ABOUT THIS BOOK
A widely held vision of nineteenth-century American women is of lives lived in naive, domestic peace—the girls of Little Women making do until father comes home from the war. Nothing could be less true of Harriet Prescott Spofford's stories. In fact, her editor at the Atlantic Monthly at first refused to believe that an unworldly woman from New England had written them. Her style, though ornate by our 20th century standards, adds to its atmosphere, like heavy, Baroque furniture in a large and creepy house.
The title story presents a self-centered and captivating woman who ruthlessly steals her orphan cousin's lover. In "Circumstance," a pioneer woman returning home through the woods at night is caught by a panther; her husband, who has come to save her, can only watch from the ground as she sings for her life, pinned in a tree. A train engineer hallucinates again and again that he is running over his wife. And Mrs. Craven, who's a bit "weak" in the head, mindlessly repeats "Three men went down cellar and only two came up." These stories combine elements of the best ghost stories—timing, detail, and character —with just enough chill to make you think twice about turning out your lights at night.