Royal Hauntings, by Amy from Passages to the Past

Nobody does historical better than the royals!  I am thrilled to have Amy from Passages To The Past walk us through the harrowing after lives of the historical figures with whom she is most familiar.

It is such a pleasure to be guest posting for Allie and Nicole’s Harrowing Historicals event! It has been a great month of reviews and guest posts, so kudos to Allie and Nicole!

For me, Halloween is synonymous with ghosts and when I was approached about this event I knew instantly that that was what I wanted to write about! And what’s better than ghosts, but ones of the royal variety. For your entertainment pleasure, I have put together a post about some of the most infamous of royal ghost sightings. So sit back with a bag of your favorite Halloween candy, lock your doors and prepare to be spooked!!

JANE SEYMOUR

At Hampton Court palace the ghost of Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII, has been seen in a white robe and carrying a candle walking through the Palace. Jane died in childbirth in 1537 and her ghost has been spotted in different areas of Hampton Court, such as the Clock Court, walking along the cobbled courtyards or in the Silver Stick Gallery on the anniversary of her son Edward’s death.


CATHERINE HOWARD

Henry VIII once called his fifth wife his “rose without a thorn”, but now Catherine Howard is known as the Screaming lady in the Haunted Gallery at Hampton Court Palace. When Catherine was imprisoned in Hampton Court on the charge of adultery she broke free from her guards and ran down the Haunted Gallery in a vain attempt to reach her husband the King and plead for her life. Reports tell of a ghostly figure seen running the same path and visitors have heard screams coming from the gallery. In 1999 two female visitors to the Palace (in separate tours) fainted in the same spot in the Haunted Gallery within 30 minutes of each other.

ANNE BOLEYN

The ghost of Anne Boleyn has possible got the most frequent haunter miles of any dead royal.

At the Tower of London, where she was beheaded on the Tower Green in 1536, her ghost has been seen wandering the grounds or in the White Tower, sometimes with her severed head under her arm.

Also at the Tower of London, in the Chapel Royal, an incident occurred in the 19th century. A Captain of the Guard saw a light coming from the locked Chapel one night and went to investigate. The following is an excerpt from Ghostly Visitors by “Spectre Stricken”, London 1882: Slowly down the aisle moved a stately procession of Knights and Ladies, attired in ancient costumes; and in front walked an elegant female whose face was averted from him, but whose figure greatly resembled the one he had seen in reputed portraits of Anne Boleyn. After having repeatedly paced the chapel, the entire procession together with the light disappeared.

Sightings of Anne’s ghost have also been spotted walking the path from the Queen’s House to visit her grave in the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula. In 1864 a guard at Queen’s House saw a misty figure coming towards him and was shocked to discover that when as he moved his bayonet into the figure it went straight through it. There were 2 people who witnessed the event from the window of the Bloody Tower and they believed it to be the ghost of Anne Boleyn.

One of the more gruesome sightings has been reported in both Blickling Hall in Norfolk and Hever Castle in Kent (her childhood home). Anne, with her bloody severed head in her lap, is driven by a headless horseman in a coach pulled by headless horses. At Blickling Hall, the coach disappears as her ghost enters the Hall and walks the corridors until dawn. And at Hever, Anne is said to appear at Christmas time beneath the oak tree where her and Henry once courted.

LADY MARGARET POLE, COUNTESS OF SALISBURY

Lady Margaret Pole, the 8th Countess of Salisbury was killed horrifically in 1541 in a botched execution on the Tower Green. Her son had the gall to oppose King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and because Henry couldn’t get his hands on Reginald Pole he took retaliation out on his mother. The old and frail Countess was dragged to the block and as her head was forcefully held down. The executioner made his first attempt but missed and struck her on the shoulder. She then jumped up and ran around the block with the axeman pursuing her. Sources vary as to how many blows it actually took to kill her, the number ranges from three to eleven blows of the axe before she mercifully died. On the anniversary of her execution her ghost is seen and heard re-enacting that horrible scene on the Tower Green.


