Review of ‘Short Stories from the 19th Century’ selected by David Stuart Davies

This collection of fifteen short stories is a good read, although it could be better. In my opinion, only seven of them have that wow factor you’d want in a short story. Here are all the stories, in the order they appear.

‘The Black Veil’ by Charles Dickens. A sombre tale of poverty and crime in London.

‘The Withered Arm’ by Thomas Hardy. Tragedy, sympathetic characters, country traditions and the inescapable workings of fate ensure this is a classic Hardy story of Wessex.

‘The Terribly Strange Bed’ by Wilkie Collins. Set in Paris, this is a creepy and amusing cautionary tale about gambling.

‘The Bottle Imp’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. A variety of exotic South Pacific locations, the fear of going to hell and an Aladdin-style fairy tale make this a memorable and unusual read.

‘The Red-Headed League’ by Arthur Conan Doyle. A rather dull Sherlock Holmes story.

‘The Stolen Bacillus’ by H G Wells. An entertaining collision of Wells’ social fiction and science fiction.

‘The Squire’s Story’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. I had to skip this one. I don’t wish to read about a man who whips children and hunts foxes.

‘The Journey to Panama’ by Anthony Trollope. The intriguing possibility of romance aboard a steamship.

‘The Sphinx without a Secret’ by Oscar Wilde. More of a symbolic tale than a story with a plot.

‘The Judge’s House’ by Bram Stoker. A creepy story about a rat-infested haunted house.

‘The Necklace’ by Guy de Maupassant. The perils of wanting to keep up appearances are demonstrated in this excellent tale with an ironic twist.

‘The Kiss’ by Anton Chekhov. A shy military officer is kissed in a case of mistaken identity and then simultaneously realises he wants romance and that everything is pointless.

‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Disturbing and thought-provoking, this story is a portrait of a woman suffering from postnatal depression and is also a feminist classic.

‘Juke Judkins’ Courtship’ by Charles Lamb. An unmemorable yet vaguely amusing tale about a man with a sense of entitlement.

‘One Dollar’s Worth’ by O Henry. A fake coin causes trouble in a Wild West town.

The selection of stories is hit and miss. The star of the collection is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. However, its more modern tone doesn’t really match the other stories. Three of the stories are about hanging in some way, which I thought was too much. Only two of the stories are by female authors. I would have appreciated knowing when the stories were first published. It also annoyed me that the name David Stuart Davies is prominent on the cover and he has written the introduction, plus introductions to each story, yet nowhere in the book are we told who he is and what qualifies him to select fifteen stories out of the thousands produced in the nineteenth century.

I expect that all of these stories can be downloaded for free from the internet, but I prefer to read classics in print. Considering this book cost about £1.99 or so, it’s a decent collection of stories. It’s a pity that whoever wrote the blurb added an extra ‘l’ to Gilman’s name and that in the introduction, Chekhov is spelt both with and without the ‘h’.

First published in 2000 by Wordsworth Editions.

6 thoughts on “Review of ‘Short Stories from the 19th Century’ selected by David Stuart Davies”

  1. Good review. With older stories that are in the public domain and so routinely anthologized (like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which I do enjoy), the introduction or forward and other extras must be really standout. Sounds like this one was a miss. And the copyediting errors–oh, that always makes me cringe!

    1. Thank you! I bought the book a few years ago (probably when looking for a very cheap book to ‘qualify for free delivery’) and there are some very good stories but I’m sure there are better anthologies. The extra material was lacking a bit, I thought. The errors are fairly common with this publisher (Wordsworth Classics) but you get what you pay for, these are bargain versions 🙂

    1. Thanks! Nothing personal, I’m sure he’s nice, I just think some explanations should have been included 🙂

  2. The Withered Arm sounds…interesting! By the title, at least? And the one by Wilkie Collins too – did you like these, N??!?!

    1. Yes I liked those ones, Hardy is my favourite writer out of those included, I would say. I’m sure there are better anthologies out there but this is worth a try if you want a very cheap one 🙂

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