Sunday, September 2, 2007

Short Story Sunday (Radcliffe and Shelley)

One of Carl's perils for the R.I.P. II challenge was to discuss scary short stories every Sunday. Mine will come from Witches' Brew, a collection of gothic and scary stories by women writers. There are seventeen stories, so I'll discuss two or three a week. In the collection, they're arranged in chronological order, and I think this is a good way to approach it. That way, I can watch styles evolve. :)

This week, I read "The Haunted Chamber" by Ann Radcliffe and "The Last Man" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Both of these women are known for their gothic works: Radcliffe brough the genre to popularity with works such as The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Shelley created a horror legend with Frankenstein.

"The Haunted Chamber" by Ann Radcliffe
I haven't read any of Radcliffe's novels (although I know a little about them from Northanger Abbey) so I wasn't sure what to expect. "The Haunted Chamber" is about eighteen pages long, and it tells the story of Ludovico who agrees to spend then night in the haunted wing of a chateau and duel the spirits within (he actually receives a sword to do this). Within that plot, Radcliffe provides readers with another ghost story, since Ludovico has chosen (wisely?) to occupy himself with a book of Provencal folktales. I found myself both disappointed in and enjoying Radcliffe's style. I enjoyed her descriptions of the chateau, and the way she structured passages. However, I needed more specifics. Instead of just having the servants scared and screaming, I wanted to see a ghostly lady, or something like that. At one point, we do hear music, and voice so exquisite as to appear un-human, but that's the only specific haunting in the story. I wanted the hairs on the back of my neck to rise, and they never did. Also, in a little footnote at the end of the story, Radcliffe explains away all the ghostly incidents with a Scooby-Doo feeling revelation. I thought it would have been a better story without that! Nevertheless, I think that I'd really enjoy Radcliffe in novel form, so I'll definitely be picking up some of her books.

Favourite Passage:
...this led to the question, whether the spirit, after it has quitted the body, is ever permitted to revisit the earth; and if it is, whether it was possible for spirits to become visible to the sense? The baron was of opinion, that the first was probably, and the last was possible; and he endeavoured to justify this opinion by respectable authorities, both ancient and modern, whih he quoted. The count, however, was decidedly against him; and a long conversation ensued, in which the usual arguments on these subjects were on both sides brought forward with skill and discussed with candour, but without converting either party to the opinion of his opponent. The effect of their conversation on their auditors was various. Though the count had much the superiority of the baron in point of argument, he had fewer adherents: for that love, so natural to the human mind, of whatever is able to distend its faculties with wonder and astonishment, attached the majority of the company to the side of the baron...

"The Last Man" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
This is a post-apocalyptic tale, set in France. The survivors of a massive plague have banded together and are walking from Versailles to Switzerland, but really just passing time until they too die. Over the course of their trip, their numbers are reduced from 1500 to 50; meanwhile, they have several spooky encounters which end up having rational explanations. Finally, the meat of the story, is the ending; the survivors find a lone girl playing the organ for her blind father, who isn't aware of the plague that has decimated everything around him.
Shelley painted an effective picture of people coming to terms with the inevitably of death, both of themselves and their loved ones. Really, the story seems an meditation on the tragic insignificance of people. This one really touched me, especially knowing some of Shelley's background. Her own life was surrounded by so much death, I think she had a unique ability to draw this kind of world. In fact, I wish that this short story was at least a novella; it's rich enough in material to warrant that.
Favourite Passage:
But the game is up! We must all die; nor leave survivor nor heir to the wide inheritance of earth. We must all die! The species of man must perish; his frame of exquisite workmanship; the wondrous mechanism of his senses; the noble proportion of his godlike limbs; his mind, the throned king of these; must perish. Will the earth still keep her place among the planets; will she still journey with unmarked regularity around the planets; will the seasons change, the trees adorn themselves with leaves, and flowers shed their fragrance, in solitude? Will the mountains remain unmoved, and the strems still keep a downward course towards the vast abyss; will the tides rise and fall, adn the winds fan universal-nature; will beasts pasture, birds fly, and the fishes swim, when man, the lord, possessor, perceiver, and recorder of all these things, has passed away, as though he had never been? O, what mockery is this!

10 comments:

Framed said...

I'm not much for short stories, but these sound interesting. Too bad the first one wasn't scarier.

danielle said...

I'm noy a big short story reader either, but I am trying to read some for this challenge as well. I will have to look for this anthology! I am reading The Mysteries of Udolpho at the moment, though I am only in a couple of chapters. So far I am enjoying it!

Dorothy W. said...

I love Radcliffe's novels, although she's known for the kind of rationalistic ending you describe, which may disappoint if you are looking for something else. I should read more Shelley -- she's quite interesting, and I've read only Frankenstein.

Carl V. said...

I love short stories, particularly those of the eerie persuasion. If you haven't, please post a link to this post on the R.I.P. II Review site.

Eva said...

Framed, I love short stories, but I don't read them that often. I need to work on that. :)

Danielle, I'm so jealous of you and your Radcliffe! If only I weren't doing too many challenges, I would expand my R.I.P. selections a lot. :)

Dorothy W, the intro to her short story mentioned that she's known for her rational endings. I think at the end of a novel, it'd work; but at the end of a short story, it just seemed silly. I've only read Frankenstein my Mary Shelley as well-let me know if you read another good book by her!

Carl V, I've done it now. Didn't realise that the review site was for short stories as well. :) I love that you've included short stories in the challenge, since it motivates me to seek them out!

Petunia said...

I was saving the Witch's Brew SSs for a little later but I think I'll have to alternate with the Wharton ghost stories. With you reading them before me I will know which ones to skip over, at least for now. My time is way too limited right now.

Have you seen the movie Becoming Jane? She visits with Radcliffe about 3/4 through the movie. Radcliffe is portrayed as prosaic and rather unhappy.

Eva said...

Petunia, feel free to save Witches' Brew; I can imagine homeschooling three kids would cut into your time!

I haven't seen Becoming Jane, and I don't plan to; I prefer to keep my blood pressure at a healthy level. ;) I wonder if the portrayal of Radcliffe is accurate; I hope not!

Marina said...

Must!get!copy! of Witches' Brew...

Great reviews!

Bookfool said...

I know what you mean - if a scary story doesn't give you goosebumps and you don't actually see a ghost, it can be kind of disappointing. Like your comment about the Scooby Doo-like revelation of that first story. You had me chuckling.

Eva said...

Marina, thanks so much! I'd send you mine, but it's from the library. I think they frown on that sort of thing. ;)

Bookfool, glad I made you laugh! Now I'm feeling special. :)