Wednesday, October 31, 2012

This is the Last Halloween Story of the Season

This is the last Halloween book I'll be recommending this season, and it's the best. It's the book I've been rereading every Halloween without fail ever since I discovered it several years ago. It's not free, but it's so good that I'm writing about it anyway. It's Lolly Willowes, or the Loving Huntsman, by Sylvia Townsend Warner, published in 1926.

Lolly Willowes, the title character, begins her life like the heroine of a romance. She is orphaned, she leaves her family estate to live with her brother in London, and there she becomes a quirky, misunderstood spinster. She's everyone's favorite aunt, but she longs for something she can't really express. Then she shocks her family by moving out to the country, to a small village full of odd inhabitants. This is the point where you would expect Lolly to meet a man, fall in love, and start a new life. But this is not that kind of story.

(George Clausen, "The Road, Winter Morning," 1923.)

Lolly Willowes is not a story where a woman meets a man. It's a story where a woman meets the Devil. And it's not about falling in love; it's about finding freedom. By becoming a witch. "One doesn't become a witch," Lolly says to the Devil, "to run round being harmful, or to run round being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It's to escape all that -- to have a life of one's own, not an existence doled out to you by others ..."

(Illustration of a witch by Australian artist Margaret Clark, from The Florist Shop.)

This book makes a witch's life sound pretty appealing, especially if you, like Lolly Willowes, are somewhat unconventional and a little introverted. "That was one of the advantages of dealing with witches," Warner says; "they do not mind if you are a little odd in your ways, frown if you are late for meals, fret if you are out all night, pry and commiserate when at length you return. Lovely to be with people who prefer their thoughts to yours, lovely to live at your own sweet will, lovely to sleep out all night!"

(Paul Nash, "The Forest," 1930.)

The Devil is also very attractive in this book. Maybe it's because he's not very much like the traditional Devil. He's a huntsman, as the title says. The woods belong to him, and he's more like Pan than Satan:

"Whistling to himself, a man came out of the wood. He walked with a peculiarly slow and easy gait, and he had a stick in his hand, an untrimmed rod pulled from the wood. ... She thought he must be a gamekeeper, for he wore gaiters and a corduroy coat. His face was brown and wrinkled, and his teeth were as white and even as a dog's."

(Constant Troyen, "Gamekeeper and Dogs," 1854.)

There are so many things I love about this book. But one of the main reasons I read it every Halloween is that Sylvia Townsend Warner does such a wonderful job of describing autumn. I love the scene where Lolly, still living in London, goes into a little shop and finds all of the beauties of the autumn countryside:

"Fruit and flowers and vegetables were crowded together in countrified disorder. On the sloping shelf of the window, among apples and rough-skinned  cooking pears and trays of walnuts, chestnuts, and filberts, was a basket of eggs, smooth and brown, like some larger kind of nut. At one side of the room was a wooden staging. On this stood jars of home-made jam and bottled fruits. It was as though the remnants of summer had come into the little shop for shelter. ... 'Which one would you like, ma'am?' he asked, turning the bunch of chrysanthemums about that she might choose for herself. She looked at the large mop-headed blossoms. Their curled petals were deep garnet colour within and tawny yellow without. As the light fell on their sleek flesh the garnet colour glowed, the tawny yellow paled as if it were thinly washed with silver. ... 'I think I will take them all,' she said. ... When he brought her the change from her pound-note and the chrysanthemums pinned up in sheets of white paper, he brought also several sprays of beech leaves. ... They smelt of woods, of dark rustling woods like the wood to whose edge she came so often in the country of her autumn imagination."

(Wenzel Mussill, 1828-1906, "Study of Fruits and Nuts."

I really just want to keep quoting all of my favorite passages from Lolly Willowes, but there are so many of them! You should just get the book and read it. Even when Halloween is over, it's still the perfect book to read in the fall, or the winter, or any time you're in the woods, or any time when you feel a little witch-like.

Monday, October 29, 2012

These Stories Prove the Scariness of Birds, Cats, and Books

I've been reading scary stories all month. But now I'm down to my absolute favorites -- the books that I reread every year at Halloween. Like the Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 1 and vol. 2, and the Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe, which I read again last weekend. "The Raven," which is in the Poetical Works, is near the top of my required-reading list for Halloween.

