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May/June 2016
 
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Twilight Stories, by Rhonda Broughton (1872)


ANTHONY BOUCHER, co-founder of F&SF, had superb literary sensibilities. And so when, in F&SF for October 1954, Boucher reprinted "The Man with the Nose" by Rhonda Broughton (1840-1920), reviving a forgotten writer of Victorian ghost stories, it seemed that Broughton might with this push enter the fantastika canon. But although she has indeed since resurfaced in the occasional anthology, she remains a relatively unknown figure, compared to peers such as M. R. James and Oliver Onions.

A shame, since the five stories in her pivotal collection exhibit a fine and varied set of frissons. "The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth" gives us a haunted London flat where merely sighting the never-described apparition proves fatal. Boucher's selection finds a young bride on her honeymoon shadowed by a demonic suitor. Cause and effect are shattered in "Behold, It Was a Dream!," where daylight reaction to a woman's nightmare actually reifies the forebodings. In stark contrast to "Truth," "Poor Pretty Bobby" gives us the gruesomely substantial specter of a drowned sailor. Finally, while "Under the Cloak" ultimately offers a non-occult explanation, it dabbles in dread and eldritch imagery, conveyed by its acidulous narrator with Patricia Highsmith zest.

Noted in her day for her lurid novels, this independent and free-thinking writer (niece to the famous J. Sheridan le Fanu), proved she could handle subtle shocks at a smaller scale. With her focus on the role of tough-minded women encountering strictures both cosmic and cultural, Broughton layered frights atop subtexts that still resonate today.

—Paul Di Filippo

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