Ghost Story Review: "The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell
As the title suggests, this story is narrated by an old nurse, Hester, who raised the mother of the children she’s telling the story to. It appears the children have grown up in a happy home, but it soon becomes clear that their mother, Rosamond, knew tragedy and loss early in her life. Her father (the grandfather of the present children) a curate, died while travelling. Her mother died in childbirth when Rosamond was barely more than a toddler. Hester, the nurse, found the little girl charming and loved her fiercely.
After the deaths of her parents, the little girl and her nurse are taken to her mother’s ancestral home. Lord Furnivall owns the place, but doesn’t live there. Only elderly Miss Furnivall, going deaf, is there with her dour nurse/companion, the aptly named Mrs. Stark.
The old house is almost a city onto itself. It sits on wooded ground. The author describes it in rich, lush terms. Hester and Rosamond are given rooms in the old “nursery.” She makes friends with servants James, his wife Dorothy, and Agnes. Miss Furnivall seems to enjoy Rosamond’s company is small doses.
They haven’t been there long before Hester hears organ music. No one admits to playing the music. James says it’s the wind. Yeah, the wind. Away from everyone, as they’re walking to church, Agnes says the stories tell of the old lord playing the organ. When Hester looks under the cover, she sees organ has been destroyed.
Then comes the day little Rosamond goes missing. Hester sees her footsteps in the snow. A shepherd eventually returns her, wrapped in a shawl nearly frozen to death. Later, she tells Hester about a little girl outside in the snow, asking her to come out. Together, they came to a lady who was so happy to see her, and asked her to lie down in her arms, where she fell asleep.
While this is clearly too long and the end is too long in coming for modern readers, this is a classic ghost story, with ghostly vengeance for cruelty repaid in spades. It’s a 19 th century story, not a 21 st , though. Nevertheless, one can see the nurse’s love for Rosamond and see that all was well for the girl and the nurse. They are no longer in the heavy haunted house. I liked this story, though I can see where others might not.
Author Elizabeth Gaskell’s early life mirrors that of Rosamond to a certain degree. Her mother died in childbirth when she was toddler and her father, not knowing what to do with her, sent her to her mother’s relatives. She was born into an English Unitarian family and married a Unitarian minister. Many of her literary works are signed simply “Mrs. Gaskell.” While she wrote ghost stories, she also wrote novels and the first biography of Charlotte Brontë.
Title: “The Old Nurse’s Story”
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)
First published: in Household Words 1852
Elizabeth Gaskell bio: Wikipedia
© 2016 Denise Longrie
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