The Short Story: An Introduction

By Paul March-Russell | Go to book overview
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Ghost Stories and Other

John Berger observes in his series of short philosophical speculations that border upon fiction and poetry, and our faces, my heart, brief as photos (1984), that in 'the modern era of quantification it follows that one no longer counts what one has, but what one has not. Everything becomes loss' (Berger 2005: 38). It is no coincidence that the ghost story, like science fiction, was a product of the early nineteenth century and the impact of industrial capitalism. Where science fiction looks forward to the future, even if only to warn, the ghost story looks backward and dwells upon what was and what might have been. This chapter will examine, first, the development of ghost fiction and second, the inherent haunting of what Nadine Gordimer has seen as the 'fragmented and restless form' of the short story (in May 1994: 265).

A ghost, unlike a revenant or reanimated corpse such as Frankenstein's Creature or Sheridan Le Fanu's Vanderhausen in 'Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter' (1839), is the spirit of someone or something. It is literally a thing without substance. According to tradition, ghosts become attached to persons, places or objects where there has been some form of trauma, where the business of life at its end has not been settled either where it has been terminated too soon, for example in the form of murder, secrets left unspoken or the living left unaccounted, or where the proper ceremony of death has not been obeyed. Although descriptions of ghostly visitations occur in many cultures, the ghost story did not emerge as a distinct literary genre until the 1820s. Apparitions manifest in the work of classical writers like Apuleius, Lucian and Pliny, and in medieval texts such as Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Nun's Priest's Tale', but these incidents are drawn from the folk culture that these writers used as source material. Even the first recognisable ghost story, Daniel


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