THE PRINCES IN THE TOWER

When King Edward IV died in 1483, his two sons Edward (heir to the throne) and Richard were declared illegitimate and theiruncle was crowned as Richard III. The boys were “accommodated” at the Tower of London where they would eventually disappear forever. Theories abound as to their fate, but the most popular remains that they were murdered at the request of Richard III, a theory which is still hotly debated to this day. Two skeletons were found in 1674 under the staircase leading to the White Tower and some believed them to have been belonging to the two boys. They were reburied in Westminster Abbey by Charles II and in 1933 were exhumed for further testing, but there is still no conclusive evidence as to the identity of the skeletons.

In the 15th century a guard in the Tower of London saw the ghosts of two children wearing white nightgowns and holding tightly to one another, trembling with fright and when witnesses walk toward them the figures fade away.

LADY JANE GREY

Jane Grey, also known as the Nine Days Queen, was only 17 years old when she and her husband Guildford were beheaded on the orders of Queen Mary I. On the 403rd anniversary of her execution Jane’s ghost was seen by two Guardsmen as a “white shape forming itself on the battlements”. Her husband Guildford has been spotted weeping in the Beauchamp Tower.

MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS

The apparition of Mary, Queen of Scots has been spotted dressed as a page boy at Borthwick Castle in Scotland. Mary had stopped at the castle after marrying the Earl of Bothwell and she barely escaped with her life disguised as a man.

A headless Mary has also been said to haunt Craignethan Castle, where she spent one night before the Battle of Langside. The battle resulted in Mary’s forced abdication of her crown to her son, James VI.

Holyrood House Palace is another of Mary’s haunts; though she is not alone…Lord Darnley and Mary’sfavorite Rizzio also have their spirits roaming the castle. The outer door of Mary’s apartments have been seen stained with Rizzio’s blood that will not wash away.

The Talbot Hotel in Northamptonshire houses the original staircase from Fotheringhay Castle, where Mary was executed in 1587. Visitors to the hotel have reported pictures moving on their own, seeing a gaunt faced woman staring out from the hotel windows and one night a guest was awakened with the sense that someone had sat on the bed.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Harrowing Historicals: Spooky Tales In Ancient Times   Q & A with Vicki Leon

Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs will be awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.  I hope that you have been  keeping up with Allie for other great Harrowing Historical posts.  You can also link up to reviews of your own harrowing historical reads at the main introduction post.  We would love to hear about the other spooky books you have read

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Faith & Fiction Saturday Roundtable – Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

This month I read Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury, in order to participate in the Faith and Fiction Saturday Roundtable hosted by Amy, of My Friend Amy. Overall I found that while some parts of the story and ideas presented were compelling, the book was on the inaccessible side, with a style that made it difficult to read.

Roundtable participants included: Hannah  (Word Lily), Thomas (My Random Thoughts), Jason (Moored At Sea),  Jacob (Jacob Ritari), and me.   As a group we were intrigued by laughter as an antidote to evil.

An excerpt of our discussion is below.

Hannah: I agree, Nicole! Perhaps because I didn’t expect laughter to be the cure that it was all the more intriguing, powerful.

Nicole: I have been thinking about the laughter part a lot in terms of its effects of lessening the power that another thing or person can wield over you. It seems to be a way that you can remain in control of your own circumstances in the face of something horrific, like when Charlie Halloway first faces the witch. What can she do to him in the face of his laughter?

I have also been thinking a lot about Charlie’s speech and the exploration of the nature of evil and the devil. The devil has been personified as something that is outside of man, tempting him to follow along and do evil deeds. But the evil here is more sinister because the people who become a part of the workings of the carnival are described as detached from life. They aren’t actively evil, but they are passive and on the outskirts of life. Charlie asks the boys if they even know who he is, and Will is shocked but James isn’t, and wants to know the answer to the question. I think he can even ask the question because he, like Charlie, has that same restless and not quite connected feeling.

Charlie saves himself and his relationship with his son when he decides to act, and to participate in his son’s life for once.

Jacob: I also found the exploration of laughter interesting. I’ve long thought laughter is a powerful antidote to evil as it just seems so…incompatible with it. I’m not sure there ever was an evil person with a real sense of humor. I think this is why–sorry to digress quite a bit–I never found The Joker (Batman villain) all that compelling, even after his re-imagining, because nothing he does is actually funny, and how could it be. To recourse to Lewis again, who quotes (I think) Luther at the beginning of The Screwtape Letters: “The Devil, that proude spirit, cannot endure mockery…”

Nicole, I agree about Charlie saving himself through his relationship with the boys; he’s pining after his own youth, and doesn’t realize the way people can actually participate in youth as they grow older.

