Lady Dilke's The Outcast Spirit and Other Stories was published by Snuggly Books in November 2016.
Information about Lady Dilke:
Lady Dilke (1840-1904), born Emily Francis Strong, was an author, art historian, feminist and trade unionist. She wrote numerous articles and books on art, in both English and French, and, during her lifetime, published two darkly themed collections of short stories titled The Shrine of Death and Other Stories (1886) and The Shrine of Love and Other Stories (1891).
Information about The Outcast Spirit and Other Stories:
There is nothing else quite like the short stories of Lady Dilke in the annals of English literature, and even readers who have little sympathy with their stylistic affectations, allegorical pretensions and harrowing conclusions are likely to admit that they have a peculiar fascination. Those who find some resonance in their psychological ambience might easily think them touched with genius. The simple fact that they are so unusual is a great asset in itself, from the viewpoint of lovers of exotica, but they are not peculiar merely for the sake of cultivating unconventionality. Seen as an assembly, in fact, their visionary element acquires an extra dimension of coherency, and also manifests a marked evolution, from the slightly tentative experimental ventures of the stories in The Shrine of Death to the triptych of masterpieces constituted by "The Hangman’s Daughter," "The Triumph of the Cross" and "The Mirror of the Soul," which are truly remarkable works considered individually, but gain even more from being placed in the broad frame provided by this, the first comprehensive collection of the author’s fiction.
A REVIEW OF LADY DILKE'S THE OUTCAST SPIRIT AND OTHER STORIES
Lady Dilke's The Outcast Spirit and Other Stories is one of the most significant and most interesting short story collections of the recent years. It's an especially intriguing collection to readers who love literary stories and beautifully written stories with supernatural elements.
It's great that Snuggly Books has published The Outcast Spirit and Other Stories, because it's the first comprehensive collection of the author's short stories. It contains all the stories from The Shrine of Death and Other Stories (1886) and The Shrine of Love and Other Stories (1891) save two stories, and two additional stories which were published by Lord Dilke after her wife's death.
As Brian Stableford mentions in his introduction, there's nothing else quite like these stories in the annals of English literature. Although I'm not an expert on the whole of English literature, I fully agree with this statement, because the author's stories are clearly different from other stories. They're fascinatingly dark, morbid and otherworldly stories when compared to other Victorian Era stories.
I have to mention that Lady Dilke was an almost totally unknown author to me prior to reading this collection. I had heard of her and knew that she had written stories, but I hadn't had an opportunity to read any of them. I'm glad I could read this collection, because it turned out to be excellent and fascinatingly exotic due to the strange nature of the stories.
This collection contains the following stories:
- The Shrine of Death
- The Silver Cage
- The Physician's Wife
- A Vision of Learning
- The Black Veil
- The Secret
- The Serpent's Head
- The Voyage
- The Shrine of Love
- The Outcast Spirit
- Heart's Desire
- The Hangman's Daughter
- The Triumph of the Cross
- The Stainless Soul
- The Mirror of the Soul
- The Last Hour
I can honestly say that I don't recall reading anything quite like these stories ever before. Although I've read plenty of literary fiction, fantasy fiction and literary strange fiction, I have to admit that these stories have striking originality and peculiar fascination that separates them from other Victorian Era stories. They have a few elements in common with other stories, but otherwise they're wonderfully original, bittersweet and strongly Gothic.
In these stories, elements of death, sorrow, love, loss, heroism and chivalry blend with beautiful prose in a lush way. They also contain many medieval and supernatural elements. They can be classified as dark fairy tales and allegorical fables with ethereal atmosphere, because many of them have a fable-like feel to them.
When I read these stories, I noticed that there was something Poe-esque about certain stories, because they were strongly Gothic stories and featured dark happenings. Some of the stories were slightly reminiscent of the bittersweet and touching atmosphere in H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Quest of Iranon'.
Here's more information and my thoughts about the stories:
The Shrine of Death:
- A story about a girl who desires to know the secrets of life. Her obsession grows worse when a witch tells her that she must marry Death in order to know the secrets of life.
- A beautifully written story about obsession and death.
The Silver Cage:
- In this story, a devil becomes filled with longing to possess the soul of a woman when he hears her soul sing. The woman's soul is hung up on the boughs of an acacia tree in a silver cage.
- A beautifully written fairy tale kind of a story.
The Physician's Wife:
- A story about a girl who becomes the wife of an aged physician who lives in an ancient castle in the Mountains of the Moors.
- An atmospheric and intriguing story with an excellent ending.
A Vision of Learning:
- A story about a boy who in his dreams has a vision of Learning. The boy travels north in search of her.
- I loved the way the author wrote longingly about the boy's yearning to find Learning and meet her.
The Black Veil:
- This a story about a woman who slays her evil husband and buys herself a veil of mourning, which weighs heavily upon her.
- An excellent story with a satisfyingly dark ending.
- A boy is obsessed with learning where the river comes from and where it goes. He seeks the Snow-maiden in order to find out the secret.
