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I specialised in gothic literature as an undergraduate and Mary Gaskell was a shining light of the genre. While considerably better known for works including 'North and South' and 'Wives and Daughters', she excels with the mysterious and eerie. A well known face in literary circles, Gaskell was also chosen as the official biographer for Charlotte Bronte upon her death. This collection of tales is very much in the vein of 'Udolpho' style stories, with secluded locales shrouded in mystery and dark secrets around every corner. That said, I have no wish to pidgeonhole Gaskell, who offers a good range of settings in the collection, ranging from the English moors to the tempestuous times of the Salem witch hunts. Some of the themes explored are surprisingly frank, with jealousy, sexual desire and murder. At the same time, she enjoys herself with imaginative re-workings of some of the better known tropes of the gothic genre, including fairy stories and dopplegangers. One for fans of Gaskell, ghost stories and the works of M. R. James and Henry James.
Elizabeth Gaskell's chilling Gothic tales blend the real and the supernatural to eerie, compelling effect. 'Disappearances', inspired by local legends of mysterious vanishings, mixes gossip and fact; 'Lois the Witch', a novella based on an account of the Salem witch hunts, shows how sexual desire and jealousy lead to hysteria; while in The Old Nurse's Story a mysterious child roams the freezing Northumberland moors. Whether darkly surreal, such as 'The Poor Clare', where an evil doppelganger is formed by a woman's bitter curse, or mischievous like 'Curious, if True', a playful reworking of fairy tales, all the stories in this volume form a stark contrast to the social realism of Gaskell's novels, revealing a darker and more unsettling style of writing.