North West Long Nineteenth-Century Seminar: ’19th-century women’s ghost stories’

North West Long Nineteenth-Century Seminar

Wednesday March 24th 2021, 4 – 6.30 pm GMT

‘Nineteenth-Century Women’s Ghost Stories’

The third of our online research seminars hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University. To find out more about the seminar series or to offer a paper, please contact Dr Emma Liggins and Dr Sonja Lawrenson

Please click on the following Zoom link to join the seminar. Feel free to write questions or responses in the chat box.

Meeting ID: 993 4622 9473
Passcode: 360887

4.00 – 5.15

Dr Ruth Heholt (Falmouth University), ‘Detecting the Ghost: Real Apparitions and Real Crimes in the Work of Catherine Crowe’

Dr Jen Baker (University of Warwick), ‘Minor Embodiments: Spectral and Ghostly Children of the long nineteenth century’

5.15 – 5.30 Break

5.30 – 6.30 

Dr Zsuzsa Török, (Institute for Literary Studies, Budapest), ‘Mrs Vachott’s Haunting Memories: Walter Scott and the Female Gothic in Nineteenth-Century Hungary’

Katerina García-Walsh (University of St Andrews), ‘Margaret Oliphant’s Ghostly Afflictions’

Abstracts and biographies

Dr Ruth Heholt, ‘Detecting the Ghost: Real Apparitions and Real Crimes in the Work of Catherine Crowe’

“One of the most extraordinary collections of ‘ghost stories’ that has ever been published” (1848, p. 1). So wrote Charles Dickens about Catherine Crowe’s 1848 collection of “real” ghost tales, The Night Side of Nature: or of Ghosts and Ghost Seers. Consisting of a mixture of reports of people’s own ‘true’ experiences of ghost seeing or supernatural encounters, The Night Side proved to be a popular phenomenon. Amassing a vast amount of material, Crowe published people’s tales of poltergeists, prophetic dreams, ghost sightings, and uncanny coincidences. The result is rather a strange amalgamation of anecdotal and often disconnected snippets about ghosts, people’s experiences of the supernatural or the unexplained. For our tastes today it is, one must admit, not the most riveting of texts. However, when read alongside the rise in fictional Victorian ghost stories and the growing phenomenon of Spiritualism, it becomes more interesting. It can also be read in conjunction with the other fastest growing genres of the early Victorian period – detective fiction.

This paper looks at the ‘real’ tales in Crowe’s work that combine ghosts and crime. A surprising amount of ghost stories (fictional or not) involve crimes that have been committed. Often ghosts exist because of a crime: the crime created the ghost. And the only way to dispel these ghosts is through detection and uncovering what happened. Looking at the combination of detective and ghost narratives, this paper explores the rift apparently made in the spaces between the material and the immaterial in Crowe’s popular work.

Ruth Heholt is senior lecturer in English at Falmouth University. She is author of Catherine Crowe: Gender, Genre, and Radical Politics (Routledge, 2020). She is co-editor of several collections including: Gothic Britain (2018), The Victorian Male Body (2018), and Haunted Landscapes (2016). She has organised several conferences including Folk Horror in the Twentieth Century (Falmouth and Lehigh Universities 2019) and is editor of the peer reviewed journal Revenant: Critical and Creative Studies of the Supernatural. She is currently working on a monograph on Gothic Cornwall (or Gothic Kernow) with Tanya Krzywinska and a collection from the Folk Horror conference with Dawn Keetley.

Jen Baker (University of Warwick), ‘Minor Embodiments: Spectral and Ghostly Children of the long nineteenth century’

This paper examines the discourse and imagery of embodiment that persists in depictions of spectral and ghostly children (the difference between which, I will discuss) in literatures and cultures of the nineteenth century. I will explore the ways in which the child body – its sounds, features, the blemished and unblemished, the perfect and imperfect – is used across different forms to negotiate grief; to build communities; to urge moral and social reform; to police behaviours of parenting and guardianship; and create an ideal child in life as in death. This will feed into a more open introduction to the literary and cultural figure of the ghost child, demonstrating where my theoretical parameters lie, the sort of sources in which I am interested and use, some of the key themes and findings I have uncovered to date, and the connection of this study and its importance to the fields of childhood studies, the Gothic, death studies.

