How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery by E.F. Benson

I don’t quite know why it is that ghost stories are so closely connected with Christmas – but they do seem to be! I hadn’t planned to squeeze in any festive scariness this year, but I found myself with an odd 15 minutes spare at work before the holidays and with no book to hand – the horror! Fortunately, I did have a tablet with me and as I’d just read somewhere (and I can’t remember where – possibly Twitter?) about this engaging-sound short work, I tracked down a copy and it certainly did entertain me nicely!

E. F. Benson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Benson is an author I’ve read quite a lot of, in the main the Mapp and Lucia stories I think. However, he seems to also be known as a short story writer, and there are collections of his ghost stories floating around on the Internet. This particular tale seems to get a lot of online coverage, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a real little gem! The action takes place in the house of Church-Peveril, and the opening line sets the scene beautifully:

Church-Peveril is a house so beset and frequented by spectres, both visible and audible, that none of the family which it shelters under its acre and a half of green copper roofs takes psychical phenomena with any seriousness.

Immediately we’re in a milieu where ghosts are part of everyday life and the shades of the family ancestors are familiar and welcome. In some ways, I was straight away reminded of Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost”, and certainly Benson’s spooks are mostly benign. However, as with all families, there are the black sheep, and one particular part of the house has a haunting which is not to be endured – the Long Gallery of the title. This is to be avoided at all costs between sunset and sunrise, on pain of an awful fate, and the grim events which led to the manifestation which takes place there (two murdered infants) are related in the story. Alas, it seems as though one of the young family members may well be nodding off in the Long Gallery as the story progresses – is a dreadful demise in store?

I shan’t say any more about the story except to tell you to go and track down a copy if you want an involving, chilly and yet moving read. “Long Gallery…” manages to be witty, scary and thought-provoking all in one. There’s a villain who gets his comeuppance, unresolved trauma, and a moral ending with goodness seen as overcoming evil. It really is a delight of a read, and reminded me how much I like Benson’s writing; it even made me think I ought to track down a copy of his ghost stories, despite the fact I’m really not good at spooky reading (particularly at night – I abandoned Edith Wharton’s Ghost Story collection after reading the first one because it made me too nervy to put the light out!).

But there’s a warmth to Benson’s story, a feeling of resolution, that things will be all right in the end and that even the most awful things can be overcome. It made a wonderful diversion just when I needed one and at about 17 pages long (in the digital version I found) is a quick read. Perfect! πŸ˜€