- A wonderfully written melancholy fairy tale for adults.
The Serpent's Head:
- A story about two women, a girl and her mother, who live alone in a castle by the Northern Sea.
- A strong story in which the author touches upon such themes as loneliness, isolation, madness, love and death.
- In this story, a man, who loves a woman and has said to her that no human power can part his soul from hers, goes on a voyage.
- A well written and atmospheric tale with a good ending.
The Shrine of Love:
- A beautifully written story about a girl who upon waking up notices that Spring has passed that way while she was asleep. When she goes out into the garden, she finds footprints there and knows that they have been made by the feet of Love. She feels sorrow for not seeing Love and seeks the counsel of a wise woman.
- I loved this story and found it fascinating.
The Outcast Spirit:
- A memorable story about a girl who has been born of desire between the son of a great man and a beggar-maid.
- The author's vision of the girl's life is stunningly effective. I was immediately impressed by it,when I began to read this story.
- This story has a satisfyingly dark ending.
- In this story, a watcher in an ancient city notices that the Lords of the House of Whiteness are returning to the city.
- An interesting and well written story.
The Hangman's Daughter:
- The events in this stunningly written story take place in ancient France where the kingdom is divided against itself and heavy trouble can be found throughout the land. This is an intriguingly complex story about the downfall of a man who is knight.
- This is without a doubt the strongest and most memorable story in this collection.
The Triumph of the Cross:
- An excellent and complex historical story involving the Saracens and the Christians.
- I consider this story to be one of the best and strongest stories in this collection.
The Stainless Soul:
- This is a story about a good and fair girl with a stainless soul.
- A beautifully written story with a religious undertone.
The Mirror of the Soul:
- In this story, a woman has a secret chamber in which she looks at her face in the mirror. The mirror was given to her by her mother, who was a great enchantress.
- This is a fascinating story that will impress readers.
The Last Hour:
- A story about a woman who comes to the gate of the grave and waits there for the Angel of Death.
- A beautiful and well written story.
Here are a few additional thoughts about some of the stories:
'The Shrine of Death' impressed me with its stunning story. I found myself fascinated by the girl's obsession with the secrets of life and how her obsession grew worse as she found an old church. The author wrote excellently about the girl's life and how she met her fate in the church, because the story is infused with Gothic imagery and macabre beauty.
'The Physician's Wife' is an interesting exploration of how a young girl's life changes from happy to bitter when she is married to an aging physician who takes her to his remote castle. The author writes strikingly about what kind of a fate befalls the woman and what happens between her and the disciple of his husband.
'The Secret' is a beautifully written story about a boy's interest and obsession in finding out the secret of where the rives comes from and where it goes. This story is a splendid and approriately melancholy fairy tale for adults. It has quiet power that will charm its readers.
'The Shrine of Love' is one of the most beautiful short stories I've read recently. The author's way writing about the girl who seeks to look upon the face of Love is fascinatingly vivid, because she writes well about the girl's detemination and her life. There's a strangely solemn and wistful undertone to this story that I found intriguing.
'The Outcast Spirit' is one of the best stories in this collection, because it's a memorable account of a what happens to a girl who has been born of desire between the son of a great man and a beggar-maid. The author paints a strong picture of what life is like for the girl because of her parentage. Her parentage and what happened to her parents seems to have doomed her whole life.
'The Hangman's Daughter' is another excellent story. I found myself enjoying the author's storytelling and her way of describing what happened in ancient France and how life in the kingdom was anything but peaceful. The author's vivid imagery brings this story to life.
'The Last Hour' is a beautifully written story about a woman who waits for the Angel of Death to come to her. She longs for rest, which only the Angel of Death can give her. I liked the ending of this story, because it has solemn beauty.
I love the author's archaic prose and complex writing style, because it strongly emphasises the fable-like atmosphere. This kind of prose is not often seen in speculative fiction - except in old tales, some of which are difficult or nearly impossible to find - so this collection is a somewhat exotic reading experience and will please those who love archaic prose. Reading this kind of prose may take a bit of effort on the reader's part, but once you get used to it, you'll find it deeply compelling.
These stories can either be read in one sitting or they can be read separately over a period of days. I recommend reading them separately, because that way you'll be able to think about their contents and you'll get the most out of them. Although at first glance they may appear to be entertaining stories, they have plenty of depth and layers. If you like to think about what you've just read, you'll find these stories entertaining.
The introduction by Brian Stableford is excellent, because it contains useful information about Lady Dilke and her life during the Victorian Era. By reading it, you'll gain more insight into the stories.
I like the cover image, because it fits this collection perfectly. The cover shows Adam en Eva (1638) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
I highly recommend Lady Dilke's The Outcast Spirit and Other Stories to quality-oriented speculative fiction readers and readers who enjoy reading Victorian Era stories, because this kind of fiction is beautiful, complex and a bit difficult to find nowadays. Because the stories in this collection are filled with powerful imagery, strong Gothicness, archaic prose, beauty, melancholia and supernatural elements, it's a memorable and rewarding reading experience.