But on another note, I always found, and still find, the character of Jim really sinister. As a counterpoint to Charlie he’s this precocious child, and the seed, as it were, of corruption in him seems to me to undercut the positive conclusion just a bit. If a supposedly innocent child can have these desires, is there ever really such a thing as innocence?

Jason: I think the thing to consider to me is that, yes that quote about the devil is a very interesting one, but that it echoes all kinds of biblical verses about God – “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” for instance. The warning against mocking God, or against mocking holy things is pretty omnipresent in religious discourse – in fact, it kind of forms the basis of much of our ideas about blasphemy, right? I think this sort of duality actually makes itself manifest in a lot of mythology. The fairies for instance, the most whimsical and human of the three classes of spirit (Angel, Fa iry, Demon) and the most mischievous and – for lack of a better word, because I know this is the wrong one – funny were, after all, often considered to be made fey because they were not wicked enough for hell or good enough for heaven. I don’t think this is because they were consdidered mediocre – mediocrity in most of the older Christian tradition is more than enough justification for hell – I think it goes back to the same idea – if you cannot take a thing seriously, it cannot really have power over you – good and evil are first foremost powerful as ideas, not physical forces, and an idea must hold purchase in your brain before you can be affected by it, you know? I’m not saying that this is sound theology, or anything, just that, after all, if the devil is driven off by laughing at him, why isn’t god? And wouldn’t the devil delight in people who laughed at him, if he WERE real and had power? To laugh at the notion of evil, after all is difficult if you are to take seriously the notion of good, so a man who will not accept the existence of evil cannot really serve a god who is in a war against it.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Harrowing Historicals: Spooky Tales In Ancient Times   Q & A with Vicki Leon

For more of our discussion visit My Random Thoughts & Word Lily.

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Spooky Tales In Ancient Times – Q & A with Vicki Leon

Writer Vicki Leon penned the book How To Mellify a Corpse, where she explores, among other things,  the worlds and practices of the ancient Greeks and Romans, a superstitious lot. Vicki was gracious enough to answer a few questions giving us some advice on Halloween, hysteria,  and ends by telling a ghost story!

Welcome, Vicki…in your new book,  How to Mellify a Corpse, the Romans and the Greeks had a lot to say about ghosts and exorcisms. Can you give us some tips on how to protect ourselves and our homes around Halloween, presumably when there are more spirits hanging around?

Ancient folks, especially the hyper-organized Romans, fretted quite a bit over their dearly departeds. Family members, called Di Parentes postmortem, got the royal treatment—unless they were babies, in which case they were buried in the back yard. However, unlucky individuals that were fatally struck by lightning had to be planted right on the strike site. Those who weren’t kin or lightning victims were known as  Di Manes, or departed souls.

Whichever category you fell into, as a shade or spirit you were looked on as divine and worshipped accordingly. Apparitions of old were a great deal more demanding than modern spirits. Whether buried or cremated, the newly dead required immediate transfusions of food and drink. Thus Romans built graves, sepulchres, columbaria, and mausolea with built-in pipes or slots down which wine, milk, and (at times) edible solids were poured or stuffed.  This time of year, you might want to go all-out, since during October and November, the divine ghosts (family or otherwise) require special treats: barbecued animals, garlands of flowers, special graveside lanterns, wine, and other beverages.

This Hallowe’en, at a bare minimum I would suggest that before doing any reveling, today’s partygoers should:

  • First pour a glass of decent vino on Uncle Benny’s headstone and secondly, place a generous amount of trick-or-treat loot on tombs and cemetery plots—whether they’re your relations or not.
  • For home and personal protection,  I highly recommend the remedy used by ancient Greeks to keep their unruly ghosts at a distance. (Greek ghosts, BTW, were known as daimons, from which comes our word demon.) Outside each Greek house, the inhabitants put a generous amount of pitch above the exterior doors, afterwards leaving a hearty meal of mixed grains on the lawn for the daimons. Their other ghost-busting strategy?  Everyone chewed hawthorn leaves on the nights in question.

