Tales about ghosts are as old as human culture itself but the ghost story as a distinguished literary form reached its apogee in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As traditional religions declined in the West during those years, people looked for new ways of describing the spiritual realities explained by religion. The ghost story is a literary expression of this need, its rise corresponding to the growing popularity of Spiritualism. Ghost stories balance the increasingly powerful scientific materialism of the age with intimations that there are other orders of experience which we cannot define and only glimpse.
The Everyman selection of ghost stories includes examples from this period by major writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Guy de Maupassant, Henry James and Edith Wharton. M. R. James is featured as a specialist in the genre. Later writers include Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Lively and Ray Bradbury.
One feature of this collection is to show that there is more to the ghost story than the thrill of horror, important though that is. These stories include comedy and tragedy, pathos, drama and even poetry. Each is a masterpiece in its own right, irrespective of whether or not we believe in the realm of spectres.