Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Terrifying Tuesdays: E. F. Benson's "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery" (1912)

"How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery" is a short story by British novelist Edward Frederic (E. F.) Benson.  It was published in 1912 as part of an anthology of horror stories called The Room in the Tower, and Other Stories.  In this tale, the hauntings of the Church-Peveril house are described.  According to the house legend, there are several family ghosts, but none are more feared than the ghosts of two twin babies, murdered in their infancy by a wicked uncle.  Certain death has befallen all who have seen these specters, and while the Peveril family is rather fond of their other ghostly relatives, these two spirits are actively avoided.  Since the ghost babies only appear at a specific time and place, namely at dusk in the part of the house known as the long gallery, all but an unfortunate few have been successful at avoiding the sight of them.  Some of these ill-fated individuals lived long enough to describe what they had seen, but all suffered rather unpleasant deaths in a relatively short time after seeing the twin ghosts.

Despite the dreadful haunting, the gallery is a comfortable and much-used space as long as there is daylight, but as soon as the sun begins to set the room is abandoned.  This has worked out so well that no one had seen the ghostly babies in a very long time, and all would probably have continued in this manner indefinitely were it not for one brave soul staying at the house for the Christmas holiday.  Not only does this young lady confront the spectral twins, she finds a way to break the curse, and teaches a lesson to all on the virtues of compassion.

E. F. Benson is a well-known writer most famous for his humorous series of Mapp and Lucia novels.  He wrote quite a few short horror stories, and although some are quite gruesome he manages to inject his signature wit into the tales, including this one.  All of his ghostly tales were published in The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson (edited by Richard Dalby).  I highly recommend reading the entire collection, as in my opinion these stories rival those of M. R. James in quality.  Look for this book as well as other works by this author at your local library, and enjoy some truly delightful reading!

From Hotel Monteleone

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