Ruling Spirits: : Power and Subversion in the Victorian Ghost Story

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


While the Victorian ghost story, with its link to the Dickensian commodity of the Christmas book, has been seen as an escapist sop for middle-class consumers, that very link also reminds us that the genre was always embedded in political conflict and debate – less a retreat from than an attempt to intervene in the reality of everyday life. This chapter will argue that the genre offered Victorian writers the chance to expose with vivid intensity the injustice and oppression that affected so many in the era, as well as to open new ways of writing the repression and resistance of selfhood. Starting from Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ (1852) and ‘The Poor Clare’ (1856), stories that pose complex questions of class, gender and nation, the chapter then explores Amelia Edwards’ ‘The North Mail’ (1865), contextualizing its powerful challenge to Victorian scientific materialism. The experimental ghost stories of Henry James in the 1890s are read in the light of Gaskell and Dickens, but also of a new psychology that was transforming the representation of subjectivity. The chapter culminates with the innovative work of Walter de la Mare, ‘The Almond Tree’ (1899) and ‘An Ideal Craftsman’ (1900), where the narrative centres on the viewpoint of the Victorian child, appalled and bewildered by its unhomely environment and desperate to attempt some resistance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Victorian Rebels
EditorsBrenda Ayres , Sarah Maier
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Publication series

NameRoutledge Handbooks
PublisherTaylor & Francis


  • ghost stories
  • rebels
  • resistance


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