The most obvious quibble here is that the title is an exercise in false advertising: in nearly half of the stories, a supernatural element is either completely nonexistent, ambiguous, or purely nominal.Another one, "The Little Room" by Madelene Yale Wynne, presents a bizarre and seemingly impossible series of events which neither the reader nor the characters can identify as a product of supernatural or of natural causes —the total inability to suggest any explanation is what gives the story its eerie power.A second quibble is with the pretentious and unilluminating introduction (complete with footnotes, most of which I didn't read), which only occasionally achieves an insight, but more frequently tells us more about the sorry state of modern academic literary criticism than it does about the stories.Two of Bendixen's principal hobby-horses (which he rides until the poor beasts are lathered and ready to collapse :-)) are feminist subtexts and sexual themes; and if the actual texts of the stories fail to provide any basis for this, he readily resorts to deconstructionist inventions to create one.(The short individual introductions to each story usually contain more factual material about the authors, and are more informative.)
That said, the stories themselves are usually excellent; and the authors represented are mostly women whose work I had read very little of or not at all, making the reading experience particularly rewarding for me.Of the half-dozen stories I would characterize by the term "supernatural" (most of these are ghost stories, but reincarnation and psychic vampirism also provide themes for a couple of them), there is no doubt in the reader's mind (at least, this reader's!) as to the authors' intention to depict the paranormal, but even so, in many of them the supernatural presence is not dramatic or outre;' there is no blood and gore, and often nothing that a determined skeptic could not explain as "natural" and coincidental —even though we know it isn't! And often the ghostly or supernatural intrusion is not scary or menacing, but poignant and moving.IMO, the two stories by Freeman, "Louella Miller" and "The Lost Ghost" are among the best of the supernatural group here (both are taken from her 1903 collection The Wind in the Rose-Bush, and Other Stories of the Supernatural, which is a title I need to add to my to-read shelf). But Jewett's "The Foreigner" and Wharton's "Pomegranate Seed" are also outstanding.
The non-supernatural stories are also fine examples of quality short fiction in their own right, even if nominally out of place in an anthology with this title.Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a grim masterpiece, a chilling portrayal of a young woman's descent into madness, and a powerful indictment of the way that 19th-century society too often treated women (Bendixen didn't have to hunt for a feminist message here!).Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' "The True Story of Guenever" only uses the names and and a thin veneer of Arthurian fantasy to construct a story about marital interaction and fidelity in what is openly a contemporary setting; she actually pulls this off effectively (and presents a profoundly Christian message in the process).And to single out just one more for special mention, "The Amber Gods" by Harriet Prescott Spofford is a rich story of manners and human relationships in a Romantic style that also foreshadows aspects of regionalist Realism (it was published in 1863).Spofford's use of physical description of differences in dress, jewelry, lace and other accouterments to give the reader a sense of the contrasting characters of Yone and her cousin Lu is absolutely masterful, and belies the dictum that description of clothing is never worthwhile!
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