31 October 2019
Early Weird fiction embraces the supernatural, horror, science fiction, fantasy and the Gothic, and was explored with enthusiasm by many women writers in the United Kingdom and in the USA in the late Victorian period and in the early twentieth century. Melissa Edmundson has brought together a compelling collection of the best Weird short stories by women from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to thrill new readers and delight these authors’ fans.
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Women’s Weird contains thirteen stories by Louisa Baldwin, D K Broster, Mary Butts, Mary Cholmondeley, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Margaret Irwin, Margery Lawrence, Elinor Mordaunt, Edith Nesbit, Eleanor Scott, May Sinclair, Francis Stevens and Edith Wharton.
- Edith Nesbit’s horror story ‘The Shadow’, about the dangers of telling a ghost story after the excitement of a ball.
- Edith Wharton tells an alarming story of Breton dogs and a jealous husband, in ‘Kerfol’.
- May Sinclair’s ‘Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched’ is about a love that will never, ever die.
- Mary Butts, modernist poet and novelist, wrote ‘With and Without Buttons’, a story of some very haunted gloves.
- D K Broster, best known for her historical novels, tells an unholy story of a mistress’s feathery revenge, ‘Couching At The Door’.
- Rarities include Margery Lawrence’s ‘The haunted saucepan’, and Francis Stevens’s Lovecraftian tale of tentacles in an alternate dimension, ‘Unseen – Unfeared’.
The cover image is from the April 1919 issue of Vogue, a fashion portrait of ‘Dolores’ by Adolf de Meyer.
You may also be interested in these supernatural collections
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 supernatural fiction from 1981 to 1937 displays an unsettling mastery of Weird preoccupations.
The Villa and The Vortex, by Elinor Mordaunt: we bring this exceptionally good writer of Weird fiction back into print in 2021 with this new anthology of her best supenatural writing.
Media and reviews (so many reviews …)
The Guardian featured Women’s Weird and Women’s Weird 2 in October 2020, focusing on Melissa’s work in recovering these forgotten authors.
‘A landmark anthology … Edmundson has curated a solid journey through weird landscapes … The notes/annotations at the back of the book by publisher Kate Macdonald should become an industry standard … This is an unmissable, urgent and era-defining work. ‘ – Gingernuts of Horror
The Times Literary Supplement reviewed Women’s Weird for Hallowe’en: ‘The collection is a deliberate effort to attenuate, in the horror tradition, the dominance of men like M R James, Arthur Machen, H P Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce, and restore to prominence innovative writers such as May Sinclair, Mary Butts and Margery Lawrence … The stories in Women’s Weird, spanning the period from the late nineteenth century to the eve of the Second World War, branch out from an older ghost-story tradition to “explore more universal imaginings of fear, unease and dread”. They show the continuing influence of Gothic and supernatural tropes and the effect of their collision with a modernizing world and women’s changing roles within it.’
‘I’ve been anticipating Women’s Weird from Handheld Press for months now and it has not disappointed … an excellent collection of stories that are agreeably scary whilst you’re reading them, and provide much more to think about when you’re not.’ – Desperate Reader
‘It’s high time for the release of this new collection of short stories from Handheld Press, edited by expert on women’s supernatural fiction, Melissa Edmundson … Women’s Weird is a collection of stories covering a 50-year period, 1890-1940, illustrating the evolution of weird fiction and showcasing women’s contribution to it. There are a range of styles and themes on display in these stories, some closer to traditional gothic ghost stories, especially in the earlier years, but as soon as we get to Edith Nesbit’s “The Shadow” (1905), we have entered weird fiction territory … Women’s Weird is packed with weird gems.’ – Sublime Horror
Bookmunch were raving, simply raving: ‘Every story in Women’s Weird justifies its inclusion, and Edmundson’s terrific introduction does a great job of defining not only the weird, but shifting our view of history to centre women’s writing within the genre. The book feels entirely of the moment, and its selection of stories is completely perfect … An exceptional anthology, packed with brilliant fiction. In years to come this is going to be cited in essays as an essential part of the weird fiction canon.’
