Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Countess of Munster

The Countess of Munster (b. Dun House, Montrose, Scotland, 27 June 1830; d. Hove, Sussex, 9 October 1906)

Wilhelmina Kennedy-Erskine was the third child of the Hon. John Kennedy-Erskine (1802-1831) and Lady August FitzClarence (1803-1865), who were married in 1827.  Wilhelmina had an older sister and an older brother.  Her mother was one of the ten illegitimate children of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV of the United Kingdom from 1831 until his death in 1837, and the famous actress Dorothea Bland (Mrs. Jordan), with whom he was associated between 1790 and 1810. 

Wilhelmina was brought up in privilege, and on 17 April 1855 she married William George FitzClarence (1824-1901), the 2nd Earl of Munster, and afterwards was styled the Countess of Munster.  She and her husband had nine children, seven sons followed by two daughters. She took to publishing late in life, first with two novels, each triple-deckers, Dorinda (1889) and A Scotch Earl (1891), followed by a collection of Ghostly Tales (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1896), and an autobiography, My Memories and Miscellanies (1904).  All are bylined the Countess of Munster.

Ghostly Tales contains eleven stories, one (“The Ghost of My Dead Friend”) reprinted from The Strand Magazine. Most are written in a manner similar to accounts of true hauntings, and they are unremarkable in the telling, but they do manage a frisson in the descriptions of the apparitions.  Otherwise the stories are standard, melodramatic fare, perfectly forgettable.  The tipped-in illustrations—twelve of the sixteen are signed Fred Hyland (leaving four by other hands)—are amateurish, with exaggerated spectres; they complement the stories well.

In her autobiography, the Countess related “A True Ghost Story”, covering the experiences of her older sister and her niece in seeing the legendary ghost of the “Green Lady” at their home, Wemyss Castle in Fife, Scotland. In the “Miscellanies” section of the Countess’s autobiography, there are some essays and ruminations as well as a couple of otherwise uncollected supernatural stories, “A Half-True Story” and “The Crimson Portrait”, the latter reprinted from The Lady’s Realm, volume one (November 1896-April 1897).   

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