Haunting Texts: Notes from a module
The final semester of third year has arrived! Yesterday I received my results from semester one English literature module and I was overjoyed with how well I managed to perform. It is the best English literature grade I’ve ever attained truly motivating me to believe that I am actually good at my degree, haha. Silly – I know. Anyway, I thought I’d write about a few of the short stories I’ve been reading for my Haunting Texts module!
Comprised of Victorian Dickensian-style ghost stories to the golden age of the ghost story in the Modern era, haunting texts feels like a great – in fact, epic – conclusion to my English literature degree. As a big fan of horror movies and ghost stories, this module seemed perfect. Having written on language theory in horror movies throughout the 20th century for my A levels, I was excited to embark on that adventure again with much more theory floating around in my brain.
My enthusiasm for the module sparked again in third year by applying post-structuralist theory and psychoanalysis to The Turn of The Screw in my semester one lit module Reading Theory / Reading Text, so much so, that I have decided to write (alongside my degree, whilst also including my graded essays) my own dissertation… yes, I am that kid.
Great Spooky Non-Fiction and Fiction Texts
‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ by Elizabeth Gaskell
3.63 avg. rating – 1,041 ratings published 1852
A classic Victorian ghost story, you can definitely imagine reading this to children on a spooky night in October! The way Gaskell blends her realistic style only illuminates the supernatural elements of the ghost story further. Having read ‘North and South’ in first year, I was already familiar with her brilliant writing and reading this in the light of many interesting literary theories was so interesting. I would recommend this to anyone who’s a beginner to ghost stories. 3.5/5.
‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens
3.67 avg. rating – 1,737 ratings published 1866
I wrote on this text for my essay, therefore I understand just how many interpretations can be drawn from Dickens’ fantastically detailed short story. This is my ideal ghost story – uncanny and eerie characters, scenery and plot encompassed by a sense of the fantastical – a truly creepy text. 4/5.
‘Man-size In Marble’ by E. Nesbit
3.68 avg. rating – 113 ratings published 1893
This text kinda gave me the giggles at points, despite that, there are some really interesting analyses one can make regarding feminism and gender. This short story reminds me of a doctor who episode in its character; kind of goofy while being self-aware of its said goofiness as well as being able to intelligently address societal tensions through an engaging, albeit Racliffeian plot. 3/5.
‘The Open Door’ by Margret Oliphant
3.44 avg. rating – 116 ratings published 1882
Although this short story is one of the older texts on my post, it seems to surprisingly similar to that of the 21st-century paranormal horror movie. The slowly built tension, the type of ghost, the specific engagement with the characters’ backstories, as well as how the text concludes. I feel that of all the texts studied on this module, this one is probably up there on a list of “what classic ghost stories Millenials should read”. 4/5.
‘The Mezzotint’ by M.R. James
4.01 avg rating — 189 ratings published 1904
Wow, so many modern horror films echo The Mezzotint. The first example that came into my head as of recent recollection was The Conjuring 2, featuring that awfully creepy painting that Ed Warren paints of the Nun (Valek). I’m sure there are many other modern texts (movies, shows, books…) that echo The Mezzotint. Any recommendations would be amazing! As a painter myself, the concept is very out of this world, I love it. 4/5.
‘The Red Room’ by H.G. Wells
3.53 avg rating — 780 ratings published 1894
3.5, I wish the ending could have explained a teeny bit more. I will probably end up googling it and reading about interpretations because I seem to be left in either, intense dissatisfaction or curiosity. As usual, though, H. G. Wells’ writing is phenomenal. It flows so beautifully. His descriptions continue to inspire me to believe that – although the English language is made up of 26 letters in the alphabet- an excellent and infinite amount of imagery and emotion can be created from it.
‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad‘ by M.R. James
— published 1904
‘My first M.R. James short story. I read this for my Haunting Texts class for the third year. This surprised me. I actually really liked this one. I found it kind of hilarious but also really creepy. It has the sort of imagery in it that you imagine at the foot of your bed at 4 am in the morning. Certainly a great start to my M.R. James experience. 3.5/5.’
After studying ghost story theory, reading a selection of Victorian as well as modern ghost stories, I feel I can appreciate this story a lot more. Definitely verges more on the horrifying end of the spectrum for me now. Looking forward to reading more M.R James. 4/5.
‘The Jolly Corner’ by Henry James
3.26 – Rating details 512 ratings – Published 1908
Spring 2019: ‘Henry James continues to transport the reader from reality in this short story. The dream-like narrative which worked so well in The Turn Of The Screw also works magnificently again here. However, there was a LOT of punctuation which made it difficult, particularly on the first few pages, to get into the writing style. I really enjoyed the imagery, the focus on Freudian psychoanalysis and the figure of the haunted house. A spooky and bizarre read! 3.5/5’ Very excited to see how Netflix adapts this great horror story to screen, currently titled ‘The Haunting of Bly Manor’!
‘Afterward’ by Edith Wharton
— published 1910
The art of “the Twist” is perfected in Wharton’s text. I will say no more. 4/5.
‘The Intercessor’ by May Sinclair
3.55 avg rating – 11 ratings – published 1931
On the more gruesome side of the ghost story, The Intercessor is disgusting, real and horrifying. H.R Geiger (artist for the Xenomorph for Alien franchise) probably would have had a field day with this short story. Like many ghost stories – Sinclair’s is inspired by her own experiences and how these experiences manifest. A tale of paranoia, neglect and heartbreak, a very modern take on the ghost story, at the end of its golden era. 3.75/5.
Having read many spooky stories this year I really do want to carry on reading the genre, broadening my knowledge into what I want to call my ‘specialist subject’ in English literature. If anyone has any recommendations (especially post-1930 to 2000) please comment 🙂
If you’re interested in the idea of ghosts in real life or in literary fiction and art, The Ghost: A Cultural History by Susan Owens is a great place to start or to explore.
Again, thank you for reading and hope everyone is having a wonderful summer! Who’s excited for IT Chapter 2 this Halloween? I am!!