wharton – 1931
Edith Wharton is Queen of the ghost story genre, she’s incredible at creating suspense and malevolence from totally mundane settings. She’s got three amazing collections of spooky tales we highly recommend AND she won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1921, being the first lady to receive the honour!
Pomegranate Seed might actually be our favourite ghost story of all time. This tale is horrifying and there is a real layer of malice to the entire story and you keep hoping for a happy ending to this one. LET LOVE WIN!
It centres round the newly wed Mrs Charlotte Ashby and her hubby Kenneth. He was a widower and his dead wife Elsie decides she has unfinished business with Kenneth. She starts communicating with him through ghostly letters. It’s only gets worse from there.
The Monkey’s Paw – W. W. Jacobs – 1902
First published in 1902 as a short story Harper’s Monthly Magazine this is a brilliant and fairly well known spooky story, was written by William Wymark Jacobs, who was known for his humorous writing. Laurel and Hardy did a film Our Relations based off one of his funny stories The Money Box!
Now our boy Will released a series of spooky and funny stories The Lady of the Barge. This story was included in this anthology. Honestly this story shits me right up. It still makes me recoil in horror reading it, and those of you who like your ghost stories with a bit of necromancy shoved in will enjoy this.
The White family have a visit from their old mate who’s a Sargent-Major in the army. He’s had a tour of India and seems to have come back a broken man. The White family press him for all the juicy details and he hands over a manky looking mummified monkeys paw and tells them it grants wishes. That’s when all shit hits the fan and stuff gets proper creepy.
The Nature of the Evidence – May Sinclair – 1923
May Sinclair knows how to do psychosexual horror. She was fascinated by Freud and was a member of the Society of Psychical Research, who conducted scientific studies into supernatural events. We’re imagining a sort of Victoriana ghostbusters.
May released two collections of ghost stories Uncanny Stories, which this unsettling and sessyful tale is in and The Intercessor and Other Stories, both have got some seriously scary stuff in, but The Nature of Evidence is the one that makes us need to sleep with the light on.
It’s basically a sexier version of Rebecca, but with an actual ghost. Our narrator has been gently coaxing juicy details of an X-Rated ghostly encounter from his mate Edward Marston, who’s being haunted by the ghost of his first wife Rosamund. His new wife Pauline doesn’t live up to Rosamund’s standards… and she lets the bitch know it!
The Phantom Rickshaw – Rudyard Kipling – 1885
Now Mr Kipling (not the cake dude) is a well beloved author, he gave us The Jungle Book for fecks sake! He’s famous for his short stories and is seen as a figure who reinvented their popularity during his lifetime. Considering he wrote lots of lovely stories for kids this short story is pretty bollocking creepy. This ghost story is one with a message at its core, this message is
‘DON’T BE A SHITTY DUDE!’
Falling into the ‘MEN ARE TERRIBLE’ category our dickhead narrator Jack strings along a married woman he’s been having an affair with, and when he’s done with her tells her she’s uggo and he hates her so could she just piss off please?
Poor lass is heartbroken and she dies, BUT, then our girl gets her spooky groove back. She decides to teach this fuckboi a lesson and haunts the shiz out of him.
These tales are mostly available to read online or you can get them on your kindle, because they’re fecking ancient. But if you want to sink your teeth into more modern collections we heartily recommend Ghostly a collection of spooky short stories pulled together by Audrey Niffenegger, Pomegranate Seed is included in that one.
The Folio Society have an INCREDIBLE collection of ghost stories in their aptly names Folio Book of Ghost Stories. It looks gorgeous and boasts an excellent selection including The Signalman and The monkey’s Paw.
Happy reading folks!
Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.