What Was It? by Fitz-James O'Brien (The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories)

What Was It? was one of the most extraordinary ghost stories I had read in a while. To be frank, I did not know if I should classified this as a ghost story because the overall story just astounded me (even the narrator said so himself through the opening line).

"It is, I confess, with considerable diffidence that I approach the strange narrative which I am about to relate. The events which I purpose detailing are of so extraordinary a character that I am quite prepared to meet with an unusual amount of incredulity and scorn."
Harry (the narrator whose name I did not know until later) lives at No. -- Twenty-sixth Street in New York (for some reason, the number wasn't disclosed and I wondered why). The house was built some years back by Mr A-- (again the name wasn't fully disclose) but he died of a broken heart after a stupendous bank fraud. After the news of his decease reached the country, and from there rumours are that the house was haunted. The caretaker and his wife who temporarily inhabited the place by the house-agent had declared that they were troubled with unnatural noises, and claimed that doors were opened without any visible agency and that the remnants of furniture were scattered through the various rooms were piled one upon the other by unknown hands, etc etc. The house agent did not believe the couple, and put others in their place. This continues until a Mrs Moffat (who is Harry's landlady) decided to rent the house and she brought along her set of boarders from her boarding-house who declared that they would accompany her to explore the supernatural beings, if there is any.

As you would have guessed, Harry did encounter something but what he found just astounded (and perplexed) me. Is it a ghost? I wasn't sure, and I do not wish to elaborate much further in case you want to read it and find out yourself. At this point, all I can say is the title is very fitting for I find myself scratching my head and asking that same question - What was it?

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7 Responses
  1. Kailana Says:

    hm, this sounds interesting... Hopefully the rest of the stories are good, too!

  2. Julia Says:

    Interesting, but sorry to see that you didn't like the story much, from your grade :) Normally I'm not always satisfied to read short story because I would always want more info than what the story shown :)

  3. Melody Says:

    Kailana - I was a bit disappointed with this short story. I was hoping it'd turn out creepy but it didn't IMO. I too hope the rest would be good!

    Julia - IMO a good short story is to get to the point and into the readers' heart. :)

  4. Veens Says:

    Your comment to Julia is so right, I hope the other stories do work for you :)

  5. Sandy Nawrot Says:

    I got excited there for a minute. So much potential!

  6. Terri B. Says:

    Oh, you've got me so curious now! And joy of joys I found the story at -- one of the nice things about these older stories is public domain :o)

  7. The Bookworm Says:

    This one sounds very good! And like it made you wonder....
    great review!

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