“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

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An Extract from the Introduction by Richard Dalby.

Many years ago, while collecting the first editions of Bram Stoker, my heart would often leap when apparently spotting his rarely encountered name in dimly lit alcoves of second-hand bookshops, only to find that I had actually misread the similar gilt lettering of “B. M. Croker”. Having no special taste for this other writer’s Indian or Irish romances, I usually disregarded them.

Author PhotoAt that time B. M. Croker was only remembered (by a shrinking number of admirers) as a once-popular bestselling novelist. Her supernatural tales had sunk into total neglect, and none had ever been revived in anthologies (not even by Hugh Lamb or Peter Haining).

I first became aware of her ghost stories after buying the first two volumes of Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction (May to December 1895) in the original cloth richly decorated by Walter Crane. The Christmas Number contained a fine array of weird tales including “The Story of a Ghost” by Violet Hunt, “The Red Hand” by Arthur Machen, “The Case of Euphemia Raphash” by M. P. Shiel, and “Number Ninety” by Mrs. B. M. Croker.

I eventually reprinted this latter tale (Croker’s debut in any genre anthology) in the first of my six Christmas anthologies, Ghosts for Christmas (Michael O’Mara, 1988).

I then researched her bibliography which amounted to 49 titles (42 novels and 7 short story collections), of which only a small fraction were listed in her Who’s Who entry, and gradually unearthed all the very scarce collections which had remained out-of-print for nearly seventy years and contained a surprisingly good variety of ghost stories.

Like “Number Ninety”, several of the other tales were set specifically in the Christmas period — obviously designed for late Victorian and Edwardian Christmas Numbers — and most had a higher “macabre” and grisly content than was usual at that time in seasonal weird tales, especially when compared to Mrs. Oliphant, Mrs. Molesworth, and Mrs. Henry Wood.

2019-01-25 Final PosterApart from “Number Ninety”, the only other Croker ghost story to reach a wide audience in the past decade has been “To Let”, reprinted in both the Oxford Anthology Victorian Ghost Stories (1991) and Reader’s Digest’s Great Ghost Stories (1997) which stated that “her novels have not stood the test of time, but her shorter fiction is as enjoyable today as when it was first written, providing a vivid insight into the day-to-day lives of the British in India.”

B. M. Croker was one of the most popular and best-known novelists in the English-speaking world over a forty-year period, and is very well documented. Like several of her equally busy contemporaries, notably L. T. Meade, Rosa Mulholland, and Mrs. J. H. Riddell, she came from an old-established Irish family.

Bithia Mary Sheppard was born circa 1849, the only daughter of Rev. William Sheppard, Rector of Kilgefin, Co. Roscommon, who died suddenly seven years later. (The old family home at Ballanagare still survives today, though roofless.) She was educated at Rockferry, Cheshire, and at Tours in France. Her favourite recreations were riding and reading.

In 1871 she married John Stokes Croker, an officer in the 21st Royal Scots and Munster Fusiliers. His family, the Crokers of Bally Maguarde, Co. Limerick, claimed direct descent from Sir John Croker, standard bearer to King Edward IV.

Number NinetyFollowing common tradition as a Victorian soldier’s wife, Bithia accompanied her husband to India, where he served for several years in Madras and Burma. They had one child, Gertrude Eileen (always called “Eileen”). They later lived in Bengal, and at a hill-station in Wellington (where many of her early stories were written), very similar to the one described in “To Let”.

After the first ten years of marriage and motherhood, she began writing novels and short stories (like “The Ghost in the Dak Bungalow” for London Society in 1882) to occupy the long hot days while her husband was away. Always a keen sportsman, he enjoyed a great deal of big game shooting.

Buy a copy of “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories.



Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.

“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women

An Extract from the Introduction by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers

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Irish women have long produced literature of the gothic, uncanny, and supernatural. Bending to Earth draws together twelve such tales. While none of the authors herein were considered primarily writers of fantastical fiction during their lifetimes, they each wandered at some point in their careers into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays.

