Fitzgerald, Alcott, Forster — they’re best known for their novels, but don’t overlook the grim novellas and short stories.
Fitzgerald, of course, had his charming Gatsby and Alcott her darling little women. These authors are most famous today for their iconic novels, but what’s sometimes overlooked are their unique shorter stories — dark stories, murderous stories, stories unfit for the faint of heart. Here are just a few of the strange, bizarre and delectably disturbing shorter works from a few of classic literature's most popular novelists:
Behind a Mask by Louisa May Alcott
In 1866 Louisa May Alcott was hard at work devising sensational stories under the pen name A. M. Barnard. During this time she wrote Behind a Mask, which follows the young Jean Muir as she enters the Coventry family’s home as a governess. At first glance it seems like a tale of class or perhaps a family saga, but as soon as Jean retreats into the quiet confines of her room it becomes apparent that this is no average yarn — nor she an average woman when, beneath her "mask," Jean begins to plot against the family.
The Poor Clare by Elizabeth Gaskell
Unlike Gaskell’s keen novels on class and personal hardship, the gothic novella The Poor Clare travels a supernatural route. Living alone in the English countryside, Bridget's sole companion is a loyal, loving dog. After her faithful pet is murdered, Bridget decides to take revenge by cursing the man who shot her companion, declaring that he will, just as she has, lose that which he loves most. Unfortunately Bridget’s eye-for-an-eye mentality lacks foresight, leading to disaster when she discovers where her victim’s heart lies.
"The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster
Though best known for his social commentary in the novels A Room with a View and A Passage to India, Forster also wrote science fiction. In the short story “The Machine Stops,” humans have reached a time when they can no longer survive on Earth, living instead in individual cells supported by a machine. Despite being built by man, this machine begins to take on God-like properties and those who question it are soon shunned. The horror of environmental collapse, technological takeover and other frightful, Matrix-like aspects of Forster’s story are compounded by his eerie prescience, seeing as he wrote “The Machine Stops” in 1909.
"The Diamond as Big as The Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Anyone familiar with Fitzgerald’s short story "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" knows that the classic American author could get a little, well, peculiar. In "The Diamond as Big as The Ritz," he takes Romeo and Juliet and basically drops it smack in the middle of Lord of the Flies. John T. Unger is a student invited to spend his summer with Percy Washington, a very rich classmate. What John does not realize, however, is that the Washingtons keep the grand secret of their wealth in their luxurious home and visiting them comes at a very deep price. At first dazzled by the family’s remarkable fortune, John slowly begins to realize that he is utterly disposable to the Washingtons, who will do anything to protect what is theirs.
"A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner
Anyone who's read The Sound and The Fury might not consider this much of a stretch, but Faulkner could get downright Gothic. In "A Rose for Emily," the withdrawn Emily Grierson suffers a breakdown following the death of her overprotective father. Things seem to take a turn for the better, however, when a crew comes to build sidewalks by her house and Emily meets Homer Barron. The town does not approve of the difference in Emily and Homer’s social classes, but she is determined. Emily continues seeing Homer and even buys him gifts. The town believes the two are to be married when suddenly Homer disappears and Emily retreats into her home, where she remains unseen for the next six months. Suffice to say, all is not right in the Grierson household.
Fans of the classics should be sure to check out these incredible tales, but if you're looking for the feisty Jo March or thoughtful Nick Carraway, then you might just want to stick with what’s familiar.
Know of any other unexpectedly ghoulish tales from classic authors? Tell us all about it in the comments below. Share links too!
Emily Ruth Verona received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies from The State University of New York at Purchase. She is the recipient of the 2014 Pinch Literary Award in Fiction and a 2014 Jane Austen Short Story Award Finalist. Previous publication credits include work featured in Read. Learn. Write., 50-Word Stories, The Toast and PopMatters. Emily lives in New Jersey with a rather small dog.
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