The four decades from 1872 to 1912 represent one of the two richest periods of horror fiction in the English language. Because such moods as dread and anxiety are easier to maintain in shorter forms, many of the most successful works from this period are stories and novellas.
The year 1872 saw the publication of In a Glass Darkly, by Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu also wrote novels in which the supernatural played some part, but he is remembered for his shorter works, among which is the novella “Carmilla” from this collection. Although not the first work in English to deal with vampires, “Carmilla” is one of the most sophisticated. It is not clear whether Carmilla is “really” a vampire or her feelings for the novella’s young narrator are sexual. Nor is it clear what ultimate spiritual fate awaits the narrator herself, who is dead when the story begins. “Carmilla” is reprinted in countless anthologies of horror stories and has inspired numerous film versions, the most famous being Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932).
The same air of ambiguity hangs over The Turn of the Screw (1898), by Henry James. In this famous novella a governess charged with protecting two young children either battles malignant ghosts or projects onto imaginary ghosts her own destructive feelings toward the children—it is not clear which. Another writer who found the novella especially useful for exploring ambiguous psychological states was the Englishman Oliver Onions. In The Beckoning Fair One (1911), Onions described the disintegration of a writer whose sanity is sapped by his own ghostly creation.
Equally astute psychological analysis characterizes short novels produced by two writers famous for works in a variety of forms. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the classic fictional treatment of the split...
(The entire section is 767 words.)