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

The Green Book 13

Green Book 13EDITOR’S NOTE

One perennial question about genre fiction centres around the notion of “tradition”: the influence authors and their works have on the next generation, and so on down the line. In posing this question, we ask whether or not an unbroken literary pedigree can be established. For example, an excessive amount of energy has been expended exploring links, both legitimate and spurious, between Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (1871/2) and Stoker’s Dracula (1897) — and believe me, this seems to be an all-consuming pastime for some. But to me, Irish genre fiction has always seemed more a web of thematic shadows, authorial echoes, even social links, rather than a series of linear connections.

Those who read the editor’s note in Issue 12 will recall our endeavour to serialise biographical/critical sketches of Irish writers, which commenced in Issue 11. These entries are the results of an on-going project tentatively called the Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Fiction, edited by myself and Jim Rockhill. What form this project will ultimately take is still uncertain, but until then we will continue to share the results here. This issue continues with fourteen further such entries, a new crop of names featuring authors with whom readers of The Green Book might already be acquainted, such as Cheiro and A.E., while the likes of Beatrice Grimshaw and Mary Fortune may be less familiar — but whom I hope you will find no less fascinating.

Earlier this year Swan River Press published Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women, which I co-edited with Maria Giakaniki. In the introduction to that volume are more musings on the Irish genre tradition, or rather how Irish authors, with their disparate blossomings, are still connected through conversations in the margins. Indeed, with Ireland being such a small country, there are countless such communications between its authors, both direct and indirect. As you read this issue’s entries, along with those in previous instalments, you’ll certainly notice myriad connections and crossovers in the frequently overlapping lives of these authors and their writings.

Back in Issue 12, I outlined the criteria Jim and I used to select authors for consideration. The difficulty in this lies with the definitions of both “Irish” and “fantastical literature” — in the end always a fool’s errand. We continue to err on the side of inclusivity, fully aware that we cannot please everybody.

While editing this issue, the question of inclusivity reared its head when I noticed that, although we’ve a contributor line-up of the usual, impressive quality, there wasn’t a single woman among them. This is a glaring shortfall, one for which I, as editor, take full responsibility. The entries in Issue 13 are the sum total of what was available at the time of publication. Nevertheless, this is not a reasonable excuse for such a discrepancy. So with that in mind, I take this opportunity to remind people that The Green Book is open for submissions. And I would like to urge women in particular to submit. There are still a number of authors for whom we need entries, so please contact me for a current list of availability. General submission guidelines can be found on the last page of this issue, and also on our website. I hope this gender imbalance is something I can begin to redress in future issues.

As with each issue, I hope you will find something of interest, discover new authors, and that your list of books to read will grow ever longer.

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
16 May 2019

You can buy The Green Bookhere.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“Thomas Parnell (1679-1718)”
Albert Power

“Thomas Leland (1722-1785)”
Albert Power

“Mary Fortune (1833-1911)”
James Doig

“Keith Fleming (1858/9-?)”
James Doig

“Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918)”
Richard Bleiler

“Cheiro (1866-1936)”
Edward O’Hare

“George William Russell (AE) (1867-1935)”
Daniel Mulhall

“Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953)”
James Doig

“Shane Leslie (1885-1971)”
Derek John

“James Corbett (1887-1958)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Oliver Sherry (1894-1971)”
Richard Dalby

“Francis Stuart (1902-2000)”
Mark Valentine

“Stephen Gilbert (1912-2010)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Peter Beresford Ellis (1943- )”
Mike Ashley

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 13

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

Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953)

12 Beatrice Grimshaw

“A mountain paradise, yet silent and lonesome, somewhat strange, for all its sweetness of flower and of friend, not friendly . . . ” – “The Blanket Fiend” (1929)

Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953) was born in Dunmurry, Co. Antrim on 3 February 1870. Though raised in Northern Ireland, and educated in France, Grimshaw is primarily associated with Australia and the South Seas, which she wrote about in her fiction and travel journalism. She was a devoted (and record-breaking) cyclist, and during the 1890s wrote for the Dublin-based magazines Irish Cyclist and Social Review. In 1904 Grimshaw was commissioned by London’s Daily Graphic to report on the Pacific islands, around which she purportedly sailed her own cutter, never to return to Europe again. Her travel writing includes From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands (1907) and In the Strange South Seas (1908); her most popular novels are When Red Gods Call (1911) and The Sorcerer’s Stone (1914); while collections such as The Valley of Never-Come-Back (1923) and The Beach of Terror (1931) feature some of her supernatural stories. After living much of her life in New Guinea, Grimshaw retired to New South Wales, where she died on 30 June 1953.


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.

Beatrice Grimshaw (1870-1953)