“The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell, illus. by Seth

I surprised myself a while back by picking up this classic horror short story to read for a readathon and actually liking it.


Genre

Classic Horror

Series

n/a

Pubbed

1852

Quick summary

The Old Nurse’s Story is a short ghost story an old nursemaid tells her charges about when she and their mother were younger. The mother, Rosamond, and the nursemaid were sent to live at the family mansion with Rosamond’s aunt shortly after Rosamond’s parents died.

Soon after arriving at the mansion, the nursemaid begins to suspect that it’s haunted. However, her suspicions are verified when young Rosamond is found at the Fells by a shepherd, almost frozen to death. Rosamond said she was led there in the blizzard by a little girl to meet a lady, but the nursemaid recalls seeing only one pair of little footprints in the snow from the house. Later, the apparition of a little girl appears in the window, calling to Rosamond, and the nursemaid and other servants try their best to prevent Rosamond from going to the girl.

The full story later comes out: Rosamond’s aunt once had a sister, but their father casted out the sister and her illegitimate child for disgracing the family, which leads to the child’s death. A ghostly rendition of the entire incident takes place one night, which shocks the elderly aunt and renders her bedridden for the rest of her days. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

That’s not a great recap because the story was much more interesting than how dull I made it sound. But I read it a while back, and quite quickly too, so… I kinda forgot what I read, had to find a summary somewhere, and used that and my patchy memory of the story to cobble together what I threw up above. And by the way, there are hardly any summaries of this story on the web. I guess it’s not well known.

Apparently, telling stories like this around Christmas time was “a yuletide ritual dating back to at least the eighteenth century,” and “during the Victorian era many magazines printed ghost stories specifically for the Christmas season.” I got all that from the book I read, which contains only The Old Nurse’s Story, which is about 29 pages long. I guess I bought it around Christmas time. I remember there being other short books around with similarly illustrated covers, so maybe they too were ghost stories.

Anyway, I liked the story. It wasn’t very spooky or creepy, but the horror in it worked just fine. I got caught up in the family “drama,” wondering what exactly happened in the past between the sisters and why the ghosts appear. Then I learned of the human horror that caused the supernatural one, and the deep regret that left the elderly aunt stricken, muttering:

“Alas! alas! what is done in youth can never be undone in age! What is done in youth can never be undone in age!”

It made me want to know more about Rosamond. How was it growing up in a haunted house? Did the apparitions fade after a time? Did they only appear because there was a kid in the house? I’ll never know.

Overall: ★★★☆☆

It was a good read. It was quick, and I was entertained.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

7 thoughts on ““The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell, illus. by Seth

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