The scariest ghosts of all were the lemures, also known as larvae. Way back then, instead of wildlife both terms referred to the nastiest variety of evil ghouls. Grudge-bearing lemures who’d died young were feared most, whereas larvae were hostile spirits that specialized in haunting houses. Besides the fall appeasement gestures, both types got special “phantom-begone!” ceremonies each May at the Lemuria Festival.

Vicki, you mention that the evil eye was a common fear in ancient Greece, but it didn’t seem to generate the hysteria of the Salem witch trials. How did they keep emotions in check? Was there something to those charms they wore?

It’s difficult to compare hysteria levels in ancient times to late 17th century century America. What I can tell you that one of the earliest Roman laws ever passed was what they called “the enchantment of the fields.” You see, those afflicted with the evil eye were thought capable of putting bad mojo onto plants and domestic animals, as well as on people.  Folks from all walks of life believed that a mere evil-eye glance could wither crops, sicken babies, bring all sorts of misfortune.

The Romans may not have been hysterical, but warding off the evil eye was a grave danger and a fulltime job back then. It required the same belief system of appeasement gestures and special feasts used to placate family ghosts and malignant spirits in  the neighborhood.

The most potent defense against the evil eye?   Wearing an amulet, a lucky charm. Not just any one, however; the best protection was a facinus—Latin for phallus. And yes, it’s also the root of our word ‘fascination.’ A very literal people, the Romans actually hung anatomically correct models of the facinum around their necks from their date of birth onward.  Infants routinely chewed on facinus carved from coral into teething rings! These objects (sometimes appearing in supersized form that still dumbfounds tourists to Italy) also were placed on the family hearth, in workplaces, at crossroads, and even dangling from chariots.

Other charms worked also. In Greece, the most popular apotropaic (protective) symbols were staring eyes and Medusa heads. Both are still popular—and still worn by millions around the Mediterranean Sea.

What was the most famous ghost story that you know of from ancient times?

Only a handful have survived until our time; to my mind, the best is one is a haunted-house tale that Pliny the Younger wrote to a friend named Lucius Lucinus Sura in a surviving letter.

“In Athens there was a large and roomy house, but it had a bad reputation and an unhealthy air. Through the night silence you could hear the sound of metal clashing. If you listened closely, you could hear chains clanking. . . first far off, then close by. Soon there would appear a phantom, an old man, emaciated and filthy, with a long beard and unkempt hair. He wore shackles on his legs and chains on his wrists, shaking them as he walked.

And so the inhabitants of this house spent many dreadful nights lying awake with fear. Illness and eventually death overcame them through lack of sleep and their increasing dread. For even when the ghost was absent, the memory of the horrible apparition preyed on their minds, and their fear lasted longer than the initial cause of that fear. Eventually the house was deserted and condemned to solitude, left entirely to the ghost. Nevertheless, the house was advertised, in case someone unaware of the evil should wish to buy or rent.

Then the philosopher Athenodorus came to Athens. Reading the ad and learning the low price, he became suspicious. Once he learned the whole story–and far from being deterred–he was that much more interested in renting the place.

When evening fell, he asked for a bed to be set up in the front part of the house and called for some small writing tablets, a stylus, and a lamp. Sending all his servants to the back of the house, he concentrated his mind, eyes, and mind on his writing, lest an unoccupied mind cause him to imagine a ghost he’d already heard so much about.

At first, only the night silence. Then the sound of iron clashing, of chains clanking; still Athenodorus did not raise his eyes or put down his stylus. The din grew louder; now at the threshhold—now inside the room with him! Athenodorus turned, saw, and recognized the ghost. It was standing there, beckoning to him.Rather than answering the summons, he motioned with his hand that the ghost should wait awhile, and he turned back to his writing. The ghost continued rattling his chains—at length, right over the philosopher’s head.

The philosopher looked up, then picked up his lamp to follow the phantom. The specter walked very slowly, as if weighed down by the chains. It led him to the courtyard of the house—and suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, now alone, put down some leaves to mark the spot where the ghost had disappeared.

In the morning, he went to the local magistrates, advising them have the spot excavated. When they did, bones were found, entwined with chains. Bones that the body, rotted by time and earth, had left bare and corroded. Athenodorus had the bones gathered and given a public burial. And soon after the rites had been performed, the house was no longer troubled by spirits.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Harrowing Historicals   Pendle Witch Country: The Haunted Land, by Mary Sharratt

Boo!