(Cover of the 1884 edition, with illustrations by Gustave Dore.)

I don't know why I'm so drawn to stories where reading old books leads to horror and madness. But I am, and that is what "The Raven" is about. It starts with a guy who is up late reading his rare books "of forgotten lore." That's exactly what drove Mr. Jennings insane in "Green Tea." Not to mention basically everyone in all of the M.R. James stories. Do not stay up late reading old books, people! 

(Because look at this Dore illustration. What if you're dozing over your books and the creepy little face of your dead girlfriend sidles up beside you?)

Not even if you have a very fancy library like the guy in "The Raven:" purple silk curtains, a fireplace, armchairs upholstered in violet velvet, and a bust of Pallas Athena over the door. (Do you think it would be bad luck to decorate a room exactly like that? Because I might do it.)

(This Mothology armchair is no longer available, but that store would be a great resource for a Poe room. I need these and this and also this.)

If I have learned one thing from the ghost stories I've read this month, it is this: reading at night will make you see demons. You might see a ghost, or a transparent monkey, or a raven with fiery eyes, a lordly demeanor, and a message of eternal despair. Either way, maybe it was a bad idea for me to start a blog recommending old books? Please try to read them in the daylight.

(Dore illustration of the demonic bird and the amazing silk curtains.)

I really like almost everything by Poe. I love his gorgeous, creepy images: the drowned city with its jeweled sculptures in "The City in the Sea" (in the Poetical Works), the mossy catacombs in "The Cask of Amontillado," the stained glass windows and lavishly-colored rooms in "The Masque of the Red Death" (both stories are from vol. 2 of the Complete Works).

(Illustration by W. Heath Robinson, 1900.)

Also, I love Poe's language. I even love it in my least favorite Poe story, "The Black Cat" (vol. 2 of the Complete Works). "The Black Cat" was the hardest story for me to get through because of the graphic violence -- the narrator kills his wife and tortures his pet cat. It's seriously disturbing. But it was worth it to get to this great line: "... I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! -- by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman -- a howl -- a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation."

(Illustration by Fritz Eichenberg, 1943.)

I'm pretty sure that I've heard this sound too, also from a certain black cat, when she shows up with her prey in my bedroom in the middle of the night.

(She also has fiery eyes. And fangs. Is it possible that I summoned her by reading old books late at night?)

Friday, October 26, 2012

This Story Involves Both Kinds of Spirits

So it's October 26, and there are five days left until Halloween. That means that I have five days left of reading classic ghost stories. I love these stories, but I'm starting to feel like I need a break from the constant atmosphere of terror. Statues are starting to freak me out a little. And so are paintings, and Gothic architecture, and fog. Let's all read some comic ghost stories for a couple of days, okay? And let's start with the ghost stories of Jerome K. Jerome, who was one of the most hilarious writers ever.

(One of these guys is Jerome K. Jerome, and the others are the friends who show up in his book Three Men in a Boat.)

Jerome K. Jerome's novel Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) is my go-to book when I want to be cheered up. It's amazing that anything written in 1889 could still be so funny today. And Jerome also wrote the funniest ghost stories ever, in a book called Told After Supper

(The 1891 edition. You can download it from the previous link, or you can read it online, with all 96 or 97 illustrations.)

Told After Supper is a short book about a drunken Christmas party that ends with everyone telling a ghost story. Ghost stories used to be a traditional part of a British Christmas party (that's why "A Christmas Carol" has ghosts in it), and most of the stories I've been reading this month were meant to be read at Christmas in England, not at Halloween in the United States. Jerome says that Christmas is the one night a year when the average ghost gets to walk around on earth. "Why on Christmas Eve, of all nights in the year, I never could myself understand," he says. "It is invariably one of the most dismal nights to be out in -- cold, muddy, and wet. And besides, at Christmas time, everybody has quite enough to put up with in the way of a houseful of living relations, without wanting the ghosts of any dead ones mooning about the place, I am sure. There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas -- something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails."

(I love the illustrations by Kenneth M. Skeaping in the 1891 edition.)

(And I love how he keeps putting snails throughout the book.)

