Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Great Short Stories: #11-20

11. "Ethan Brand" (1851) by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In this tale, a man seeks to learn what the "unpardonable sin" could be. Tackling the problem as an experiment, he makes test subjects of several people, deceiving them into committing murder and other terrible acts, but in each case he can see how they could be forgiven. The ultimate revelation of his actions is this: intentionally drawing others into evil is the unpardonable sin.

"Ethan Brand" can be found in Twice-Told Tales. You can read the text online here.

12. "A Terrible Night" (1856) by Fitz-James O'Brien. In this disturbing tale, two men go hunting in the woods somewhere in northern Canada. After becoming lost they chance upon a cabin and the reclusive but proud inhabitant allows them to spend the night. However, the two begin to fear that their host has plans to rob and kill them, so they sleep in shifts to keep an eye on him. The ultimate horror of the evening is much worse than they could have imagined.

"A Terrible Night" can be read online here.

13. "The Phantom Coach" (1864) by Amelia B. Edwards. I first encountered this story in a filmstrip back in junior high school and it left quite a mark upon me; bereft of the film's illustrations, I don't think it's as terrifying, but Edwards still weaves what is to my mind the best of the "phantom coach" style of tales, of which there were many in the 19th century (her colleague Dickens wrote a couple). In this tale, a man lost in the snow accepts a lift from a mysterious coach. There's something not quite right about his fellow passengers...

"The Phantom Coach" can be found in Classic & Victorian Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

14. "The Trial for Murder" (1865) by Charles Dickens. In this story, a juror finds himself strangely compelled by the case he's been made to sit in on. He never knew the victim, he does not know the defendant. How is it that he seems possessed of the full details of the crime and is assured of the defendant's guilt? And is there really a 13th juror?

"The Trial for Murder" can read online here.

15. "The Signal-Man" (1866) by Charles Dickens. This eerie story relates the plight of a railway line signal-man who has premonitions of disaster and lives in perpetual fear that his premonitions will come true; the story's protagonist tries to convince him that his fears are groundless, yet he unwittingly has a part to play in the man's future.

"The Signal-Man" can be found in Three Ghost Stories. You can read the text online here.

16. "Green Tea" (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu is not a well-known name but he's well-regarded by those who know him and stories like "Green Tea" exhibit the reason why. It's a psychological ghost story written in an open, conversational style that may even make you laugh...until the story's phantom monkey appears.

"Green Tea" can be found in Green Tea and Other Strange Tales. You can read the text online here.

17. "Sire de Maletroit's Door" (1877) by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this story, a young cavalier fleeing from his enemies steps inside an open door; he soon has cause to regret this action when he finds himself in the home of a wealthy man determined to find the person who impregnated his daughter. As a criminal, the cavalier cannnot expose his motivation without incriminating himself and so is given a choice: marry his daughter or die.

"Sire de Maletroit's Door" can be found in New Arabian Nights. You can read the text online here.

18. "The Suicide Club" (1878) by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here's where I'm fudging the definition of "short story" just a little. "The Suicide Club" is more properly a novella or even a mini-anthology; it is essentially three short stories which together tell one great story. However, it's mainly the first of these stories which I'm enamored with - "The Young Man With the Cream Tarts." It's this part of the story which is really about the titular Suicide Club. In it, a young prince out to enjoy himself in secrecy joins a club where suicidal people unable to kill themselves play cards every night to choose from amongst their ranks a killer and a victim. The prince's problems really begin when he is chosen to be a victim! This was a story I first encountered on the radio show Escape, but protagonist Prince Florizel turned up in a few more of Stevenson's works.

"The Suicide Club" can be found in New Arabian Nights. You can read the text online here.

19. "A Ruse" (1882) by Guy de Maupassant. Really, this is an awful, tasteless, cynical and terrible story. And yet, it's told with such zest and audacity that I do rather like it. A physician relates a story about an evening where he was called to aid a married woman whose lover had unexpectedly died. He must contrive a means to get the body out of her home before her husband returns. It's all a build-up to an awful punchline, but so far as cynical humour goes, this is one of Maupassant's best.

"A Ruse" can be found in The Complete Works of Guy de Maupassant. You can read the text online here.

20. "Markheim" (1885) by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great crime story telling the desperate actions of a killer trying to escape the scene of the crime but plagued by self-doubts and fears of capture. His own conscience stirs against him as he comes closer and closer to discovery.

"Markheim" can be found in Three Tales. You can read the text online here.

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