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Literary Essays on Gothic Horror, Ghost Stories & Weird Fiction

from  Mary  Shelley  to  M.  R.  James —

by M. Grant Kellermeyer

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7 Brilliant Irish Horror Writers to Read on St. Patrick's Day

For centuries Ireland has fostered a culture swarming in mystery, magic, and the macabre: it gave us Samhain and jack-o-lanterns, Dracula and Carmilla, headless horsemen and banshees, and a rambling host of masterful literary minds whose supernatural fiction is still celebrated for being wildly imaginative and unsettling. Ireland has arguably contributed more to the Gothic sensibility than almost any other culture.

Writing about one of Ireland's greatest supernatural authors, M. R. James mused “As to his particular power: I think the origin of it is not far to seek. [He] had both French and Irish blood in his veins, and in his works I seem to see both strains coming out, though the Irish predominates.”

James felt that the Emerald Isle's literary tradition was pregnant with vision and imagination – that somehow it exuded a highly-fertile germ of morbid creativity – and I would have to agree. Irish literature abounds with grisly, weird, and uncanny happenings, often marked by dark irony or a savage, unexpected twist. On this St. Patrick's Day, we pause to lift a Guinness to the honor of seven of Ireland's best and brightest.

Éirinn go Brách! Sláinte mhaith!


Among horror circles, Wilde is known chiefly for two things: “The Canterville Ghost” and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Both are regularly over-recommended for the wrong reasons, and yet both are well worth the consideration of serious horror aficionados. Wilde was not a body-horrorist; he was an artist specializing in entendre, farce, wit, and highbrow humor. And yet his contributions to the horror genre are supremely eloquent, passing over the maudlin gore of Sweeney Todd for psychological and societal exploration.

His forays into the Gothic are almost always intertwined with a rich blend of potent satire and revolting social criticism: in "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," for instance, an aristocrat takes a palm-reader's prophecy that he will be a murderer so seriously, that he bumbles his way through several hapless attempted homicides before killing the palm-reader in a rage. If you read Wilde, don't expect to shiver until you are far down the well he has dug, but you will shiver from horror – horror of the vanity and selfishness of mankind.

MOST FAMOUS FOR: The Picture of Dorian Gray

and "The Canterville Ghost"



E.F. Bleiler – the chief bibliographer and anthologist of speculative fiction before the ascension of S.T. Joshi – thought that the Victorian age produced only four top-rank supernaturalists. One was a man, three were women, and two were Irish. One was an Irish woman. Charlotte Riddell's own life was something of a horror story; she struggled desperately to support her family by her pen – a burden that weighed desperately on her, as evidenced by the themes which pervade her ghost stories: found money, promised money, the nouveau-riche, and the crippling anxiety of poverty.

Her stories are rich with pathos, desperation, irony, and locomotive plot lines. Unlike many Victorian ghost stories, hers are not plodding, recycled stories of unsurprisingly unearthed crimes, simplistically revenged murders, and petty postmortem appearances: they teem with humanist realism, and are propelled forward by genuine interest and lurking dread.

MOST FAMOUS FOR: "The Open Door"

and "A Strange Christmas Game"



A clergyman who thrived during the high-watermark of the Gothic era, Maturin is now little remembered except by scholars of the Gothic. His relative, Oscar Wilde, would have been disappointed to know this: as a vacationer in France, he adopted the last name of his ancestor's most popular character – Melmoth the Wanderer. Maturin created quite a splash during his time: his play B