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It is not difficult to imagine Sherlock Holmes, that great eschewer of the supernatural, firing his clay pipe into the fireplace at 221B were he made aware of the cottage literary movement birthed by his adventures. People tend to forget that the detective and his dogged, Boswellian biographer Doctor Watson, investigated through the first quarter of the 20th century, existing as surely in the age of Babe Ruth as they had in the Victorian era of Wilkie Collins. There were, of course, hundreds of Holmes knock-offs and pastiches throughout the detective’s run, as there are now, but what some writers, at least, had the good sense to realize was that simply recasting the model of the genius deducer and his very human foil/partner was not going to achieve any more than serve up some Sherlock-lite. A new wrinkle was needed. Enter, then, the ghosts, and the duos who investigate them.

In the summer of 1914, when the wife and husband duo of Alice and Claude Askew published the eight stories that comprise the collected adventures of Aylmer Vance, “ghost-seer” — there’s something for a business card for you — supernatural fiction was going through a crucial change. The ghost story, long dominant in England, from where the Askews hailed, and which made up a goodly chunk of the best literature yet written in the States, had started to morph into the weird tale, the stuff that would dominate the pulps in the 1930s and 1940s, giving rise to those limited edition book runs at places like Arkham House, which recast horror writing much as Hawthorne, Poe, and M.R. James once had. Humans, now, were often the agencies of the macabre, or else elemental forces from the beyond divorced of human form, but borne of human crisis and strain. The dead girl in the glowing white dress, less so.
More… “The Ghost Shift”

Colin Fleming writes on art, literature, film, rock, jazz, classical music, and sports for Rolling Stone, JazzTimes, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and a number of other publications. His fiction has recently appeared in AGNI, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Commentary, and Post Road, and he’s the author of The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss (Dzanc), and is writing a memoir, Many Moments More: A Story About the Art of Endurance, and a novel about a reluctant piano genius, age seven or eight, called The Freeze Tag Sessions. He’s a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition. His tattered, on-the-mend website is colinfleminglit.com, and he highly recommends reading The Smart Set daily, along with ten mile coastal walks and lots of Keats and hockey for the soul.
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