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The Cold Embrace: Weird Stories by Women Edited by S.T. Joshi

This original anthology presents 19 short stories that cover nearly a century of speculative fiction by women authors. Selections range from Mary Shelley’s “Transformation” (1830), a pendant to Frankenstein in its themes and motifs, to “Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched” (1922) by May Sinclair, a tale of time travel that follows its heroine to Hell and back.
Gripping narratives include Virginia Woolf’s “A Haunted House,” in which a ghostly couple revisit their former home; “A Wedding Chest” by Vernon Lee, a story of romance and revenge that unfolds in Renaissance Italy; and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” recounting a woman’s psychic possession by the previous occupant of her attic bedroom. Additional tales include E. Nesbit’s “From the Dead,” “The Eyes” by Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Curious If True,” and many others. Editor S. T. Joshi offers an extensive Introduction as well as notes on each of the authors.

The Cold Embrace: Weird Stories by Women Edited by S.T. Joshi

Title: The Cold Embrace: Weird Stories by Women | Intro and Editor: S. T. Joshi | Publisher: Dover Publications | Pub. Date: 18 May 2020 | Pages: 288 | Genre: Horror / Speculative Fiction | Language: English | Source: Self-Purchased

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The Cold Embrace: Weird Stories by Women

This anthology is a collection of short stories written by women between 1830 – 1923. It contains many familiar and beloved authors such as Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and May Sinclair. It also potentially opens readers to new authors from this specific time period.

The stories have a lot of similarities. There are strong elements of feminism in most of these pieces. The women are often portrayed as frail, fragile or silly in an attempt to highlight the injustices and inequities in women rights. Exposition is heavy handed and dialogue limited in most of the stories, which is a characteristic of the time periods they were written. Marriage is often portrayed as the only option for a young woman, and her husband is often characterized as the sole authority within the household. All of these elements are purposefully intended to shine light on women’s rights.

There are also common themes of social class. Lower class characters are seen as less reliable and often discarded or discounted, while members of higher society are allowed to literally get away with murder. The stories lack diversity in terms of ethnicity or gender roles, as there is only one story that contains hints of a gay romance, and only one story that contains a non-white character.

My favorite story was “The Painter of Dead Women” by Edna W. Underwood (1910). This was about a Count who collected beautiful women in their prime and preserved them for all eternity. He’s an arrogant character, who claims women reach a peak of beauty and after this moment passes, their life worth diminishes. He believes he’s giving his victims a great gift b y allowing them to remain “perfect”. The story has obvious feminist points-of-views, as the man clearly deems only women who look a certain way to be beautiful. He also only captures rich and influential women, which is something that plays into the heroine’s escape plan. This story forced readers to take a look at the treatment of women and how the wealth gap creates privilege.

A lot of the themes are ahead of their time. While society worked to keep women “in line”, these authors used their gifts of words to craft characters that challenged the norms. These stories are proof that feminism isn’t a new concept, and that women have been fighting for equality for generations.

While I enjoyed the themes and many of the stories, I didn’t love the style of writing. Even though heavy exposition was common, I found some of the passages tedious to read through. I also was disappointed there wasn’t more diversity both in authors and story subjects (there were a lot of haunted house stories). With all that said, this is still worth reading if you’re interested in horror from the 1800 and early 1900s. For me, it just wasn’t something I’d read again.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads; however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

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