INTO THE LONDON FOG: Eerie Tales From the Weird City Edited by Elizabeth Dearnley
British Library, p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
The British Library series ‘Tales of the Weird’ is an excellent window into the early stories in the speculative genres. The best have been compiled by Mike Ashley, but all the editors show a remarkable knowledge of their theme, tracing the early origins to the latter part of the twentieth century. This particular volume is slightly disappointing. The title and subtitle, and even the introduction, leads the reader to expectations of atmospheric stories in which the weather would play an important part. In chilling, eerie tales that may or may not involve the supernatural. Some of the pieces chosen for this volume do live up to the brief.
Although the weather doesn’t always feature heavily in most of these stories, the eeriness does come through – though it is worth remembering that many of these were setting out the parameters for later tales, and if tropes feel familiar, it is because they have been superseded by more recent writers. One of the criteria for the selection of these pieces is that they are set in different boroughs of London.
‘The Telegram’ by Violet Hunt (1911) is a ghost story. It is also a tale in which female emancipation clashes with social convention. Alice is more concerned with enjoying herself until her mother dies and she needs a chaperone. At this point, she decides that she needs to marry. The telegram of the title doesn’t arrive until towards the end of the story. A manifestation of a spirit at a séance can also be regarded as a ghost. In Lettice Galbraith’s ‘In The Séance Room’ (1893), the past comes back to haunt an ambitious physician in the form of an inconvenient dalliance. Promises made lightly in the past catch up with the protagonist in Elizabeth Bowen’s atmospheric wartime story, ‘The Demon Lover’ (1945)
In these stories, it is the person that is the focus of supernatural attention. ‘The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth’ by Rhoda Broughton (1873) is told as an exchange of letters relating the events surrounding a family renting a house that appears to be haunted. ‘The Old House On Vauxhall Walk’ by Charlotte Riddell (1882) is another haunted house story, but instead of being chased away by ghosts, the protagonist solved the mystery that has caused the haunting. ‘The Mystery Of The Semi-Detached’ by Edith Nesbit (1893) also features a house, but this time it is the future projected as a young man sees his fiancé’s body in a bedroom six months before another woman is murdered there.
Occasionally it is an object that is haunted rather than a place. In ‘The Chippendale Mirror’ by E.F.Benson (1915), the mirror in question reflects a murder. Each time it is watched, a little more of the events are observed. A quirk of this story is that when the images manifest, the cat is fascinated by it but ignores the mirror at all other times.
Most cities have hidden places that few find. It is not surprising, then, that stories are written about these that can only be seen from particular vantage points or times of the year. ‘N’ by Arthur Machen (1936) is one of these with rumours of a mysterious park in the north of the city.
All of these stories, while containing elements of the mysterious or supernatural, don’t feature the fogs very much, if at all. The one that makes use of the creepiness of this weather is ‘The Lodger’ by Marie Belloc Lowndes (1911) and offers an explanation for the Jack the Ripper events.
The remaining pieces are non-fiction descriptions of parts of the city and though atmospheric and well written, are not eerie tales but observations. If the title and sub-title were changed, this would be a good anthology touring some of the areas of London.