This time of year is a great excuse to get reacquainted with some classic, gothic ghost stories.
The type that unsettle, disturb and get under the skin. You may not be terrified, but you’ll definitely want to leave the lights on.
Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published in 1835, this is one of the earliest (and best) examples of the meet-the-devil-in-the-woods trope.
Taking place in 17th century Puritan New England, it tells the story of a young man who ventures into the woods at night with a charming, but mysterious, stranger.
Hawthorne uses the Puritannical backdrop to explore themes of sin, humanity and the oldest storyline of all – good vs evil.
This story later served as inspiration for modern horror master Stephen King when he wrote The Man in the Black Suit. If you haven’t read that, I highly highly recommend it.
If the thought of the devil calmly walking out of the New England woods puts a chill down your spine, then read both stories – just don’t blame me if you can’t sleep afterwards.
Bewitched by Edith Wharton
I’ve had a thing for Edith Wharton ever since we read The Age of Innocence in school.
But as polished as her novels may be, she really excels at short stories.
In Bewitched, a woman seeks help after her husband becomes entranced by a young girl, who happens to be dead.
No-one builds atmosphere like Wharton and this story, set in the bleak, wintery New England landscape, subtly builds until you get the urge to look over your shoulder as you read.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
There’s a reason that Poe is considered one of the forefathers of horror literature. Read this very short story about a murderer consumed by guilt and you’ll understand.
It’s a tight, unsettling read as the unnamed narrator grimly tries to hold onto his fading sanity, and rationalise his hideous crime.
The Monkey’s Paw by W.W.Jacobs
Since it was published in 1902, The Monkey’s Paw has been so absorbed into popular culture that you probably know the plot already.
Read it anyway.
The story, of the White family and their wish-granting monkey’s paw, is a great meditation on loss, hope and the consequences of our actions.
I think it resonates so much, and has remained so popular, because anyone who’s ever lost someone will recognise themselves in the White parents, who want their dead son back at any cost.
The Romance of Certain Old Clothes by Henry James
Many consider The Turn of the Screw to be Henry James’ best ghost story.
And it is great, but I didn’t include it here simply because it’s a novella, rather than a short story. If you want to read that though, it’s available here.
The Romance of Certain Old Clothes is often overlooked when it comes to James’ collection, perhaps because it’s one of his few spooky stories that doesn’t feature an actual ghost.
The story of sisters vying for the attention of the same suitor would seem more like a romance, if it wasn’t for the underlying tension that gives way to a shocking final scene.
Happy reading, and happy Halloween!