‘The Room in the Tower’ by E.F. Benson

Benson’s ghost stories are not stereotypically gothic; they typically take place against a genteel and comfortable background. The first half of ‘The Room in the Tower’, at least, is no different: the narrator recounts a recurring dream in which he is spending time in a nice drawing room with pleasant company, but is then instructed by a voice that he must go to “the room in the tower”; this instruction fills him with unaccountable dread. Benson thus transposes a gothic conceit of inescapable doom, foretold in dreams, to a comfortable domestic space. The absence of detail is tremendously effective (in the first half, at least); the Room in the Tower, remaining mysterious – an utterance – has an affective power or aura like death itself: an unknown, to be dreaded, capable of appearing within and corrupting the most pleasant moments. Perhaps the best ghost stories are set in daylight hours, in comfortable settings and with good company.

First published in 1912. Collected in The Room in the Tower and Other Stories, Knopf, 1929. Also in Ghost Stories, Vintage, 2016