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36 - Ghosts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

A. V. Seaton
Affiliation:
University of Limerick.
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Summary

Ghosts feature widely in literary travel and tourism because, like football teams and cheeses, they are necessarily, sometimes eponymously, linked to specific places (see also death). Underwood's (1992) ghost gazetteer includes topographical details of 236 haunted sites in Britain, including three famous, eponymous ones: the Cheltenham Ghost, the Cock Lane Ghost in London and Borley Rectory, once ‘the most haunted house in Britain’ (Price 1940 and 1946; Chambers 2006; Collins 1948; Grant 1965; Underwood 1992). A broad consensus has existed from Dr Johnson to modern Oxford lexicographers on what ghosts are: ‘spirits appearing after death’, ‘incorporeal beings’, ‘the souls of men’ (Johnson 1785, no pagination; Oxford English Dictionary). The Society for Psychical Research, however, discriminates more precisely, dividing ghosts into four categories (Tyrell 1953): ‘experimental ghosts’, who appear present to others at a distance from where they are physically at the time; ‘crisis ghosts’, who appear at times of individual or collective trauma, such as war, or bereavement; ‘post-mortem ghosts’, who appear soon after death to those whom they have loved or known; and ‘true ghosts’, who appear unexpectedly to strangers, years, even centuries, after their death, ‘usually restricted to one locality’ (Haining 1999 [1982], 100; and Tyrell 1953, 33–48).

Another way of exploring the nature of haunting is through three near synonyms: apparition, appearance and presence. An apparition is a disturbing, visual encounter with an alien figure or shape, or a familiar one horribly transformed, for example, the vampiric forms of Dracula's victims, or Jacob Marley as he appeared to Scrooge. An appearance is a less disturbing encounter with an apparently human figure, rendered extraordinary by the knowledge or discovery that s/he was elsewhere, dying or dead at the time. The appearance of Christ three days after the Crucifixion is a pre-eminent instance.

‘Presence’, unlike the others, is non-visual, a feeling that the dead have not gone away, but can be sensed in places associated with them. ‘Presence’ is often claimed by writers and broadcasters describing the homes or gravesides of the famous, where it valorizes the auratic authenticity of a site and their sensitivity as observers in responding to it, suggesting that both effects might be replicated by visitors. Westover (2012) has explored the literary fashion during the Romantic period for visiting graves of dead writers, particularly poets, to experience ‘real presence’, and then returning home to compose poetic testimonies.

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 105 - 107
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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