‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door; And his horse in the silence
champed the grasses Of the forest’s ferny floor: And a bird flew up out of the turret, Above the Traveller’s head: And he smote upon the door again a second time; ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said. But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes, Where he stood perplexed and still. But only a host of phantom listeners That dwelt in the lone house then Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight To that voice from the world of men: Excerpt from 'The Listeners', Walter de la Mare, 1920.
In my opinion 'the Listeners' by Walter de la Mare is one of the most haunting and mysterious poems ever written.
To evoke such silent knowledge of ghostly beings beyond the threshold, hidden from sight, silently watching and waiting for the rider to leave his message and depart is truly atmospheric.
The above painting is of a mansion called 'Particular Aspects' in a small village of Kenninghall, Norfolk, that I painted a number of years ago. The house itself was sitting quietly amongst a street full of cosy firelit homes and looked so out of place. It even had a graveyard in it's front garden.
I remember sneaking in to spy on the house and... a black cat jumped out at me! I can tell you that that was a very frightening experience. I just had to paint it to remind me of it evermore...
I am also also a huge fan of M.R. James.
If you have not read the Collected Ghost Stories and are a fan of this style of writing you must do. However be warned they truly are frightening! Especially this audio version read by David Collings available here.
There is something about what is not said in these Victorian novels that makes them so chilling. The fact M.R. James's stories have never been out of print shows the popularity of this genre.
One of the most famous stories is 'Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad'. It tells a tell of a young Cambridge University Professor on holiday in a town in the South East coast of England.
He investigates the grounds of a nearby preceptory for a colleague during his stay.. While investigating an unknown figure keeps trying to catch up with him on the beach and many mysterious happenings occur.... make sure to keep the light on when reading this one!
Edgar Allan Poe is also undoubtedly one of my favourite Gothic writers and 'The Raven' is truly exceptional:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.