Jerome makes fun of the whole genre of Christmas ghost stories in this book. Each of the stories told by the party guests parodies a different kind of ghost story: the sentimental kind about the ghosts of lovers, the "ghastly and terrible" kind, the true ghost story, the story about the ghost who reveals a buried treasure. My favorite is the curate's story, which is told so badly that no one can follow it:

"'Well, then, my uncle went into the garden, and got his gun, but, of course, it wasn't there, and Scroggins said he didn't believe it.'

'Didn't believe what? Who's Scroggins?'

'Scroggins! Oh, why he was the other man, you know -- it was his wife.'

'What was his wife -- what's she got to do with it?'

'Why, that's what I'm telling you. It was she that found the hat ...'


'Look here, do you know what you are talking about?' we asked him at this point.

He said 'No,' but he knew it was every word of it true, because his aunt had seen it herself.'"

(Appropriately, the curate's story is introduced with an initial letter made out of two bottles of liquor.)

As the party progresses -- and more punch is consumed -- things become more and more chaotic, until finally an actual ghost makes an appearance. And in the end, the poor narrator is left in a very embarrassing situation, for which the whole book turns out to be an explanation and excuse. "Slurs have been cast and aspersions made on me by those of my own flesh and blood," he says. "But I bear no ill-feeling. I merely, as I have said, set forth this statement for the purpose of clearing my character from injurious suspicion."

(A ghost, illustrated by Skeaping.)

It's nice for a change to encounter some ghosts that won't haunt my nightmares. Told After Supper left me amused, not terrified. Amused -- and possibly wanting a drink.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

These Stories Bring Paintings to Life in the Most Horrifying Way Possible

Last week at a used bookstore a title caught my eye. Actually it was just a word: "hauntings," and I thought, Perfect! Because I don't expect my obsession with scary stories to end any time soon. Well, not until Halloween is over, at least. So I bought the book: Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales, by Vernon Lee.

I hadn't read anything by Vernon Lee before this book. Maybe it's because her work, which was published in the 1870s-1890s, fell out of favor in the 1900s. The editors of Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales have this great line in the introduction where they say that the recent rediscovery of Vernon Lee's work has made her come back from the grave "like the revenants that people her work." Creepiest description of literary scholarship ever!

(Portrait of Vernon Lee by John Singer Sargent, 1881. I prefer not to imagine her as a zombie, but I think she would probably have liked the idea.)

"Vernon Lee" is actually the pen name of Violet Paget. Or it began as a pen name -- she ended up being called "Vernon" by her friends. She lived in Italy and wrote about art history and the philosophy of art. She was fascinated by old paintings, early music (she played the harpsichord), and the past in general. All of her scary stories are about the past -- about the frightening way that the past can haunt the present.

If you want to read the stories of Vernon Lee, you should get her short-story collection Hauntings, which is available as a free ebook.

(You can get this first edition of Hauntings, from 1890, for $600. Almost all of the copies of this edition were destroyed in a warehouse fire. Was it caused by evil ghosts of the past? I'm going to say yes.)

Hauntings has so many of my favorite things in it:

1. Long sentences. Super long, lyrical sentences, like this one from "Dionea:"

"Your boys can go and see the big ironclad at Spezia, and you shall come with me up our lanes fringed with delicate ferns and overhung by big olives, and into the fields where the cherry-trees shed their blossoms on to the budding vines, the fig-trees stretching out their little green gloves, where the goats nibble perched on their hind legs, and the cows low in the huts of reeds, and there rise from the ravines, with the gurgle of the brooks, from the cliffs with the boom of the surf, the voices of unseen boys and girls, singing about love and flowers and death, just as in the days of Theocritus, whom your learned excellency does well to read."

2. Gorgeous scenery. Mostly the kind that makes you want to go to Italy, right now. There are landscapes like the one above, but there are also lovely little villages, the canals of Venice in the moonlight, and magnificent old houses furnished with priceless antiques. Of course all of these places are haunted by evil spirits. But you will still want to go see them.

(John Singer Sargent, The Grand Canal, Venice, 1907.)

3. Creepy portraits that bring their dead subjects back to life. Almost every story in Hauntings is based on a real painting:

("Amour Dure" uses Bronzino's Portrait of Lucrezia di Panciatichi as inspiration for an evil ghost who returns to torment an art historian.)

 ("Oke of Okehurst" uses Whistler's portrait of Lady Archibald Campbell dressed as Orlando as inspiration for an evil ghost who returns to torment a painter.)

