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About this book

Victorian Hauntings asks its reader to consider the following questions:

What does it mean to read or write with ghosts, or to suggest that acts of reading or writing are haunted ? In what ways can authors in the nineteenth century be read so as to acknowledge the various phantom effects which return within their texts ? In what ways do the traces of such " ghost writing " surface in the works of Dickens, Tennyson, Eliot and Hardy ? How does the work of spectrality, revenance and the uncanny transform materially both the forms of the literary in the Victorian era and our reception of it today? Beginning with an expoloration of matters of haunting, the uncanny, the gothic and the spectral, Julian Wolfreys traces the ghostly resonances at work in Victorian writing and how such persistence addresses isues of memory and responsibility which haunt the work of reading.

'Taking the familiar genre of the Gothic as a point of departure and revisiting it through Derridean theory, Wolfreys' book, the first application of "hauntology" to the domain of Victorian Studies is a remarkable achievement. Wolfreys never reduces reading to instrumentality but remains alert to all the potentialities of the texts he reads with a great attention to their idiosyncrasies. Victorian Hauntings should bring a new tone to Victorian Studies, this clever book is quite perfect. - Jean Michel Rabate, Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

'You'd have to be dead to know more about ghosts than Julian Wolfreys.' Martin McQuillan, University of Leeds

Table of Contents


It is, perhaps, something of a truism to state that there have been ghosts, spirits, phantoms. It is nonetheless accurate to suggest that there has been an interest in haunting generally, for as long as there have been narratives. It is not inaccurate to say that tales of terror and uncanny manifestations which resist rational explanation and empirical verification abound in many cultures, whether one speaks of the persistence of the spectral as a seemingly intrinsic component of religious or cultural belief, or whether one is speaking of sensationalist journalism and the tele-media’s perpetuation of narratives of the unexplained and other-worldly. While there is a risk in resorting to the truism above, what is striking is that it is undeniably true in large part: ghosts are always with us, and perhaps now more than they have ever been before.
Julian Wolfreys

1. ‘I wants to make your flesh creep’: Dickens and the Comic-Gothic

The gothic is always with us. Certainly, it was always with the Victorians: all that black, all that crepe, all that jet and swirling fog. Not, of course, that these are gothic as such, although we do think of such figures as manifestations of nineteenth-century Englishness. These and other phenomena, such as the statuary found in Victorian cemeteries like Highgate are discernible as being the fragments and manifestations of a haunting and, equally, haunted, ‘gothicized’ sensibility. If there is, as I argue in the Introduction, a transition in the nature of gothic from the end of the eighteenth century onwards, an irreversible movement from genre to trope, from structural identity to that which haunts the structures of narrative, it is marked by an inward turn perhaps, an incorporation which is also a spectralization. There is a constant return of the gothic as that which marks national identity without being fixable as a paradigmatic definition of that identity.
Julian Wolfreys

2. Tennyson’s Faith: In Memoriam A. H. H.

Julian Wolfreys

3. Phantom Optics: George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil

A man foresees his own death. He begins by expecting an ending, and, later, interrupts himself as the end begins or appears at least on the verge of beginning. As he awaits the scene during the final month of his life, with which his mind has confronted him repeatedly, he recalls the appearance and development of his telepathic powers, narrating to the reader scenes from his past wherein he has had instances of both insight and foresight.
Julian Wolfreys

4. Little Dorrit’s ‘land of fragments’

This chapter takes as part of its title a phrase commonly employed from the late eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth to describe the perception of London’s institutional, governmental, financial, and other systematic relationships. Specifically, what is of interest is the ways in which Dickens maintains a certain spectral effect of the fragment in order to announce the condition of reading, writing, and representing London differently. Such an act on Dickens’ part, which is effected as we will see through the exploration of a spectralized epistemology of urban sound as the traces of a revenance constituting the city, is readable as an act of remembering; thus the tracing of the urban conjures, in Peter Nicholls’ words, ‘a forgotten history [which] has the power to shake the social and metaphysical forms against which it breaks …’ With these haunting effects, Dickens arguably projects another city as a resistance to institutional politics in the present, and with that ‘the idea of history as a violent intrusion from somewhere else’.1
Julian Wolfreys

5. ‘The persistence of the unforeseen’: The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge is haunted. Spectres are everywhere, even in the faces or actions of the living. The town of Casterbridge is a haunted place, its topographical, architectural and archaeological structures resonating with the traces of the spectral. The ghosts of other textual forms, of which the tragic is only the most persistent or obvious, haunt the very structure of the novel. Michael Henchard particularly is troubled by the past, by a certain spectral revenance. The Mayor of Casterbridge is haunted.
Julian Wolfreys

Afterword: Prosopopoeia or, Witnessing

Perhaps, in conclusion, it is necessary to shift our ground, as does Hamlet when faced with the invisible ubiquity of the ghost. Nowhere as such, and yet everywhere; and yet everywhere different. Attuning ourselves to the possibility of spectral analysis, forcing ourselves to confront the nothing-and-yet-not-nothing and the neither-nowhere-nor-not-nowhere that nonetheless leaves a trace in passing and which has such a material effect — and what, after all, is ideology for example except the experience of this invisible nothing that we call beliefs, values, ideas? — we may perhaps discern a trembling of sorts. Whether we speak of ‘the gothic’, citation, ideology, or modalities of allusion and representation, if we seek to address ghosts, haunting, spectrality and the textual apparitions to which this book has sought to draw its readers’ attention, then we need to acknowledge that we are responding to what has already come and gone — and which has returned again. As we intimated at the conclusion of the Introduction, it is thus a matter of reading as response, response as responsibility, and responsibility as witnessing. The experience of the spectral is, in being both responsive and responsible, the experience of being touched through reading by that which is other, that which is prosopopoeic: ‘a voice or a face of the absent’, as J. Hillis Miller has it, ‘the inanimate, or the dead’.1
Julian Wolfreys
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