This, Then, Is the Episode that Kicks Off the Tales Told Christmas Ghost Stories

It was Christmas Eve, and a small party of people were seated in the smoking room of Hensham House. Now Hensham House was built in the sixteenth century, and, like all properly constituted country houses, it owned a haunted room, in which Miss Van Renslaar desired to spend the night.

— Ivy Hooper’s “The Baron’s Room”

The narrative frame of Ivy Hooper’s “The Baron’s Room” (1896) is set at a Yuletide gathering. The revelers have settled themselves — presumably by a hearth — and, sure enough, the conversation turns to ghosts. The tale does not concern Van Renslaar’s experience in that haunted room, however, as the introductory passage quoted above might suggest. Instead, it concerns a chamber in France that has a strange, tragic history. The storyteller, we learn, had investigated that room one night. One windy and terrible night…

“Ghost Stories Round the Christmas Fire,” by H.M. Brock, The Christmas Tree, by Charles Dickens, (Hodder & Stoughton, c. 1911).

Of the ten works I chose to read for Season One of Tales Told When the Windows Rattle, Hooper’s is the only one specifically set at Christmastime. It works well, then, to shift things away from Halloween and towards the rekindling tradition of sharing fireside ghost stories at a winter gathering. Want to learn why this oral tradition waned in the early 1800s and shifted to literary depictions of it? I discuss that in my introduction to Echoing Ghost Stories: Literary Reflections of Oral Tradition.

In that introduction, I also discuss how some written-for-the-page Victorian ghost stories seem to act almost as scripts to be read aloud. “The Baron’s Room” is one of these — except for one quirky but quick interruption, which I’m pretty sure you’ll catch when you hear it. You can do so here at the Tales Told rec room, where you can also download the audio version for offline listening. If you’d prefer, the video-only version is up at the Tales Told YouTube channel, where I can still pull in more chairs for new subscribers.

Of course, if you’d rather wait till we’re closer to December 25th, I’ll perfectly understand.

— Tim

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