Thanks Vicki.

Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs will be awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.

I hope that you have been  keeping up with Allie for other great Harrowing Historical posts.  You can also link up to reviews of your own harrowing historical reads at the main introduction post.  We would love to hear about the other spooky books you have read in this vein.

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Pendle Witch Country: The Haunted Land, by Mary Sharratt

Earlier this year, I read Daughters of the Witching Hill, by Mary Sharratt. It has proven to be one of my favorite books this year, and one of the most harrowing of historicals considering that Sharratt’s tale of the Pendle Witches is firmly based in fact.  Here Mary discusses the reality of whether the Pendle Witches were indeed just that, witches.

When Halloween comes around, the popular imagination turns to ghosts and hauntings. And to witches.

Especially in my neck of the woods. I live in Pendle Witch Country, the rugged Pennine landscape surrounding Pendle Hill, once home to twelve individuals arrested for witchcraft in 1612.

In 2004, UK Living TV’s Most Haunted investigated several farmhouses around Newchurch in Pendle. The paranormal investigators not only claimed to have had a direct encounter with the Pendle Witch “coven” in an old house on Lower Well Head Farm, but that the spirit of accused witch Old Demdike attempted to strangle TV psychic Derek Acorah, who has since been outed by his colleagues as a fake.

Unfortunately Halloween seems to drag out all kinds of ghoulish speculation about historical witches and cunning folk in a way that is not only historically inaccurate but disrespectful to the dead. The Pendle Witches were not ghouls, but real people who were held for months in a lightless dungeon in Lancaster Castle, chained to a ring in the stone floor, before being tried without a barrister, condemned on the testimony of a nine-year-old girl, and then hanged. The historical truth is far more chilling than any faked ghost hunt.

During the live “investigation,” Most Haunted’s viewers were invited to text their answer to the either-or-question: Where the Pendle Witches innocent victims or were they real witches with real powers? This question is out of context, given that the accused lived in an era when everyone, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, believed that magic was real.

Cunning craft, or traditional herbal healing, was the family trade for both Elizabeth Southerns, aka Demdike, and Anne Whittle,Cover Image Daughters of the Witching Hill, by Mary Sharratt aka Chattox, the most notorious of the accused. Of course, they believed they had powers. Their very livelihood depended on it.

Were they innocent victims? How does one define innocence in the complex world of Jacobean witch-hunts? Chattox confessed to bewitching to death her landlord’s son by making “clay pictures” of him and then slowly crumbling the clay until he went mad and died. Her motive? The man in question, Robert Nutter of Greenhead, attempted to rape her daughter, Anne Redfearn. He threatened to drive the entire family from their cottage if Anne would not let him “have his way of her.” In an era when the wealthy knew they could get away with rape, a fierce reputation as a cunning woman may have been the only power an impoverished woman such as Chattox could hope to wield.

Was Chattox evil for wanting to protect her daughter? Family love seemed to guide her every action. In the 1612 trial, she broke down and confessed her crime, then tearfully pleaded her daughter’s innocence and begged the gentlemen of the court to let Anne Redfearn go free. But Anne was hanged alongside her mother.

While researching my novel of the Pendle Witches, Daughters of the Witching Hill, I attempted to trace the path between Greenhead Manor, once Robert Nutter’s home, to the site of Chattox’s cottage in West Close, two miles away. No trace remains of Chattox’s hovel but Greenhead Manor still stands. The path was treacherous, almost a minefield. By law, any member of the public has right of way on public footpaths. But it appeared that Greenhead Manor’s current residents had gone to great lengths to make the footpath impassable. I found shards of broken glass and sharp metal wire blocking my way. Further down, the path was overgrown with thorns. Still further a wasps’ nest, buzzing with dangerous life, had somehow come to rest in the middle of the path. Shivering in the autumn wind, I sensed something tainted and menacing, as though the land itself remained poisoned from lingering dark magics committed 400 years ago.

Yet when I soldiered on to reach West Close, it felt peaceful. A rain swollen stream wound close by the site of Chattox’s cottage. The waters gushed between their banks, rich with the red clay that Chattox and her daughter would have used in their spells of self-preservation. In a nearby field, little girls played, happy and oblivious of the fate of any long-deceased landlord’s son. The land around what was once Chattox’s home felt protected in some way, as though the dead still cast their spell over the living landscape.

