In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Ghost Story

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographical Studies
  • Anthologies of Victorian Ghost Stories
  • Editions of Key Victorian Ghost Story Writers
  • The History of the Ghost
  • The History of Spiritualism
  • Nineteenth-Century Writers Reflecting on the Ghost Story
  • Early-20th-Century Practitioners on the Ghost Story
  • The Ghost Story and the Literary Marketplace
  • The Gothic Context
  • Critical Surveys of the Victorian Ghost Story, 1917–1980
  • Critical Surveys of the Victorian Ghost Story, since 1980
  • The Ghost and the Specter in Literary Theory
  • Feminist Accounts of the Ghost Story and Victorian Women’s Writing
  • “Queering” the Ghost Story
  • Victorian Ghosts in National and International Perspective
  • Nineteenth-Century American Ghosts
  • The Ghosts of Empire
  • Haunted Places and Properties
  • Theatrical Ghosts

Victorian Literature The Ghost Story
by
Michael Newton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0167

Introduction

In relation to the main corpus of Victorian literature, the ghost story occupies a strange position, both flickering on the margins, and standing, somehow, close to the heart of things. Ghosts perhaps flit through Wuthering Heights, Villette, The Portrait of a Lady, or Bleak House. They also stand center-stage in a genre of their very own. Yet the “ghost story” is itself an indeterminate body, hard to define and resistant to limits. From “Green Tea” to “The Jolly Corner,” some of the finest ghost stories may not contain a “ghost” as such. In composing a bibliography of criticism on the Victorian ghost story, therefore, difficulties arise, for the boundaries of the subject are vaguer than one would hope them to be. This article extends a little beyond the usual chronological limits in drawing M. R. James into the fold, though it excludes other writers whose reputations similarly became established in the Edwardian period (no Walter de la Mare, no Algernon Blackwood) or afterward (no May Sinclair). M. R. James began writing ghost stories in the 1890s, and he seems so central to understandings of the 19th-century form that it seemed self-defeating to cast him aside. In any case, literary periodization does not easily fit individual biographies, and several of the writers central to this article (including Mary Braddon, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and E. Nesbit) were both “Victorians” and “Edwardians” (and indeed “Georgians,” too). With the exception of Henry James, who is a fully transatlantic writer, and a brief section offering an overview of the American scene, the focus is on Britain and Ireland (no Mary Wilkins Freeman, no Edith Wharton). Other writers who specialized in Gothic, and not the ghost story as such, are likewise not touched on here (no Arthur Machen, no Bram Stoker). The presence of ghosts in works of literary realism (as in the discussion concerning ghosts at the Rainbow Inn in George Eliot’s Silas Marner) also stands beyond the scope of this article. The following list of texts is selective and indicative, not exhaustive; each work included repays the reader’s attention. The bibliography ends with essays and books that discuss the “canonical” authors of the 19th-century ghost story. That canon does not reflect a personal taste, so much as it focuses on those writers whom critics and academics have considered most apt for reading and appraisal, and most pertinent when it comes to answering those questions that the curious form of the “ghost story” has seemed sinisterly to raise.

Bibliographical Studies

There are two main bibliographical resources available to the researcher, both of which (Bleiler 1983 and Wilson 2000) are indispensable. There are authors and stories missing from these volumes (particularly where it comes to Bleiler’s selection of women authors) that have become of interest to contemporary critics, but there is nonetheless a wealth of material here.

  • Bleiler, Everett Franklin. The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983.

    This magisterial volume remains an indispensable resource for all students of Gothic and the ghost story. Its use of précis and its thematic index are particularly helpful.

  • Wilson, Neil. Shadows in the Attic: A Guide to British Supernatural Fiction, 1820–1950. Introduction by Ramsey Campbell. Boston Spa, UK, London: British Library, 2000.

    In comparison with Bleiler, this is somewhat more selective and, as its title suggests, is focused on the United Kingdom. Yet, in drawing on the two hundred most important writers of supernatural fiction, this book impressively covers a lot of useful ground and is a very helpful research tool.

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