Classic ghost stories and weird tales in English
Long before the idea of starting this website occured to me, I fired up Excel and began counting every time a specific title was mentioned in the “chronology” or “recommended reading” sections of academic books about gothic and supernatural literature that I’d been reading. This was the start of my list-making obsession, which continues to this day. The ranking that follows is a much updated version of my very first list.
It is a companion piece to my list of gothic and horror novels, but it focuses solely on works of short fiction: short stories, novelettes, and novellas. As is often the case, the dividing line is rather hazy, so some of the longest novellas included here could conceivably be described as short novels as well. When in doubt, I mostly followed the classification in The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. I should also point out that the list is limited to works that were originally written in English (see my previous lists for classic foreign works of fantasy and supernatural fiction: before 1880 and 1880–1939).
According to my usual criteria, the “classic” part of the title indicates that the stories listed here were published before World War II. As far as I can tell, this corresponds to what is widely regarded as the golden age of supernatural and horror short fiction: from the original gothic movement, through the Victorian and Edwardian eras in the United Kingdom and the British Empire, up to the “pulp explosion” in the United States.
While “ghost stories” and “weird tales” are likely the most popular designations for the general type of works included here, they are not intended as strict genre classifications. Some of the stories on this list may not contain any ghosts and may lack a particularly uncanny or eerie atmosphere; these outliers are probably better described as “gothic” or “macabre” tales.
A word about the linked editions: Almost all the stories listed here are now in the public domain, which means that they can be legally read for free on the web (see the “Read” links for each title), but also that anyone can publish a so-called edition of them. As a result, the market is flooded by ebooks and print-on-demand books of very dubious quality, the majority of which are produced by copying-and-pasting text from Project Gutenberg and similar sources, without regard for the editorial and proofreading processes. I made an effort to only link to collected editions of a given author’s writings released by reputable publishers and edited by professionals. Of course, most of these stories can also be found in numerous anthologies; the ISFDB listings can be used to locate available publications.