This is a review of two connected books by the same very popular author that are not new, but little known in e-book format, thanks to the onerous U.S. copyright term limit that keeps them out of the public domain there.
Fortunately, Canada comes to the rescue, as so often, and provides excellent e-book editions of both for download from Project Gutenberg Canada.
Edward Frederic Benson (1867–1940) was an enormously prolific English author who wrote in a host of different genres: comedies of manners; serious novels; biographies; essays; sporting books (he was a highly capable athlete); and last but definitely not least, ghost stories and supernatural tales.
His Mapp and Lucia series of tales revolving around two social rivals in inter-war Sussex still have a huge following, and inspired one very popular TV series. And his output in horror stories was huge: His Wikipedia page alone lists over 80 tales.
Some of the best-known earlier stories are collected in the 1923 collection “Visible and Invisible,” with most of those available in the Collected Stories edition from the Project Gutenberg Australia website. And some fine later works are gathered in the two volumes “Spook Stories” (1928) and “More Spook Stories” (1934), both of them also available from the Project Gutenberg Canada site as EPUBs, along with “Visible and Invisible.”
Obviously, when a writer is so profuse, quality is going to vary. Many of Benson’s supposedly ghostly tales were light and humorous; many more were derivative and inconsequential. But at his best, he could work very well indeed, and conjure up situations as dark and disturbing as any by his near-contemporary, M. R. James.
H. P. Lovecraft, in his magisterial essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” called Benson ” an important contributor” to the genre of the short weird tale, remarking that:
“Benson’s volume, Visible and Invisible, contains several stories of singular power.”
Highlights include “Negotiam Perambulans in Visible and Invisible,” or “The Face,” in “Spook Stories,” singled out by Lovecraft as “lethally potent, in its relentless aura of doom.” The period flavor is often more genuinely 1920s than the tales of James, whose diction and presentation was somewhat dated even at the time of writing, and there are occasionally some surprisingly modern bits of nastiness—would you credit necrotizing fasciitis and pedophilia alongside devil worship in “The Sanctuary,” from “More Spook Stories”?
Any fan of horror fiction who likes their tales closer to Ambrose Bierce than Stephen King will find a lot to enjoy here—and all for free, of course.
For “Spook Stories” by E.F. Benson:
For “More Spook Stories” by E.F. Benson: