Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890 – 1940

Just in time for settling in with a good book in front of the fireplace (or wood stove, or what the heck, even your radiator) on a stormy night, this deliciously thrilling collection was released, appropriately, on Halloween — October 31, 2019.

Handheld Press Ltd., based in Bath, England (onetime home of Jane Austen) presentsWomen’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890 – 1940

Edited by Melissa Edmundson, this compilation of strange tales by women authors — including some lesser-known gems by some of the classic authors on this site — will be of great interest to readers of literary ghosts stories, the supernatural, and other kinds of thrillers. From the publisher:

“Early Weird fiction embraces the supernatural, horror, science fiction, fantasy and the Gothic, and was explored with enthusiasm by many women writers in the United Kingdom and in the U.S. Melissa Edmundson has brought together a compelling collection of the best Weird short stories by women from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to thrill new readers and delight these authors’ fans.”

Among the authors in this collection who are featured on this site are:

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, author of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ with her story of a haunted New England house, ‘The Giant Wistaria’ (1891).

Edith Nesbit, best known for her children’s fiction as E. Nesbit, her horror story ‘The Shadow’ (1910) is about the dangers of telling a ghost story after the excitement of a ball.

Edith Wharton, the chronicler of New World societal fracture and change by new money tells an alarming story of Breton dogs and a jealous husband, ‘Kerfol’ (1916).

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Then, there are also a number of authors that merit further exploration:

  • May Sinclair, the Edwardian feminist novelist tells the story of ‘Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched’ (1927), about a love that will never, ever die.
  • Mary Butts, modernist poet and novelist, wrote ‘With and Without Buttons’ (1938), a story of some very haunted gloves.
  • D K Broster, best known for her historical novels, tells an unholy story of a mistress’s feathery revenge, ‘Crouching At The Door’ (1942).

Rounding out the collection are stories by Francis Stevens, Elinor Mordaunt, Margery Lawrence, Eleanor Scott, and Margaret Irwin.


What is weird fiction?

In her Introduction to Women’s Weird, Melissa Edmundson, the editor of this collection, explains that “The darker side of human nature and its own revenants – jealousy, greed, ambition, morbid curiosity, and prejudice – are at the heart of these narratives.” and elaborates:

“ … Scholars have debated over what Weird fiction actually is and which writers should be credited with writing it. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, in their collection The Weird (2011), continue in the tradition of Lovecraft, Scott, and Butts, remarking, ‘The Weird acknowledges that our search for understanding about worlds beyond our own cannot always be found in science or religion and thus becomes an alternative path for exploration of the numinous.’

… The VanderMeers provide one of best summations of the Weird, precisely by focusing on the indefinability of the term: ‘The Weird is as much a sensation as it is a mode of writing, the most keenly attuned amongst us will say ‘i know it when i see it’, by which they mean ‘i know it when i feel it’. every fan of the Weird does indeed know this feeling – the feeling of something being ‘off,’ not quite right.”

When I read this last statement, it brought to mind the work of Shirley Jackson. The women in this collection are those upon whose shoulders she stood, much as Jackson subsequently influenced a new generation of writers in related genres. Edmundson elaborates about the themes, issues, and anxieties related specifically to Weird literature by women:

“The stories included in Women’s Weird showcase a wide variety of themes and represent the various ways women interpret the Weird in their writing. some themes are connected to real world social concerns that become even more frightening when placed in a Weird context. Claustrophobic spaces, nightmarish worlds, and otherworldly entities come to represent traumatic pasts that are impossible to escape.

Other stories reach beyond specific cultural issues to take on universal human fears and the dark inner selves that we try to overcome and keep hidden. The shadow in the corner, the possessed object, the almost-human creature: all these manifestations lay bare our shared fears and anxieties.”

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Illustration from The Giant Wistaria by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

One of the entries in Women’s Weird is “The Giant Wistaria;”
here’s an analysis of this story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
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