Tuesday, 1 January 1980

Spook Stories

Fiction ~ collection of short stories
Published April 1928

The collection comprises twelve stories:

The Face
Bagnell Terrace
A Tale of an Empty House
Naboth's Vineyard
Home, Sweet Home
"And No Bird Sings ..."
The Corner House
The Temple

For reviews of the individual stories, click on the links above.  For reviews of the book as a whole, see below.
The whole book is available online here.

[Next to G K Chesterton] Mr E. F. Benson is perhaps the amateur who has had most success in devising thrillers. Mr Benson's forte is the short mystery story. His new book of these, Spook Stories […], is an amateur detective series rather than a collection of ghost shockers. The setting is usually a picturesque little cottage where murder has been done, the villain in the piece a house agent, who entices thither two aged gentlemen on holiday bent, and thrills and light relief are provided by their encounters with ghosts when they would much rather have been enjoying a quite game of solitaire.
~Aberdeen Press and Journal, 05/04/1928
One does not take seriously a book entitled Spook Stories […]. For one reason the use of the term 'spook' suggests humour rather than horror. Not even E. F. Benson's name as author can impart any significance or gravity to the fantastic tales here assembled. The first of these involves an amazing coincidence which links the young owner of a haunted mansion with prospective tenants whose forebears had figured in a sordid tragedy enacted within its walls. In another story, entitled The Face, a happy young wife is tortured by nightmare visions of an evil-looking man who threatens to compel her to come with him. In the end the hapless woman disappears, her footprints being traced to a graveyard in which a landslide has exposed the body of the man who had haunted her dreams. This finale is robbed of any tragic stress by the patent artificiality which makes known the final experience of the victim. The woman disappeared; how then could her last movements be detailed?
~The Courier and Advertiser [Dundee], 19/04/1928
Spook Stories (1928) is perhaps the least distinguished volume of Benson’s ghostly tales (which were typically first published individually in literary monthlies), but it is richest in the glamour and enchantments of an English country garden. Curiously, the novelist Joan Aiken's faintly aggravating Forward to the 1992 edition of Benson’s Collected Ghost Stories (which boasts that she was an affirmed fan of Benson by the age of six) immediately singles out Spook Stories for attention, slagging it off for being “tamer” than M. R. James' tales, before admitting that “there was something very likable about the collection,” namely its evocation of “a comfortable, definite, and instantly recognisable world.” Yet this model of England as a fund of holiday destinations may strike one as being highly idealised rather than “instantly recognisable.”
[…] but Spook Stories could almost make one lose their heart to England. […] There is little politics to this. Benson does not cling to the nation because it provides a spurious sense of certainty and belonging, but he is instead a connoisseur of the English character, its manners and traditions, and the towns and shires from which it emerged. His is an England so pure that anybody would find themselves exiled from it. […] Benson had keenly observed the England which he dreamed about: he had dined with the burghers of his home town of Rye, rifled its antique shops, and disappeared to the nearby coast to peep at the local birdlife through his binoculars.
The English countryside could not be realistically portrayed as idyllic when millions of modern workers had lately fled to the cities, but there are no happy peasants in Benson’s England, merely a distant, dusty world of tradesmen and servants. We are left to survey a genial suburban Camelot of knightly bachelors, the sort of men who would regard a lawyer or a doctor as a servant.
[…] Benson was happy to have his stories collected in volumes. The careful arrangement of Spook Stories particularly draws attention to the sameness of the contributions, and suggests that the sum may be more interesting than its parts. We are invited to observe the destiny of a social class rather than merely those of the indistinguishable, forgettable [Hugh] Gra(i)ngers who happen to belong to it. The sole exception is provided by the penultimate story Corstophine.
[…] The thematic unity of Spook Stories partly arises from its founding , whose name is evoked in both Bagnell Terrace and Naboth’s Vineyard.
[…] the bourgeois desire for pleasant houses [...] recurs throughout Spook Stories.
~James Mooney at “Tychy”, 25/07/2011. Abridged. For the full review see here, and the individual stories

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