Post-Victorian ghost stories,
This review is from: The Collected Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson (Paperback)
I personally find it difficult to reconcile the fear of ghosts with the technology of the twentieth century. Perhaps technology makes us feel too secure, too powerful, too material to fear the supernatural. The mechanical seems to have replaced the spiritual in our lives, and when I read the second story in this anthology, about a ghostly car, I was surprised that I went on to enjoy the anthology as much as I did.
Benson has a way of bringing out the dramatic, as in "The Room in the Tower," or unmentionable horror, as in "How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery" or "Caterpillars," or fear of what powers the mind can unleash, as in "The Man who Went Too Far," or just humor, as in "Mr. Tilly's Seance." That's quite a range of experiences to be evoked, and I was able to eke out a good half-year's enjoyment from this voluminous collection.
I have only two complaints about these stories, and they are common to quite a bit of weird tales produced between the 1890's and the 1930's: a prediliction towards unnecessary explanation of the supernatural at the end, and an obsession with spiritualism (or mesmerism, or psychics, or ESP, etc.). The rationalism of the day no doubt demanded the former, but the latter unbearably dates literature that fawns over spiritualism. Very few writers can use it as a plot device without it appearing to be a very rotten crutch, and Benson is not one of those writers. Much like radiation in the 50's and biotechnology in the 90's, it's the deus ex machina and all the worse when debunked.
In any case, I was happy to take the good with the bad and look forward to reading this anthology again.