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Book Review: FANTASMAGORIANA: “The Grey Chamber” and “The Black Chamber”

I’m going to cover the final two installments of the collection together, as they were obviously meant to be read in tandem, the latter serving as a sequel to the former. It’s unfortunate that the anthology should close with two of its weaker components, and it is obvious upon reading them why “The Grey Chamber” and “The Black Chamber” were omitted from the English translation of the book released in 1813. They are, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, dull. Neither are ghost stories. The first is the tale of a man who is punked into *thinking* he has experienced a haunting, and the second the narrative of a man responding to hearing the first story by reporting a haunting of his own, one that is ultimately revealed to also be fake. It’s hard to imagine either of these stories eliciting chills from readers, especially from Ms. Mary Shelley, who would be inspired by FANTASMAGORIANA to write a little story of her own entitled FRANKENSTEIN. There is as much distance between that classic novel and those two short stories as there is between the sun and Pluto.

While it is good to have the FANTASMAGORIANA in its complete form for the sake of history—we want possession of all the actual stories read by Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, et al—the English translation released a year after the French version preserves the best of the collection and excises the least. Instead of TALES OF THE DEAD, which is what they called it, they should have titled the English version THE BEST OF FANTASMAGORIANA. It would have been more accurate.

I hope you’ve enjoyed visiting these stories with me. It’s cool to think about, as we are reading them, they are the same stories as read and enjoyed by the Shelleys and Lord Byron during the “Haunted Summer” that in a very real sense gave birth to the Horror genre as we know it.

TheCheezman • March 29, 2019

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