Mary Sharratt is an American writer living in the Pendle region of Northern England. Her novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She is currently at work on a new novel exploring the life of visionary abbess and polymath, Hildegard von Bingen. Visit Mary’s website: www.marysharratt.com.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Harrowing Historicals: The Turn of The Screw, by Henry James   Book Review

Also, C.M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire weighed in on the spooky occurrences when she was writing her book.

Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs will be awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.  You can also link up to reviews of your own harrowing historical reads at the main introduction post.  We would love to hear about the other spooky books you have read in this vein.

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The Turn of The Screw, by Henry James – Book Review

This month Allie (Hist-Fic Chick) and I are featuring Harrowing Historicals in our Month Long Celebration of All Hallows, in other words, books with a scary bent that take place before 1960.

In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James has written as much a Rorschach test as a ghost story.  Craftily put together, this tale leaves it up to the reader to determine the real forces, supernatural or psychological, that may be at play in the lives of a young governess, housekeeper and their two beautiful young charges.

The Turn of the Screw is not a James book that had been on my radar.  More know to me were Daisy Miller and Portrait of A Lady.  It was when I read The Little Stranger and heard about all of the comparisons between that book and this one that my interest was piqued. James cleverly stages his novella, which is easily read over the course of a few hours, as a story within a story – dropping several clues about the character and situation of the governess.  It is her manuscript which comprises the bulk of The Turn of the Screw. The framework of the framing story is what reels the reader in, in the intimation that this story is one worth waiting for, and based upon on events that actually happened to a young woman (she know the man in possession of her papers). He may have been in love with her, though it seems that she loved someone else.

James’ dexterity with the complex ambiguity of this narrative is admirable. from the very beginning, readers will think they know what is between the governess, and the children, Miles and Flora.  I was absolutely on pins and needles trying to figure out which way the story would go, and for me the ending bore out the way that I suspected that it would – but I think the same can probably be said for any reading applied.  Therein lies the beauty.  Although I must admit, that it was also a very frustrating read for many of the same reasons.  I spent a lot of time with the language and with my feelings about the veracity of the governess.  Everything hinges on whether or not you think she is telling the truth.  There is also an interesting class dynamic at play between the governess and the housekeeper.

I wasn’t particularly scared by anything I encountered, and my threshold for being scared is pretty low, so keep that mind if you are looking for something terrifying to read.  This isn’t it.  There is an uncomfortable tension throughout the novella that made it into a page turner, but I was able to sleep just fine.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Make sure you check out Allie’s review of Dracula in Love, by the fabulous Karen Essex. Allie and I were both impressed by the broader perspective of late eighteenth century British community and society which is explored in Dracula in Love.

And just a reminder, Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs will be awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.  You can also link up to reviews of your own harrowing historical reads at the main introduction post.  We would love to hear about the other spooky books you have read in this vein.

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Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly – Book Review

This month Allie and I are featuring Harrowing Historicals, books with a scary bent that were set before 1960.  Frankenstein fit perfectly within that vein, and is also the subject of an upcoming podcast that I am recording with Jen from Devourer of Books.

I have read Frankenstein twice now within as many years.  I first read it last year when Heather and Jill did their Dueling Monsters Readalong of Dracula vs Frankenstein.  I wasn’t a big fan of it then, and I have to admit that a second reading has not made me love it that much more.  Maybe at some point in the future, a third reading will be the charm.

Frankenstein begins when Walton, a lonely sea captain, finds Victor Frankenstein in the middle of the Arctic giving chase, quite unsuccessfully I might add, to a monster he has created.  His efforts have left him dispirited, in poor health, and on the verge of death.  Walton doesn’t yet know his story, but he feels that the man is a kindred spirit and that under different circumstances, they would be good friends.  Frankenstein recognizes something of his reckless passion in Walton and as a warning, relates his extraordinary story to Walton not to follow in his footsteps.  The novels continues as Frankenstein, explains the origins of his monster and how it wreaks havoc on his life in face of his betrayal, abandonment, and lack of love and companionship.