Names such as Charlotte Riddell and Rosa Mulholland will already be familiar to aficionados of the eerie, while Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves are sure to gain new admirers. From a ghost story in the Swiss Alps to a premonition of death in the West of Ireland to strange rites in a South Pacific jungle, Bending to Earth showcases a diverse range of imaginative writing which spans the better part of a century.


There is a latent urge among literary scholars to define grand traditions in literature that sweep through the centuries. Joining the dots between one author’s influences on the work of another writer a generation thence makes for a tantalising and occasionally illuminating game. For some, these distinguished pedigrees are absolutely vital. Such contexts can give better understanding to the evolution of literary movements, the development of genres, and affinities between various coteries of writers.

Consider how much ink has been expended in an effort to prove whether or not Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), had read or was definitively influenced by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (1871-2). Sometimes connections can be delightfully subtle, such as recognising the spine of Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegana (1905) in a photograph of C. S. Lewis posing before a bookshelf in his study. But establishing a conscious tradition — one author knowingly working in the wake of another in an unbroken chain — can be a difficult and frequently tenuous task. This is especially true when genre is concerned, where delineations are often already nebulous.

If a novel or short story displays only scant elements of a particular school of literature, it is granted the prefix “proto”; the author, usually long dead at the time of the pronouncement, may well find herself surprised by such an inclusion. The best one can do in some cases is make an informed speculation — though the peril here is that these assertions can transform over time, without further erudition, into assumed fact.

2019-01-25 Final PosterThe present volume is subtitled “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, and its authors populate the better part of the nineteenth century. One might rightfully wonder if such a joined-up tradition can be delineated, and if the tales in this anthology constitute part of a literary continuum. In his essay on Irish literature for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), Peter Tremayne makes the helpful observation that “Practically every Irish writer has, at some time, explored the genre for the supernatural is part of Irish culture.” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find an Irish author who did not, at some point, include elements of the fantastic in their work — be it supernatural, folkloric, surrealist, or something else. Naturally, this makes broad declarations a particularly challenging endeavour.

What we are more certain about is that the writers included in Bending to Earth were not considered during their lifetimes to be chiefly writers of fantastical fiction. Yet they each at some point in their careers wandered into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays. Some of them, like Katharine Tynan, Ethna Carbery, and Dora Sigerson Shorter, were known primarily as poets. Others, such as L. T. Meade, and Clotilde Graves deliberately wrote for more general popular markets; while the likes of Lady Wilde and Lady Gregory — perhaps now the most commonly known — linger in the Irish national psyche for their explorations of legends and folklore.

And then there are writers whose posthumous reputations have been sustained through the years solely on the merits of their supernatural tales, their once mainstream writings now almost entirely abandoned by modern readers. In 1882 Charlotte Riddell published her seminal collection, Weird Stories, and her supernatural novellas are still celebrated for their effectiveness. Meanwhile, Riddell’s realist mainstream novels have faded from memory, outside the cloistered world of scholars and academics. Similarly, the ghostly writings of Rosa Mulholland and B. M. Croker were kept alive, with varying levels of success, by the industrious efforts of twentieth-century anthologists, while the remainder of their works passed into the afterlife of the unfashionable from which they seldom return.

Bending to EarthIn compiling this anthology of strange tales, we sought stories by Irish women writing in the broader range of the darkly fantastic. We focused on the merits of each writer and their contribution, arranging stories in a sequence that we hope makes for an agreeable read. As one might expect, these selected tales reflect the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and preoccupations of each author. While there might not be a formal pedigree in the supernatural tradition, there is certainly a more ethereal sense of connection that characterises these writers and their offerings to strange literature.

Buy a copy of Bending to Earth here.

Read more about our Strange Stories by Irish Women poster here.


Maria Giakaniki is an independent scholar and editor-in-chief of Ars Nocturna, a small publishing house in Athens that focuses on Gothic fiction. She has compiled and co-translated Gothic Tales by Victorian Women Writers and Gothic Tales by Modern Women Writers.

Brian J. Showers runs Swan River Press in Dublin, Ireland. He also edits The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature.

Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women

Strange Stories by Irish Women

2019-01-25 Final Poster

Back in 2015, Jason Zerrillo and I designed the poster “Irish Writers of the Fantastic” as a response to the more ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster that one often finds around Dublin. Instead of the typical faces — Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Swift, etc. — we wanted to showcase the Irish writers we enjoyed reading — those with a more fantastical bent — Le Fanu, Dunsany, Hearn, etc. Our goal was to establish a sort of lesser known canon, but a no less important one. If you want to see “Irish Writers of the Fantastic”, and read about the thought that went into it, have a look at this previous post.

With the release of Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women, edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers, we thought it would be an interesting idea to repeat the exercise. Naturally we focused on the Irish women who contributed to literature of the fantastic and whose stories are included in the book.

In addition to the image above showing the full poster, the links below will give you a bit more information on the backgrounds of these writers. And if you’re still interested, do pick up a copy of Bending to Earth.

Anna Maria Hall (1800 – 1881)

Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1821[?] – 1896)

Charlotte Riddell (1832 – 1906)

Rosa Mulholland (1841 – 1921)

L. T. Meade (1844[?] – 1914)

B. M. Croker (c.1849 – 1920)

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852 – 1932)

Katharine Tynan (1859 – 1931)

Clotilde Graves (1863 – 1932)

Ethna Carbery (1866 – 1902)

Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866 – 1918)

Beatrice Grimshaw (1870 – 1953)

Of course, as is always the case with these things, not everyone will agree with our choices. Two obvious omissions are Dorothy Macardle and Elizabeth Bowen. Given that they both appeared on our first poster, “Irish Writers of the Fantastic”, and are both served well in print, we decided not to include them again here. Instead we focused on lesser known contributors to fantastical literature. But the question stands: who would you include? And, more importantly, why would you include them?

As always, we hope this poster, “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, will lead you to discover new books and authors. If you have a further interest in Ireland’s contributions to fantastical literature, you also might want to check out our twice-yearly journal The Green Book, which features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature.


Bending to EarthBending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers

Order a copy of Bending to Earth.

Irish women have long produced literature of the gothic, uncanny, and supernatural. Bending to Earth draws together twelve such tales. While none of the authors herein were considered primarily writers of fantastical fiction during their lifetimes, they each wandered at some point in their careers into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays.

Names such as Charlotte Riddell and Rosa Mulholland will already be familiar to aficionados of the eerie, while Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves are sure to gain new admirers. From a ghost story in the Swiss Alps to a premonition of death in the West of Ireland to strange rites in a South Pacific jungle, Bending to Earth showcases a diverse range of imaginative writing which spans the better part of a century.

Strange Stories by Irish Women

B. M. Croker (1849-1920)

06 B. M. Croker

“Why was I conscious of a beating heart, accompanied by a scarcely defined, but undeniable dread?” “The Red Woollen Necktie” (1896)

B. M. Croker (c.1849-1920) was a popular and bestselling author who enjoyed a highly successful career from 1880 until her death forty years later. Her novels, mostly set in India, her native Ireland, and England, were witty and fast moving. Bithia Mary Sheppard was born in Co. Roscommon, the only daughter of a Church of England clergyman, and married John Stokes Croker (1844-1911), an officer in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, in 1870. The newlyweds left for Madras, India immediately after the marriage; they later lived in Bengal, and a hill-station in Wellington (where many of her stories were written). On Colonel Croker’s retirement in 1892, they went to live in Co. Wicklow, and finally settled in Folkestone. She died at a nursing home in London, after a short and sudden illness, on 20 October 1920. Although Croker wrote numerous ghost stories during her career, they were only collected in 2000 as “Number Ninety” and Other Ghost Stories.


 

Number Ninety“Number Ninety & Other Ghost Stories” by B. M. Croker

Order a copy of Number Ninety.

