The 4th Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories - edited by Robert Aickman (Fontana 1967)
Cover of the 1967 edition
Introduction The Accident - Ann Bridge Not on the Passenger-List - Barry Pain The Sphinx Without a Secret - Oscar Wilde When I Was Dead - Vincent O'Sullivan The Queen of Spades - Alexander Pushkin (trans. T. Keane) Pargiton and Harby - Desmond MacCarthy The Snow - Hugh Walpole Carlton's Father - Eric Ambrose A School Story - M. R. James The Wolves of Cernogratz - Saki Mad Monkton - William Wilkie Collins
No Aickman story in this one, but there is an interesting (though slightly over my head) introduction, in which, amongst other things, the editor takes M. R. James to task for not taking his ghost stories as seriously as his day-job - I can see where he's coming from, but I can't say I entirely agree. Anyway, of the stories themselves, the obvious gold-plated masterpiece is Pushkin's "The Queen of Spades", which practically invented 19th century Russian literature, and thus a substantial chunk of 20th century writing as well, but the surprise stand-out for me was Eric Ambrose's "Carlton's Father", one of those gems that turn up every now and then when you least expect them.
Wilde's piece is really out of place here (even given Aickman's fairly liberal understanding of the term "ghost story"), although his friend and contemporary Vincent O'Sullivan contributes a nice miniature, and Barry Pain's "ghost-on-a-cruise-ship" story is very nicely done. "Mad Monkton" is good, but far too long for its not entirely unsurprising plot.
Walpole's "The Snow" is an odd one - Aickman rightly points out that it's theme is the worthlessness of good intentions when not backed up with good actions, which is always a great idea for a story, but I can't help feeling that it would have been better without the ghost and the melodramatic ending - the second wife is so well drawn as a character that it's a bit disappointing when the first turns out to be such a one-dimensional avenging angel, and the snow element of the story wasn't as well done as I would have expected.
This is the Aickman Fontana Ghost i've least read, probably just the one shot at it and then pretty much forgotten about. No idea why that should be as i seem to have rated the Eric Ambrose, Ann Bridge, Alexander Pushkin and Desmond MacCarthy stories at the time, all of which are a complete blank to me now. maybe i was missing a contribution from Aickman! some notes to set the ball rolling again after Jonathan's initial post.
Hugh Walpole – The Snow: “She looked around her everywhere. All the familiar things, the pictures, the little tables, the piano were different now, isolated, strange, hostile, as though they had been won over by some enemy power.” Polchester. Herbert Fairfax’s first wife Elinor was a fiercely devoted woman and Alice, young and headstrong, doesn’t meet with the dead woman’s approval. Now even Herbert is losing patience with her. On Christmas Eve he suggests a separation whereupon Alice strikes him and he storms out of the house. Elinor’s vindictive ghost brutally sees off her successor.
Saki - The Wolves Of Cernogratz: When a member of the Cernogratz family dies it is said that all the wolves come down from the hills to mourn them and a great tree falls in the forest at the moment of their passing. The insufferable Countess and her equally arrogant brother don’t believe in either the legend or their old Governess Amalie’s insistence that she is the last of the bloodline.
M. R. James - A School Story: The new Latin master, Mr. Sampson has a nasty secret currently residing in Ireland at bottom of a well and not smelling so healthy. The nasty secret hands in a rather menacing excuse for homework, then comes looking for Mr. Sampson in his dorm after nightfall.
Vincent O'Sullivan - When I Was Dead: Alistair's theory is that if you concentrate hard enough on a drop of blood, a ghost will appear. While pursuing this exercise, he manifests a dreadful apparition of what he takes to be an eyeless old woman. The effort of will required to complete the spectre proves costly. As with Hugh Walpole, O'Sullivan is surely deserving of a Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural edition.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.