The Phantom Coach

A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Ghost Stories

    

U.K. cover

"Delightful . . . mini-parables"

WASHINGTON POST

"A fine follow-up to Sims’s acclaimed Dracula’s Guest and a necessary addition for lovers of all things Victorian"

LIBRARY JOURNAL

"Delightfully creepy. . . . A great collection"

BOOKLIST

"explore[s] the genre's varied stylistic approaches and major themes"

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

 

" 'The uncanny affords us a rare pleasure,'” the late cultural critic Jacques Barzun wrote of horror fiction, 'that of not knowing what to think.' . . . . Barzun considered the ghost story 'more artful — and more productive of shivers — than the straight tale of horror,' an assertion that is abundantly substantiated by Michael Sims’s delightful anthology of Victorian ghost stories.

"Here it is not just faith in science that is repeatedly called into question, but the very nature of reality and the primacy of perception. As if reflexively undermining their reliability, the stories in The Phantom Coach characteristically begin with a solemn assertion of veracity. 'The circumstances I am about to relate to you have truth to recommend them,' says the narrator of the title story, immediately blowing his credibility to smithereens. 'That ­everything occurred exactly as he described it I have the fullest confidence,' claims the 'historian' of 'The Captain of the Pole-Star.' The ­hauntees in Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s 'The Southwest Chamber' are most bothered, it turns out, by a bedcover that changes pattern: 'Those red roses on the yellow ground were . . . much more ghostly than any strange figure clad in the white robes of the grave entering the room.'

"For all the quaintness of their accoutrements, these tales are actually mini-parables about the unreliability of the senses, and thus shot through with a skepticism that anticipates our own doubt-addled times."

—Michael Lindgren, WASHINGTON POST

"[Sims's] picks include such celebrated authors as Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Henry James, but he also gives justice to those whose stars faded at the turn of the 20th century, particularly female writers like Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Amelia Edwards. . . . Sims has a rich enthusiasm for things that go bump in the night, and the accessibility, variety, and deftness of this collection allow readers to revel in it. . . . Each piece is preceded by an introduction that is equally brief and insightful. Here, Sims has successfully pulled back the Victorian shroud. A fine follow-up to Sims’s acclaimed Dracula’s Guest and a necessary addition for lovers of all things Victorian, especially of the creepy variety."

—Erin Kelly, LIBRARY JOURNAL

"A collection of delightfully creepy ghost stories that were once popular in Victorian periodicals. In his foreword, Sims explains how supernatural tales rose as a subgenre during this time, while illustrating their running themes, including grief and guilt. The author introductions contextualize each piece and show how it does (or doesn’t) fit into the Victorian ghost-story genre. Two works worth noting are Robert W. Chambers’ "The Yellow Sign" and Margaret Oliphant’s "The Library Window." The first is the most open-ended of the set, the only story that does not warrant an explanation about the uncanny happenstances surrounding an artist who dreams about a sinister hearse man. In the latter, a young woman is obsessed with a window—and the man she sees through it—even though her relatives deny its existence. This dichotomy blurs perception and reality, which makes the reader wonder if the ghost exists or if the girl is insane. Overall, a great collection for literature fans who enjoy lesser-known stories by famous novelists."

—BOOKLIST

"The mournful, moralizing, and malevolent dead lurk in the gaslit streets, ancestral estates, and tortured psyches. . . . Selections explore the genre’s varied stylistic approaches and major themes, including women’s rights, social injustice, and psychological realism. A spirit punishes familial abuse in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 'The Old Nurse’s Story.' Spectral children haunt Rudyard Kipling’s bittersweet 'They.' Amelia B. Edwards’s 'The Phantom Coach' is a gritty, evocative tale of spectral reoccurrence, and Henry James’s 'Sir Edmund Orme' elegantly renders psychological reaction to the otherworld. Cosmic terror reverberates from a forbidden text in Robert W. Chambers’s 'The Yellow Sign,' and death knocks at home in W.W. Jacobs’s morally gripping 'The Monkey's Paw.' Abstract notions of revolution and repression are given ghostly form, inviting historical introspection as well as literary enjoyment."

—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY