Monday, September 06, 2010

"The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell

"The Old Nurse's Story" is the first tale in Elizabeth Gaskell's collection of short stories and novellas titled Tales of Mystery & the Macabre. Many of the nine Victorian Gothic tales in this book were originally published in Charles Dickens' weekly Household Words. Gaskell wrote "The Old Nurse's Story" at the request of Dickens for a ghost story to be published in the special 1852 Christmas issue of his publication.

It is a tale that immediately grabbed me as the type that would be told around a campfire at night with all the attendant flickering shadows and night noises that go with such a setting. "The Old Nurse's Story" features a young orphan girl left in the care of her nanny and an old Aunt and the Aunt's small staff of servants. The story starts out normally enough, but with each passing page it becomes clear that there are dark secrets and strange goings-on in the old manor. The East wing is closed off and must not be entered; someone plays the old organ in the great hall on stormy nights, but it is no one currently residing at the manor; ghostly beckoning figures appear outside windows and doors. "The Old Nurse's Story" is a Victorian ghost story of the first order.

Mrs. Gaskell is better known for her social novels than she is for tales of the macabre. Her novels capture the injustices of society, the poverty stricken, and the vulnerable positions of many women and children and I did not anticipate that these themes would appear in her supernatural tales. I'm not sure why I thought this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that she did integrate a bit of social commentary into "The Old Nurse's Story."

I encourage you to read "The Old Nurse's Story" ... preferably on a dark and stormy night!

This reading counts toward the Short Story Peril for the R.I.P. V Challenge.


  1. I want to read this but first, I have to find it... LOL

  2. This looks like a great one for RIP V.

    Have a great week Teri

  3. I read Melody's review of this yesterday and now, reading yours, I'm even more sure I want to read this story. This sounds like a delicious story--perfect for the coming fall season.

  4. I really want to read this at some point, but my library doesn't like Gaskell it seems...

  5. Sounds spooky! Gaskell has been bleeping strongly on my radar lately, but I have yet to pick one up. I'll probably start with one of her more famous ones and move onto this if I take to her wholeheartedly.

    Sorry I haven't been around to visit for a while. I blame blog time -- it's disconnected to the regular calendar.

  6. This is the first I read by Elizabeth Gaskell. Love her writing style and I'll be sure to read more of her books in the near future!

    PS: Thanks for visiting my blog! :)

  7. I'm hoping to read at least one short story by Gaskell for the RIP Challenge (I just joined :)).


  8. I am such a wuss when it comes to reading scary stuff or even stuff that hints at being scary! Have yet to make it through any of S King's works, other than his book on writing! and returned a book to the library the other day after my daughter mentioned that it was a ghost thriller (something new by the author of Fingersmith...)
    Anway, I could give this a try.
    Or, you could tell me the end and then I could relax more as I read it?
    Movies with ghosts or horror? Nope, don't do those either. Pathetic, I know. But maybe, maybe this one you mention?

  9. This sounds great! I've read one of Gaskell's short stories (as well as 3 of her novels) and really enjoyed it, so thanks for reminding me to track down more. :)

  10. Ooh, I love the sound of this. Victorian and spooky - what's not to love???

    I have to track down a copy of this. Thanks for the review.

  11. Alice: I have this problems sometimes too! Too many books I think.

    Bibliophile: Thanks!

    Literary Feline: It was such an old fashioned "scary" read. I had fun with it. Hope you enjoy it!

    Kailana: Shame on your library not having Gaskell! I think it is interesting to see what some libraries don't have in the collection. I'm often quite surprised. You can find the story itself online though. Apparently it is in public domain.

    Rose City: You are right ... blog time is definitely not connected to calendar time! Notice how long it took me to reply to the comments on this post??

    Melody: I'm looking forward to more Gaskell too :o)

    Tiina: I hope you do read a Gaskell for the challenge. I like the short story Peril; it is quite easy for me to accomplish!

    Oh: LOL! Nope, won't tell the ending :o)
    But I think the fact that it is told by a narrator seems to remove the scariness a step away from the reader. And it is an old fashioned kind of scary -- no blood and guts or things popping out at you. More creepy than scary. Let me know how it goes if you do read it!

    Eva: If you liked the other Gaskell's you read, you will probably enjoy this too.

    Book Whisperer: I know! Victorian and spooky is a fantastic combination!

  12. Thankfully, I'm Currently involved in English 206 which is British Literature 2 for you college bound folks (lol) and this particular tale is represented in its fullest within The Norton Anthology of British Literature (Eighth Edition, Volume E on page 1222 after a brief overview of Gaskell herself.
    I'm something of a "horror" fan and love the classic Victorian style that many contemporary stories can sometimes be based upon and I'm especially glad that this appeared in our class text! SPOILER ALERT!!!!---> for those looking for some kind of resolution at the end of such a tale, for some reason, Gaskell leaves this open without stating what happens beyond what DOES happen. I haven't had a chance to read her other short stories that utilize he same themes of the supernatural, so I'm uncertain if something she wrote after this was originally published may pick up as a "sequel" from where this particular story leaves off. If so and someone knows this, post a comment so I can have a sense of"closure" where there somehow isn't any at the end of this tale!