("A Wicked Voice" uses Corrado Giaquinto's portrait of Farinelli as inspiration -- guess for what? Hint: it's not a friendly ghost.)

4. Classical allusions. Vernon Lee doesn't just put in allusions; she conjures up the feeling of the classical past. She can make you feel the awe and fear that the classical gods inspired, and it's so real that it gives you goosebumps. This happens in my favorite story, "Dionea." It's told through the letters of a kindly old scholar who is living in Italy and writing an endless book about the Greek and Roman gods. He's writing about how remnants of pagan belief survive in modern folklore. What he doesn't realize is that it's not just belief that has survived: an ancient goddess has returned in human form and is living in his village.

(Spoiler: it's Aphrodite.)

It turns out that you might not want to have the goddess of love as your neighbor. She starts out as an unruly child, then chaos begins to happen all around her, and finally there are tragic results.

(Definitely do not anger this goddess. Or please her. Or come anywhere near her; it never turns out well.)

In fact, all Vernon Lee stories end with tragic results. Don't expect a happy ending in this book! But the ending of "Dionea" is so good; it might be the entire reason why this story is my favorite. It's so good that I'm going to break my usual rule and quote it here. Stop reading now if you don't want to hear the end of the story:

(Image of Aphrodite riding a goose from here.)

"Of Dionea I can tell you nothing certain. We speak of her as little as we can. Some say they have seen her, on stormy nights, wandering among the cliffs: but a sailor-boy assures me, by all the holy things, that ... he met at dawn, off the island of Palmaria, beyond the Strait of PortoVenere, a Greek boat, with eyes painted on the prow, going full sail to sea, the men singing as she went. And against the mast, a robe of purple and gold about her, and a myrtle-wreath on her head, leaned Dionea, singing words in an unknown tongue, the white pigeons circling around her."


Sunday, October 21, 2012

This Story Features a Victorian Vampire

"Carmilla," the Sheridan Le Fanu vampire story that I mentioned in my last post, is so interesting that it deserves its own post. It was published in 1872. It influenced Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it's also the ancestor of Twilight and "Vampire Diaries" and a lot of other modern vampire stories. "Carmilla" is the story of two teenagers in love, except that one of them is not actually a teenager, but a centuries-old vampire.

(Illustration by Michael Fitzgerald, 1872, of Carmilla and Laura.)

Carmilla is a lot like any vampire of today: she has a mysterious beauty, she doesn't talk about herself or her past, she sleeps late into the day, and she doesn't seem to eat (although she does enjoy a daily cup of hot chocolate). She seems to love the human girl Laura, but she has the classic vampire problem that she also wants to drink her blood and kill her. Which she expresses by saying disturbing things to Laura, like, "If your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die -- die, sweetly die -- into mine." Run, Laura! But Laura never appears to be scared, even though Carmilla keeps mentioning her death. Maybe in a Gothic castle in 1872, this is a normal topic of conversation.

(Illustration by D.H. Friston, 1872.)

In "Carmilla," everyone lives in a castle. Laura's family has a wonderful castle with a moat full of swans and water lilies, and Carmilla attends a fantastic masquerade ball in another castle:

(A masquerade ball, as depicted by Thomas Rowlandson in 1809.)

"The grounds were thrown open, the trees hung with colored lamps. There was such a display of fireworks as Paris itself had never witnessed. ... As you wandered through these fantastically illuminated grounds, the moon-lighted chateau throwing a rosy light from its long rows of windows, you would suddenly hear these ravishing voices stealing from the silence of some grove, or rising from boats upon the lake."

(Chinese Lanterns at Night, Thomas Watson Ball, 1863-1934.)

Obviously I love that. I always love elaborate settings in stories, and that's one good thing about vampires, both the 19th-century and the modern variety: they tend to live in really cool places.

(Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, J.M. William Turner.)

But what fascinates me most about "Carmilla" are all of the things it says about vampires that didn't catch on. There are lots of them, so I've provided a list:

(Edward Ardizzone's illustration of "Carmilla" from 1929.)

1. Vampires can turn into giant black cats.

2. Vampires seem to have only one pointy tooth. A traveling peddler comments on Carmilla's one "tooth of a fish," and when she bites Laura, it only leaves one small mark.