Dr Jen Baker is a permanent Teaching Fellow in C19th and C20th Literature at the University of Warwick as of August 2020, having worked there on a fixed contract 2017-19, with an “unpaid sabbatical” in between. During that brief hiatus she became an accredited Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and became, and still is an Early Career Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath. She also began working on my first monograph, Spectral Embodiments of Child Death in the Long Nineteenth Century, which is under contract with Edinburgh University Press, and in part based on her thesis which she defended at the University of Bristol in 2017. You can see a list of her publications and projects on humanities commons

Dr Zsuzsa Török, (Institute for Literary Studies, Budapest), ‘Mrs Vachott’s Haunting Memories: Walter Scott and the Female Gothic in Nineteenth-Century Hungary’

Zsuzsa Török is a research fellow at the Research Centre for the Humanities, Institute for Literary Studies, Budapest. Her research interests include women’s writing, periodical studies, and Hungarian-British contacts in the nineteenth century. Recently published articles in English: “‘Notorious Beyond Any Other European Woman of Her Generation:’ The Case of Count(ess) Sarolta/Sándor Vay,” Slavonica 23, no. 1 (2018): 53–68. “Manuscript Culture and Nineteenth-Century Women’s Life Writing: The Diaries of Baroness Jozefa Wesselényi,” Teksty Drugie 31, no. 1 (2020): 79–89.

My paper focuses on a ghost story originally published in 1861 and then incorporated into a memoir published in 1887–8 by a Hungarian woman writer and editor, Mária Csapó, better known as Mrs Vachott. With the examination of the ghost story’s changing publications, the paper clarifies the process during which this apparently independent ghost story became a powerful metaphor of Mrs Vachott’s strenuous life with haunting memories, recorded in her published memoir. It appears that this same ghost story was influenced by a Hungarian translation of Walter Scott’s The Tapestried Chamber that Mrs Vachott read in a collection of short stories issued in 1836. Thus, the successful combination of the two narratives, the ghost story and the memoir, not only makes Mrs Vachott’s experiment truly remarkable, but also gives valuable insights into Scott’s influence on nineteenth-century Hungarian female writing, and into the changing possibilities of the ever hybrid form of the Gothic.

Katerina García-Walsh (University of St Andrews), ‘Margaret Oliphant’s Ghostly Afflictions’

The prolific Scottish novelist Margaret Oliphant (1828-1897), remembered for biting literary criticism of her contemporary authors as well as for her realist fiction, turned at the end of her life to writing ghost stories and supernatural tales. Oliphant’s Gothic narratives offer dual perspectives, some focusing on the impact of death on the newly deceased and humanising her benevolent ghosts, while others centre the experience of living individuals for whom haunting constitutes a traumatic reckoning with their own mortality and morality. This paper explores the effect of supernatural manifestations on two young male protagonists. The Wizard’s Son (1882) follows young Walter, whose newly inherited lordship brings with it the malevolent spirit of an ancestral warlock-lord. Meanwhile, in “The Portrait” (1885), Philip, guided by the unseen force of his mother’s spirit, unearths and rectifies a grave injustice.  While the intention and psychology of these supernatural forces could not be more diametrically different, both protagonists experience similar physiological responses to their respective spectral influences. Oliphant’s language draws from Gothic themes, especially mesmerism, but her depictions illustrate realistic symptoms of anxiety, depression and dissociation. I argue that, by attributing a supernatural source to earthly afflictions, Oliphant not only interlaces Gothic and realist genres, but also processes her own intimate experiences of family trauma.

Katerina García-Walsh is a PhD candidate at the University of St Andrews. Her previous education includes an MA in Literary Studies from the Complutense University of Madrid, an MSt (1830-1914) from the University of Oxford and a BA (summa cum laude) from Georgetown University, Washington, DC, where she completed Honours Theses in both the English and Spanish Faculties. Her primary research interest is Victorian literature with a particular focus on gender and late-Victorian Gothic.