Saturday, 19 March 2022

Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird' edited by Mike Ashley and published by British Library.
Mike Ashley (ed)
British Library

It is too often accepted that during the 19th and early 20th centuries it was the male writers who developed and pushed the boundaries of the weird tale, with women writers following in their wake—but this is far from the truth. This new anthology follows the instrumental contributions made by women writers to the weird tale, and revives the lost authors of the early pulp magazines along with the often overlooked work of more familiar authors. See the darker side of The Secret Garden author Frances Hodgson Burnett and the sensitively-drawn nightmares of Marie Corelli and Violet Quirk. Hear the captivating voices of Weird Tales magazine contributors Sophie Wenzel Ellis, Greye La Spina, and Margaret St Clair, and bow down to the sensational, surreal, and challenging writers who broke down the barriers of the day. Featuring material never before republished, from the abyssal depths of the British Library vaults.

I've read a fair few of these British Library anthologies now and generally (as is often the case with anthologies) they've been a bit of a mixed bag but leaning towards the good and this one is no exception.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Queens of the Abyss: Lost Stories from the Women of the Weird' edited by Mike Ashley and published by British Library.
Firstly let's address the word 'Lost' in the title. Yes, for the most part these are all pretty damn obscure stories buut I'm not sure you could ever describe Marjorie Bowen's tale of selfishness and indolence, 'The Bishop of Hell', which I probably have in at least a dozen anthologies in my collection.  May Sinclair's 'The Nature of the Evidence' whilst certainly being more obscure than Bowen's tale again hardly counts as a 'lost' story.  The others though are far less anthologised, some deservedly so, but some proved a real treat.

Mary Braddon's 'A Revelation' opens the book in classic Victorian style all familial intrigue and visions from beyond the grave.  It's a solid but fairly uninspiring sort of story. Marie Corelli has a more religious side on display with her story of love, betrayal and forgiveness in the naively charming 'The Sculptor's Angel' whilst Edith Nesbit follows a similar route but with the forgiveness spurned in 'From the Dead'.  Frances Hodgson Burnett's 'The Christmas In The Fog' is a purportedly true Xmas tale of her travel across the Atlantic, it's very Dickensian and very dull whilst Marie Belloc Lowndes gives us a love story that's too convenient by half.

Alicia Ramsey's 'A Modern Circe' is a slight folklorish tale of seductive witchcraft and murder which would probably have been dragged out to novel length these days but it's quite long enough here.  Greye La Spina's vampire tale 'The Anti-Macassar' on the other hand would have benefitted greatly from more room as what is a sprightly and enjoyable story is almost spoiled by a jarring ending.

We slip into science fiction for Sophie Wenzel Ellis' 'White Lady' as a young man falls in love with a plant he's invented much to the dismay of his fiance.  It's suitably silly but if that premise sounds your sort of thing then I'd rather direct your attention towards Valancourt Books' reprint of Ronald Fraser's fabulously bonkers 'Flower Phantoms'.

G.G. Pendarves - who I'm sure I've read before but can't quite place - provides a real highlight with the creepily brutal 'The Laughing Thing' whereas Lady Eleanor Smith's 'Candlelight' was a witty but ultimately rather pointless farce.  Jessie Douglas Kerruish provides a fun tale of 'The Wonderful Tune' that raises the dead but Margaret St Clair's science fiction tale 'Island of the Hands' just felt out of place.

'The Unwanted' of Mary Elizabeth Counselman's rural Alabamatale is enjoyably daft but with a gentle heart before the book ends strongly with Leonora Carrington's fabulously odd 'The Seventh Horse'.

As I mentioned it's another strong entrant into this series but as has been the case with each of the others I've read it's a little patchy although as I've said often before what didn't work for me may well prove to be your favourite and if you've an interest in strange tales of the early 20th century then you really should be exploring this series.

Buy it here - UK / US.


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