3. Vampires aren't pale (or sparkly), but they do have perfect complexions. And great hair.

4. Vampires tire easily and can't go on long walks.

5. Vampires talk a lot.

6. Vampires can numb you with their touch. If they grab your arm, you might lose the use of it.

7. Vampires don't just sleep in coffins. They fill their coffins with blood and then submerge themselves. I can't believe that didn't catch on! It would make a great gory scene in a vampire movie.

8. And finally, the weirdest detail of all: vampires can only change their names if they use anagrams of their actual names. It works out for Carmilla, because her real name is Mircalla, and there are tons of anagrams of Mircalla that sound like real names. But if I ever became a vampire, I would be out of luck. (Zathebeli? Bezileath?)

(A print by J. Penston called "Masquerade," from 1849. Probably does not depict a vampire telling someone her fake anagram name. But it could.)

Maybe some of these details about vampires survived in the movies? There are several film adaptations of "Carmilla," but I haven't seen any of them. I have a feeling that most of them are pretty far away from the elegant world of "Carmilla," though.

(Um, WHAT?!)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This Story Will Keep You Awake (And Possibly Make You See Demon Monkeys)

So you know I like to get book recommendations from fictional characters. I really think that this is the best way to find new books: read the books that the characters you love read. It worked for me with The Beloved Vagabond, and it worked for me with the ghost stories of Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu came recommended to me by Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers, which is possibly my favorite book of all time. In Gaudy Night, Harriet (my role model for life) is at Oxford investigating crimes, and her cover story is that she's writing an article on Sheridan Le Fanu. She calls him "the master of the uncanny," and it turns out that she is totally right.

(First edition of Gaudy Night from 1935.)

Sheridan Le Fanu was a Victorian writer who wrote uncanny tales, including an early vampire story, "Carmilla," that inspired Bram Stoker. My favorite Le Fanu story is "Green Tea," which appeared in the collection In a Glass Darkly in 1872. It's about a man who is driven insane by drinking green tea.

(1884 edition; image from Book-Aesthete, which you should check out if you like looking at old books.)

These are the things I love about "Green Tea:"

1. The idea that green tea is a dangerous substance. It might be especially dangerous if you combine it with late-night writing, which is what happens to the Rev. Mr. Jennings in this story. He says that he believes everyone who writes "does his work, as a friend of mine phrased it, on something -- tea, coffee, or tobacco." I think that might be right. I've certainly been in Mr. Jenning's place: up late at night writing and drinking tea. Mr. Jennings says, "I had a little kettle on my table, that swung over a lamp, and made tea two or three times between eleven o'clock and two or three in the morning, my hours of going to bed." That sounds like a pretty sweet set-up to me. Also, Mr. Jennings and I are writing on the same topic. He's writing a work on "paganism." I prefer to call it "classics," and I don't think that it actually brings evil spirits into the world to haunt you, but Mr. Jennings and I can agree to disagree.

 (I think Mr. Jennings must have something like this tea kettle on a burner stand. So elegant! And yet deadly.)

(This green tea tin looks so innocent.)

2. The word "hippish," which shows up a lot in this story. It means "somewhat depressed," and it comes from the word "hypochondria," so it can mean being a little depressed because you imagine you might be sick. I'm going to use this word so much from now on! "How are you?" "Oh, a student of mine sneezed on an exam, and now I'm feeling a little hippish."

("The Hypochondriac," Honore Daumier, 1841. This is kind of how I picture the Rev. Mr. Jennings.)

3. There are so many narrators! First of all, there's the character who writes the introduction and says he has edited the story from his employer's papers. He's an interesting guy -- a former medical student, now a sickly eight-fingered secretary -- even though we will never hear from him again in the story. Then there's the employer, Dr. Martin Hesselius. He's the fictional narrator of all of the short stories in In a Glass Darkly. He's a German doctor with a philosophical bent, a reassuring bedside manner, and some very weird theories about the "spiritual fluid" in the brain. And then, of course, there's the Rev. Mr. Jennings. I love a story with layers.

(Mr. Jennings and his demon, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone in 1929.)

4. A spectral monkey with glowing red eyes. If I ever see one, I'm giving up tea and classics immediately.

 (This green tea canister looks particularly demonic.)