In my second reading Frankenstein, I was a little bit more taken with the exploration of loneliness, and the lack ofconnectedness that is experienced by Walton and Frankenstein.  In many ways these men stack up comparatively, and though Frankenstein appears to be somewhat humbled by his experiences, he recognizes the excitable passions which led him down his path are ready to be ignited in Walton. Shelly seems to be hinting that others will attempt what Frankenstein has done, and that playing god, and seeking to remedy personal longings and inadequacies,  is a quality intrinsically ingrained in human beings.

Frankenstein may have been innovative for its time – Shelly wrote it when she was nineteen and it is an exploration of emerging class themes, man’s monstrous nature and the monsters it creates out of misguided principles – but when I read it from my contemporary perspective, it is really difficult for me to feel that this is either an enduring or compelling work of fiction. Frankenstein as a man and character is outrageously hard to appreciate and the plot and its circumstances are not well-defined. Character motivations and the means by which accomplish them require more suspension of disbelief than I had to give.

I can definitely understand wanting to explore the origins of life and even a slight god complexes, but the desire and motivation in creating a seven foot tall, supernaturally strong, creature out of corpse materials escaped me completely.  I was just mystified as to how to accept that this made enven the slightest sense to Frankenstein.  This is definitely a story of obsessive behavior, and you have to wonder who is truly the mad man.  When Frankenstein, abandons the monster, it first educates itself, spouts philosophy, struggles with its nature, and then gets mad and goes on a murderous rampage and genrally makes Frankensten’s life, hell.  I felt not a drop of sympathy for him, but was very amused by the monsters SAT vocab.

I can appreciate that Frankenstein went on to inspire further exploration of the themes it tackles, and monster stories in general, but I find more enjoyment from fiction whose ideas are supported in a less haphazard and slightly less nonsensical fashion.  The novel is based on an interesting premise, but it was hard for me to read it without be distracted by the enormous holes in the plot.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Make sure you check out Allie’s favorite scene from Wicked, the Broadway show based on the book of the same name by author Gregory Maguire, yesterday’s Harrowing Historical. I was always terrified of the Wicked WItch of The West when I first started watching The Wizard of Oz. Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs will be awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.

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The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters – Book Review

This month Allie (Hist-Fic Chick) and I are featuring Harrowing Historicals in our Month Long Celebration of All Hallows, in other words, books with a scary bent that were set before 1960.

Earlier in the year I read The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters for a discussion that I was having with Rebecca from The Book Lady’s Blog on her episode of That’s How I Blog! Set in the spooky manor of Hundreds Hall during 1940’s post-war Britain, The Little Stranger follows the exploits of Dr. Faraday as he becomes embroiled in the menacing familial woes of the once wealthy Ayres family – elderly Mrs. Ayres and her adult children; Caroline, and Roger, a crippled war veteran.  A ghost story set against the backdrop of the disintegration of wealth and emerging class struggles, the story is immediately engrossing and superbly told.

This was my forst foray into Waters after years of collecting her novels.  I was happy that a nudge from Rebecca set this book firmly in my path, and the novel turned out to be one that I finished with a satisfying sigh.  It is one of the first books in quite some time that I wanted to start over again right away.  Waters deftly weaves the history of the Ayres family and the country physician who has always taken an interest in the comings and goings at Hundreds Hall, where his mother worked and where he once visited so memorably long before.

Waters is a fine observer of class behaviors and distinctions, and I loved the way that she covers the ambivalence, conflict, and tensions between Dr. Faraday and the family with whom he becomes intimately involved.  Each plays in questionable ways on the others’ vulnerabilities in the new and uncertain times, and the nerves and fever pitch that the strange happenings in the house add to the mix made for a smart, yet tricky compelling read.  As Waters masterfully dropped her pieces into place, I carefully considered the options presented in the story that she was telling, and looked over my shoulder to see what ghosts, real or imagined, were held by my own home.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Make sure you check out Allie’s review of Doomed Queens, yesterday’s Harrowing Historical.  Doomed Queens author Kris Waldherr also did a guest post for Allie and me on the ghost of Marie Antoinette.  Harrowing stuff! Kris also donated packs of her Doomed Queens Playing Cards and Ask the Queens Advice Deck for giveaway, which will be included in the some of the Harrowing Historical giveaway prize packs awarded on Halloween night at midnight. Leaving a comment on any Harrowing Historical post automatically enters you for one of the many prize packs.

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