9 August 2022 Handheld Weirds 6
D K Broster was one of the great British historical novelists of the twentieth century, but her Weird fiction has long been forgotten. She wrote some of the most impressive supernatural short stories to be published between the wars. Melissa Edmundson, editor of Women’s Weird, Women’s Weird 2, Elinor Mordaunt’s The Villa and The Vortex and Helen Simpson’s The Outcast and The Rite, all published by Handheld, has curated a selection of Broster’s best and most terrifying work.
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From the Abyss contains eleven stories:
- ‘All Souls Day’ (1907), in which a deadly enemy saves his soul.
- ‘Fils D’Émigré’ (1913), in which a small boy sees across water and time.
- ‘The Window’ (1929), in which a deserted chateau takes revenge on anyone who opens one particular window.
- ‘Clairvoyance’ (1932), in which a katana wreaks its revenge.
- ‘The Promised Land’ (1932), in which the worm turns deadly.
- ‘The Pestering’ (1932), in whch an ancient curse traps its maker.
- ‘Couching at the Door’ (1933), in which a spurned mistress becomes a familiar.
- ‘Juggernaut’ (1935), in which a bathchair goes over the cliff.
- ‘The Pavement’ (1938), in which the protectress of a Roman mosaic cannot bear to let it go.
- ‘From the Abyss’ (1940), in which the survivor of a car crash develops a doppelganger.
- ‘The Taste of Pomegranates’ (1945, previously unpublished version), in which the present-day enters the Palaeolithic.
Dorothy Kathleen Broster was born in 1877 near Liverpool. She earned a degree in Modern History at Oxford and worked as a nurse in the First World War. Her name as a novelist was made by her bestselling Jacobite trilogy, The Flight of the Heron (1925), The Gleam in the North (1927), and The Dark Mile (1929). Most of her supernatural fiction appeared in two collections: A Fire of Driftwood (1932) and Couching at the Door (1942). She died in 1950.
‘Both subtle and sudden, this solid collection artfully combines vivid atmosphere, supernatural horror, and psychological terror across a diverting variety of conceits.’ – Library Journal
‘A crucial contribution to the horror-story genre … her interest [is] in unexpiated guilt and a harking back to gothic or religious themes … the wall between supernatural apparitions and fictions of the human imagination is a thin one.’ – Times Literary Supplement
‘D K Broster’s unique short stories remind us that the true horror of sapient existence lies not in ‘monsters’ but not-so-deep
within the human psyche itself … Each-and-every Broster story is different from each and-every other Broster story, so there is really no such thing as a typical Broster story.’ – British Science Fiction Association Review
‘From the Abyss is another superb entry in Handheld’s already-excellent library of unsung Weird fiction by writers who’ve fallen out of the public eye, often for little more reason than being women. Stories like “Clairvoyance” or “The Promised Land” have lingered with me.’ – Horror Homeroom
‘ … many of the featured supernatural stories in this volume also [have] a strong historical background. For instance, the events in “Fils d’Émigré” take place in 1795 during the French Revolution, and many of the other stories, albeit set in the present, follow well-established traditions of supernatural fiction, where the past encroaches on the modern world. In “The Window”, a young British army officer on duty in France is trapped by a falling sash window in a deserted chateau, an accident which leads to visions of past violence during the French Revolution. “The Taste of Pomegranates” (featured in a previously unpublished version) is a peculiar “time slip” story, where the protagonists have an unexpected glimpse of the Palaeolithic Age. “The Pavement” refers to an ancient Roman mosaic and the strange pull it exerts on its elderly custodian – it can be read as much as a “supernatural” story as one of obsession and madness. But perhaps in this respect the most effective piece is “The Pestering”, the longest item in this volume. A couple buy a Tudor-era house, and soon start to be bothered by an insistent stranger who wants to be let inside. After a quasi-comic start to it, the tale becomes darker and eerier – this is a different take on the “haunted house” genre. ‘ – To the Ends of the Word
‘As in the best weird stories, these two tales (and for that matter all of the tales included here) tend to start out in the realm of the ordinary and the mundane, but Broster inches the reader ever so slowly to that point where ordinary takes a strange detour … From the Abyss is truly a gem of a collection that should absolutely not be missed by readers of the weird and the strange.’ – Oddly Weird Fiction
‘This might be my favourite collection of Weird tales yet – a great mix of stories and subjects, with incisive character work … the stories are horrifying for their effects on the people they involve, rather than for the actual supernatural elements – which is not to say the Weirdness isn’t effective and entertaining, because it is, but there’s a deftness of character and a very intense way of description that makes you really empathise with the characters.’ – A Cat, A Book and a Cup of Tea
”The really good thing about From the Abyss is that the stories cover a long enough time period to show Broster’s style thoroughly evolve. It always feels like reading the same woman, but with enough variety in tone to never be repetitive … a really strong collection that consistently managed to subvert my expectations. The bad things that happen are rooted in a sort of domestic banality set against gorgeously artistic backgrounds. It’s a tremendously effective device and a book I’ll turn to again and again.’ – Desperate Reader
‘If you love clever but unsettling stories that will leave you thinking about them long after you’ve closed the book, you need to check out the works of D K Broster. The stories in From the Abyss perfectly encapsulate the subtler side of weird fiction that doesn’t need tentacled aliens with god-like powers to make you feel like the world we live in is stranger than you could ever know.’ – The Gothic Library
You may be interested in other Handheld Weirds
Women’s Weird: the original anthology edited by Melissa Edmundson. Contains thirteen excellent supernatural stories encompassing the boundaries of Weird by outstanding women authors. Includes stories by Edith Wharton, May Sinclair, Margery Lawrence and E Nesbit.
Women’s Weird 2: our second anthology edited by Melissa Edmundson, this collection of short supernatural fiction from 1893 to 1937 covers new geographical territory with fiction from Canada, Australia, India, the USA and New Zealand.
British Weird: edited by James Machin, this collection of short British supernatural fiction from 1981 to 1937 displays an unsettling mastery of Weird preoccupations.
The Villa and The Vortex, by Elinor Mordaunt, the first anthology of this exceptionally good but unaccountably forgotten Weird writer to be in print for decades.
The Outcast and The Rite, by the Australian writer Helen Simpson, this collects the best of her unsettling supernatural writing, adding some little-known stories to her 1925 collection The Baseless Fabric.
Strange Relics, an anthology of classic supernatural stories about archaeological finds, curated by Amara Thornton and Katy Soar.
The Unknown, by Algernon Blackwood. A collection of his essays and short fiction about the immeasurable, the inconceivable, and incomprehensible.
The Living Stone, curated by Henry Bartholomew. An anthology of classic short stories to evoke the sensation of something heavy scraping its way up the stairs, or a granite-cold hand on your shoulder.
The House of Silence, a new anthology of the best of E Nesbit’s ghost stories, from 1891 to 1922. To be published on 14th May 2024.