(Oh, and look what's being sold right next to it! An "Unusual Cream Jar with Monkey!" For the most terrifying tea experience ever.

5. The creepy library in Mr. Jennings' house. I love ghost stories set in gloomy old houses, but a scary library in a gloomy old house is even better: "The room was lofty, with two tall slender windows, and rich dark curtains. It was much larger than I had expected, and stored with books on every side, from the floor to the ceiling. The upper carpet -- for to my tread there were two or three -- was a Turkey carpet." And then, for extra creepiness: "I stepped into this perfectly silent room, of a very silent house, with a peculiar foreboding; and its darkness, and solemn clothing of books, for except where two narrow looking-glasses were set in the wall, they were everywhere, helped this somber feeling."

(I would really like my own creepy library. Especially if it came with a secret door.)

6. You know who else liked Sheridan Le Fanu? M.R. James. He gave a talk on Le Fanu in 1923, which you can read here. "I do not claim for this author any very exalted place," he said, "but I desire to advance the claim that he has attained supremacy in one particular line: he succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

These Stories Aren't for Children

Remember E. Nesbit? I might have mentioned her before on this blog once or twice -- okay, I might be a little obsessed, but she's one of my favorite children's authors. Recently I discovered that she also wrote horror stories. 

 (A collection of stories from 1910. Also a command: fear E. Nesbit!)

I shouldn't have been surprised, because some of her children's novels have wonderfully creepy touches. When I was a child, I loved the scariness of the statues that come to life in The Enchanted Castle. Also in that book are the nightmare creatures that terrified me: the Ugly-Wuglies, animate things made of old clothes and painted paper masks. Like the statues, they almost look human.

 (Look at their faces: AHHHHHHH!)

In her scary stories for adults, E. Nesbit is still the master of the uncanny valley. One of her best stories, "Man-Size in Marble," scares you with statues that get up and walk in the night. And then there is Edward in "The Power of Darkness," who was scared as a child when he met a white statue unexpectedly in a dark room, and who has been scared of the dark ever since. Of course he ends up finding something more terrifying than marble statues, and that is an entire wax museum filled with figures of dead and dismembered bodies. It's like the Ugly-Wuglies, if they starred in the Saw movies.

I recommend E. Nesbit's short story collection Grim Tales, which includes "Man-Size in Marble" and six other stories. You can also find a couple of her horror stories, "The Power of Darkness" and "In the Dark," here
 (Grim Tales, 1893 edition.)

All of these stories are like dark versions of E. Nesbit's children's novels. There is a charming cottage with roses over the door, like the one in the Railway Children -- except that this one is visited by evil spirits. There are artist couples living in country estates, as in the Wouldbegoods -- except that they practice black magic or die and come back to haunt each other. You even get a vegetarian "all-wooler," like Mr. Sandal in the New Treasure-Seekers -- except that this one possesses evil psychic powers.

 (From the Enchanted Castle, 1907, illustrated by H.R. Millars. It's easy to shift a castle like this from fairytale charm to Gothic horror.)

The scariest things in Grim Tales are: 1. ghosts, 2. statues (and other artwork) possessed by ghosts, 3. marriage. I count one bad marriage, four happy marriages that end badly, and one sad case of a marriage that never happens. And then there is "John Charrington's Wedding," which features the creepiest marriage ever. Love is terrifying in these stories. But I still want to be part of one of E. Nesbit's artistic couples, living their happy bohemian lives in beautiful Arts-and-Crafts-style rooms. I mean, eventually the ghosts attack or everyone dies from a mystic curse or something, but until then it's like this passage from "Hurst of Hurstcote:"

"They had one tower completely repaired, and in its queer, eight-sided rooms we lived, when we were not out among the marshes, or by the blue sea at Pevensey.

Mrs. Hurst had made the rooms quaintly charming by a medley of Liberty fabrics and Wardour Street furniture. The grassy space within the castle walls, with its underground passages, its crumbling heaps of masonry, overgrown with lush creepers, was better than any garden. There we met the fresh morning; there we lounged through lazy noons; there the grey evenings found us."

(I imagine all E. Nesbit houses, even the castles, as looking a little like William Morris' Red House.)

Eight-sided tower rooms in a castle by the sea! Sigh. Almost worth it.