Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Riddell, [Mrs] J H

Married and most common working name of Irish writer (largely resident in England) Charlotte Elizabeth Lawson Cowan (1832-1906). She is regarded by many as the foremost Victorian writer of Supernatural Fiction, particularly Ghost Stories, after J Sheridan Le Fanu, although these subjects account for perhaps one-tenth of her output. Most of her books deal with business and the City, exploring the drama and romance linked to finance and commerce. JHR herself was constantly fighting debt due to the bankruptcy of first her father, then her husband. It is possible she wrote under more pseudonyms than the three known – R V Sparling (under which appeared her first book, Zuriel's Grandchild [1856]), Rainey Hawthorne and F G Trafford – and quite probably she had many stories published anonymously. Her most successful book was George Geith of Fen Court (1864), another City novel.

Four of JHR's novels deal with Haunted Dwellings. These are: Fairy Water (1873 Routledge's Christmas Annual chap; vt "The Haunted House at Latchford" in Three Supernatural Novels of the Victorian Period anth 1975 ed E F Bleiler); The Uninhabited House (1875 Routledge's Christmas Annual chap; in Five Victorian Ghost Novels (anth 1971) ed Bleiler); The Haunted River (1877 Routledge's Christmas Annual chap; combined with The Uninhabited House as The Haunted River and The Uninhabited House omni 1883); and The Disappearance of Mr Jeremiah Redworth (1878 Routledge's Christmas Annual chap). All rely as heavily on character as on effect, the Edifice of the haunted house being a prop for the resolution of some past crime (usually a murder or suicide). A fifth novel, The Nun's Curse (1888) provides a supernatural explanation for the problems that haunt a family estate.

JHR's short ghost stories are even more potent. She compiled her selection of the best in Weird Stories (coll 1882 [often wrongly cited as 1884]), again mostly haunted-house stories, though "Nut Bush Farm" includes a highly effective apparition in a field. JHR's other ghost stories are scattered through various collections, most notably The Banshee's Warning (coll 1894); E F Bleiler gathered them together as The Collected Ghost Stories of Mrs J.H. Riddell (coll 1977 US), with bibliography and extensive introduction. [MA]

Charlotte Elizabeth Lawson Cowan


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.