The bestselling Irish author B. M. Croker enjoyed a highly successful literary career from 1880 until her death forty years later. Her novels were witty and fast moving, set mostly in India and her native Ireland. Titles such as Proper Pride (1882) and Diana Barrington (1888) found popularity for their mix of romantic drama and Anglo-Indian military life. And, like many late-Victorian authors, Croker also wrote ghost stories for magazines and Christmas annuals. From the colonial nightmares such as “The Dak Bungalow at Dakor” and “The North Verandah” to the more familiar streets of haunted London in “Number Ninety”, this collection showcases fifteen of B. M. Croker’s most effective supernatural tales.

Bending to EarthBending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers

Order a copy of Bending to Earth.

Irish women have long produced literature of the gothic, uncanny, and supernatural. Bending to Earth draws together twelve such tales. While none of the authors herein were considered primarily writers of fantastical fiction during their lifetimes, they each wandered at some point in their careers into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays.

Names such as Charlotte Riddell and Rosa Mulholland will already be familiar to aficionados of the eerie, while Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves are sure to gain new admirers. From a ghost story in the Swiss Alps to a premonition of death in the West of Ireland to strange rites in a South Pacific jungle, Bending to Earth showcases a diverse range of imaginative writing which spans the better part of a century.

B. M. Croker (1849-1920)

The Green Book 11

Green Book 11EDITOR’S NOTE by Brian J. Showers

Our previous issue saw a fabulous array of reminiscences of Lord Dunsany — and also some contemporary assessments of his works — written by his Irish colleagues, including Yeats, Bowen, Gogarty, Tynan, A.E., and others. Issue 10 was fascinating to assemble and the process gave me a better understanding of and more insight into Dunsany’s literary standing in Ireland during his lifetime. If you’ve not yet had a look at our Dunsany issue, and you are in any way interested in this important author, I urge you to track down a copy.

The focus on Dunsany’s contemporaries in Issue 10 was an approach that evolved during research and production. However, during that time I also received a handful of modern appraisals of Dunsany and his work that I simply couldn’t fit into that issue. That’s why I’d like to start this instalment with just a bit more Dunsany.

First up we have Dunsany bibliographer Darrell Schweitzer’s career-spanning survey of the fantasist’s considerable body of work — where a new reader could start, what aficionados might have overlooked, and which titles can, perhaps, be left until later. Next, Martin Andersson, co-editor of the posthumous Dunsany collection The Ghost in the Corner (also reviewed in this issue), explores a lesser-known episode in Dunsany’s life: his Nobel Prize nomination. Finally, novelist Mike Carey offers an appreciation of Fifty-One Tales (1915), a collection not as widely celebrated as Dunsany’s other titles, but maybe one that should be given another read.

The remainder of this issue sees The Green Book in a little bit of a transition.

I’ve long had a penchant for bibliographies, indices, literary guides and encyclopaedias: I frequently take down from the shelf E. F. Bleiler’s Supernatural Fiction Writers (1983), wander the pages of Jack Sullivan’s Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986), and of course Neil Wilson’s Shadows in the Attic (2000) can keep me captivated for hours. I could go on . . .

Last year I commissioned a series of short articles for a book tentatively entitled A Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction. Over the past twelve months, Jim Rockhill and I have been working with a range of literary scholars, each exploring an Irish author that has in some way contributed to the broader literature of the fantastic. The results have been nothing short of captivating.

Therefore, in addition to the usual essays and reviews, I’d like to present, for the remainder of this issue, a selection of eight entries—some names you will recognise, others won’t be as familiar — but I do hope you’ll discover new writing to explore.

You can buy The Green Book 11 here.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“How Much of Dunsany Is Worth Reading?”
Darrell Schweitzer

“Lord Dunsany and the Nobel Prize”
Martin Andersson

“Appreciating Fifty-One Tales
Mike Carey

“Regina Maria Roche (1764-1845)”
Albert Power

“B. M. Croker (1848-1920)”
Richard Dalby

“Edmund Downey (1856-1937)”
Gavin Selerie

“Conall Cearnach (1876-1929)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)”
Reggie Oliver

“Denis Johnston (1901-1984)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Conor McPherson (1971- )”
David Longhorn

“Reviews”
Bram Stoker’s Powers of Darkness (Albert Power)
Lord Dunsany’s The Ghost in the Corner (Jay Sturner)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 11