Sitting by the fire, with a glass of red wine and a good book, is one of the pleasures of winter. This month we’ll look at fireside reading, at the kind of familiar books associated with long, dark, wintry afternoons. Traditionally, this means ghost stories like these:
The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless
– the unmistakable opening line of Henry James’ most famous ghost story, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (1898). English antiquarian and author M. R. James was known for holding court around the fire every Christmas Eve, when he would read his latest ghostly tale to an assembled group of eager guests, and American novelist Edith Wharton specialized in ghost stories set in the bleak, snow-bound countryside of her native New England.
I also want to look at another chilling and disturbing genre: gothic fiction. Some of the world’s most frightening stories are nineteenth and twentieth century gothic; I’m thinking of titles like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Edgar Allan Poe’s dark tales of mystery and imagination. I’m also a big fan of well-written modern gothic fiction, and I’ll take great pleasure in introducing Sarah Waters’ utterly eerie and brilliant novel, The Little Stranger (2009), one of the best books that I’ve read recently.
Lastly, crime fiction: just the kind of thing to curl up with in a warm room on a cold, dark night.