Jennifer of the Ladies of Horror Fiction reviewed it in her Bookden: ‘It’s such a treasure … I absolutely loved it.’
‘There are so many stories I loved in this collection, but the ones that stood out to me as unlike any of the weird fiction I’ve read before were those that located their horror within the mundane … “Couching at the Door” was perhaps my favorite story in the collection, and its exploration of the relationship between art and morality as well as the story of a hedonistic older man leading a beautiful young protege into depravity’ – The Gothic Library
Read this interview / essay with Melissa Edmundson in Cunning Folk magazine: ‘… for me, Weird is often “quieter” than horror. There’s something ominous waiting just below the surface. Unlike horror, there is also more left to the imagination.’
‘This book is the perfect companion to an evening of weird … The stories explore a vast array of ideas and occurrences that feed into our human psyche, the scares and the fear that we hear about in folklore and legend come to the surface in these stories. In some cases, these tales go beyond our primal fears and go into the world of the surreal, opening up new ideas and new fears for us to process.’ – Black Sunday
‘There are ghosts, hints of supernatural, cavemen, science, and even a story about a haunted saucepan. That was personally one of my favorites.; But that was a slight problem, every time I finished a story I found myself saying “oh that one has to be one of my favorites now” and before I knew it, well, I had 13 favorite stories out of 13.’ – The Caffeinated Reader
‘The range of authors and stories suggests that the Weird is perhaps more an approach than a genre, demonstrating the Weird’s ability to discomfort and disturb … Women’s Weird is an essential read for any fan or scholar of Weird fiction, and we are indebted to both Handheld Press and Melissa Edmundson for performing this service.’ – The Fantasy Hive
‘It achieves something I find unusual in anthologies: it is a satisfying read that feels complete in and of itself. Though I had my favourites among the stories, there isn’t a single one I would remove, and the stories are really well-arranged so that you sweep through the different styles and emotions effortlessly.’ – A Cat, A Book and A Cup of Tea
Gabriela Frost wrote an essay for LucyWriters analysing the social commentary of the stories: ‘Women’s Weird invites us to ask: what did women writers in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain and America know to be truly frightening? … These women’s stories are not just overexcited fancies or plays on the public mood. They have a bearing on real life. They subtly extrapolate the traps and horrors not just of the supernatural – but of contemporary womanhood itself.’
From BSFA Review 9: ‘I … celebrate this anthology, and its thirteen stories, a number of which were entirely new to me. There isn’t a single weak story here. They’re often provocative, always entertaining, and they leave the reader in a thoughtful frame of mind.’
Amazing Stories were very impressed: ‘Another brilliant publication from Handheld Press, editor Melissa Edmundson has compiled a fitting collection of weird tales by a powerful class of women authors in the anthology Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890-1940. For those expecting typical ghost stories filled with mysterious supernatural elements familiar to the era, you’re about to be pleasantly surprised. Often filled with a social commentary that only women of the period can covey with such fluidity, the definition of “weird” becomes blurred and readers will find themselves pausing – a lot.’
‘Women’s Weird is a valuable, important work in the study of weird writing. It is a powerful reminder that, despite what we may be told, artists and artworks are rarely lost but rather become forgotten, or even actively suppressed, when they don’t fit the narratives of dominant cultural frameworks. Thankfully, we have scholars like Melissa Edmundson reminding us that this writing still exists and showing how it is still relevant today.’ – Daniel Petersen in Dead Reckonings, July 2020
Vector, the review of the British Science Fiction Association, said: ‘a welcome addition to the shelf … a strong collection of ghost stories written by women, mostly reflecting on the hopes and fears of women. I’d recommend it as a collection without hesitation … There isn’t a single weak story here.’
‘I enjoyed reading the Introduction and Notes almost as much as the stories themselves … There are numerous stories I haven’t encountered before, and each tells a tale which goes beyond the traditional ghost story and reminds readers of ‘the strangeness of the world’, as Edmundson quotes from Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. I particularly enjoyed those which featured symbols of domesticity evolving from the ordinary to extraordinary.’ – Horrified
Watch our video, in which we explain what Weird is, and why these stories are important as well as terrific.