Gothic Tales

Read Gothic Tales for Free Online

Book: Read Gothic Tales for Free Online
Authors: Elizabeth Gaskell
how female language can endanger the very people it seeks to protect, but it can also be the final resource of the powerless over the powerful, and we see this most clearly in Nattee, the Native American woman who serves in the house of the Hicksons. Like Lois, who frightens the Hickson girls with her stories of Hallowe’en and forms of divination and fortune-telling, Nattee tells ‘wild stories… of the wizards of her race’, and ‘the poor old creature… took a strange, unconscious pleasure in her power over her hearers – young girls of the oppressing race, which had brought her down into a state little differing from slavery’. Just as the inflexible fathers of Salem Puritanism tell their damaging stories about race, gender and sin, so does Nattee counter them with her own stories which privilege the power of the Native American ‘wizards’ over the authority and self-righteous justification of the New England patriarchs. However, Nattee’s – and Lois’s – stories of witchcraft and arcane powers which so frighten their hearers are ultimately, like the witch’s curse, turned against them. Both Nattee and Lois are hanged as witches, victimized by their own stories which were told as a means of empowering the self, but became merely another example of the ‘evidence’ collected by the fathers of the persecution to accuse and condemn them as demonic manifestations of the Other.
    The stories and novellas collected here suggest the subtlety and variety of Gaskell’s own forms of empowerment, both as a means of expressing problems of domesticity otherwise repressed in her novels, and as a means, perhaps, of speaking for all of the silenced women represented within these tales. Her stories could thus be seen to explore the Gothic underside of female identity, domestic relations and the authority of the spoken and written word.
The Letters of Mrs Gaskell
, ed. J. A. V. Chapple and A. Pollard (Manchester: Mandolin Press, 1997), no. 48, p. 81. All subsequent references to Elizabeth Gaskell’s letters will be to this edition as
For the story in which Gaskell claims to have seen a ghost, see Augustus J. C. Hare,
The Story of my Life
, 6 vols. (London: George Allen, 1896), vol. 2, pp. 225–7.
    2 Jenny Uglow suggests that ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ deals with similar issues of unmarried mothers and illegitimate babies that
(1853) does, but the Gothic scenario of the short story allows Gaskell to treat such potentially explosive material with greater force and freedom than she does in the more cautious and conservative novel (
Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories
(London: Faber and Faber, 1993), p. 307). See also
, ed. Angus Easson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1997). Uglow makes a similar point about Gaskell’s Gothic stories expressing the surreal underside of her more realist novels in her ‘Introduction’ to Elizabeth Gaskell,
Curious, if True
(London: Virago, 1995), p. ix.
    3 For further discussion of Gaskell’s interest in ghosts and ghost stories, see her letter to Mary Howitt, 18 August 1838,
, no. 12, p. 32, which describes a story she heard about the ghost of Lord Willoughby said to be still haunting his house in search of some law papers. Mary Howitt describes the telling of ‘ghost stories and capital tales’ when Gaskell came to visit on Christmas Day 1850 (
An Autobiography
, ed. Margaret Howitt, 2 vols. (London: Wm. Isbister, 1889), vol. 2, p. 65). Lady Ritchie also reminisces about a friend of hers who recalled with great delight Gaskell entertaining a party in 1864 with stories of ‘Scotch ghosts, historical ghosts, spirited ghosts with faded uniforms and nice old powdered queues’ (Lady [Anne Thackeray] Ritchie,
Blackstick Papers
(London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908), p. 213). Finally, see also Gaskell’s anecdote about her suggestion that she tell

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