There are nineteen stories and one silly poem in this latest volume. About one quarter of the tales are mere wisps, two or three pages short, more vignettes and drawn out anecdotes than full-fledged stories. The earliest dated original publication in this collection is the story by Mrs. Henry Wood, "The Ghost of the Hollow Field," which appeared in Newry Commercial Telegraph on Dec 25, 1867. The remaining tales are taken from newspapers and magazines published mostly in the 1880s and 1890s, with a few taken from the 1870s.
I was slightly disappointed to find three separate homages to Ebenezer Scrooge. "The Wicked Editor's Christmas Dream" is an obvious parody of Dickens and intended as a satire of commercial journalism, while another is straight out plagiarism. Prosaically titled "A Christmas Ghost Story" it substitutes Scrooge for a miserly mill owner named Frank Underwood visited by a single ghost that guides him to three separate scenes of his life which remind him of his cruel and avaricious ways. It all leads to an overnight personality transformation just as with Scrooge. Nothing original at all and one of the many Anonymous tales. Clearly no one wanted to be sued for plagiarism by attaching his or her name to that blatant rip-off. The third is a rather well done re-telling of the Scrooge and Cratchit work relationship with the clerk almost as villainous as his employer.
|From "Walnut-Tree House"|
Illustrated London News, Dec 28, 1878
Of those I've sampled so far, a handful of the stories contain mystery elements and crimes gone unpunished with themes of revenge featured frequently. A ghost literally points to hidden evidence of who killed her in "The Haunted Ashchurch", a mother's ghost wanders the streets trying to warn her son of impending danger the same day that a horrible murder occurs in "The Ghost of the Hollow Field", and "A Dead Man's Face" (by Hugh Conway) haunts a man eager to marry a beautiful American woman who harbors a ghastly secret.
There are a few examples of the comic ghost story including the previously mentioned "...Wicked Editor..."; "The Barber's Ghost," a shaggy dog story that could be told in a few sentences rather than two pages; and the very strange story of "The Haunted Oven" by W.L. Blackley. I had a heck of time getting through this one because Blackley decided to use the voice of an Irish narrator and rendered all of the dialogue and the narration in Irish dialect. Thick Irish dialect. But it's a very bizarre idea for a story - bread baked in the titular oven comes out with dire warnings of impeding death spelled out in reverse letters. The reason for this "haunting" is rationalized with a mix of black humor and absurdity. It says a lot about the resourcefulness of the Irish characters when building materials are lacking.
Love and ghosts go hand and hand in the Victorian ghost story, especially those told at Christmastime.