Abstract and Keywords
This chapter strengthens the important claim made by the literary critic Terry Castle, who has argued for the need for modern scholars properly to appreciate a vitally important ‘spectral’ dimension in what she describes as Leslie Stephen's otherwise all too rational 18th century. Even though she respects the impetus behind W. E. H. Lecky's progressively rationalizing thesis in his History of the Rise and Progress of Rationalism in Europe (1865), she has offered her own richly suggestive series of discrete genealogies that account for the survival of the uncanny into the 19th century and rightly make much of its continuing power. This chapter, therefore, takes the form of an archaeology of the haunting sense of the 18th-century past in the 19th-century present. Haunting is both a reality and a metaphor in Vernon Lee, and the 18th century was an important factor in this experience of haunting, as it was also to prove to be for M. R. James.
Towards the close of Studies in Eighteenth‐Century Italy (1880), the first of what would be her many books, the 24‐year‐old art historian Vernon Lee observed:
It's a very odd fact . . . that the only ghosts people ever see are the ghosts of a generation very close to them. One hears of lots of ghosts in eighteenth‐century costume, because everybody has a clear idea of wigs and small‐clothes from pictures and fancy‐dresses. One hears of far fewer in Elizabethan dress, because the class most given to beholding ghosts are seldom acquainted with ruffs and farthingales; and one meets with none at all in Anglo‐Saxon or Ancient British or Roman costumes, because those are only known to a comparatively small class of learned people; and ghosts, as a rule, avoid the learned . . .
- Grant Allen, ‘Pallinghurst Barrow’ (1893)1
This impression would grow stronger in Lee's writings, and the pioneering studies in aesthetics she continued to produce during a long and fruitful writing career—including a late study on the language (p.149) of poetry published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press—intersected increasingly with her collections of ghost stories, for which she is now probably better known.3 Several of the figures haunted by the past in her stories are isolated scholars, whose ordered minds are initially disorientated and finally undermined by their experiences of the spectral. The distorting presence of the eighteenth‐century in the nineteenth century is a central element of the uncanny in many of Lee's stories; in her staging of this confrontation with a seemingly undying predecessor culture, she is not untypical of many of her contemporaries. This chapter will examine her interest in this theme alongside that of another scholar and writer of ghost stories, M. R. James. As the examples of Lee and James will demonstrate, the ghost story is a vital source for the Victorian historian of thought, not least as it could and did act as both an agent of religious authority and, in different hands, as a consciously secular assault on that authority.
In re‐reading the foregoing pages there has come home to us an impression felt but vaguely while writing them; the impression that in our search for art we have been wandering through rooms long closed and darkened; that we have been brushing away, perhaps over roughly, cobwebs and dust which lay reverently on things long untouched, that we have been intruding into a close weird atmosphere filled with invisible ghosts.2
This chapter will strengthen the important claim made by the literary critic Terry Castle, who has argued for the need for modern scholars properly to appreciate a vitally important ‘spectral’ dimension in what she describes as Leslie Stephen's otherwise all too rational eighteenth century, and even though she respects the impetus behind W. E. H. Lecky's progressively rationalizing thesis in his History of the Rise and Progress of Rationalism in Europe (1865), she has offered her own richly suggestive series of discrete genealogies that account for the survival of the uncanny into the nineteenth century and rightly make much of its continuing power.4 This chapter will, therefore, take the form of an archaeology of the haunting sense of the eighteenth‐century past in the nineteenth‐century present. Haunting is both a reality and a metaphor in Vernon Lee, and the eighteenth century was an important factor in this experience of haunting, as it was also to prove to be for M. R. James.
In an essay entitled ‘Rococo’ from her 1887 volume, Juvenilia, Lee recorded her early obsession with the experience and the legacy of the eighteenth century in the country in which she had largely grown up with her itinerant English family: (p.150)
The essay continues to catalogue this obsession with ruthlessly self‐critical precision. She notes how, through her intense reading programme, she became ‘a remarkably well‐educated young person of the eighteenth century, perfectly up to all the last new things of that time’; but she was not satisfied with merely reading her way back in time. Her desire became still more one for sensual stimulus, for bodily immersion in the eighteenth century, for immediate contact with those who had been there:
I found myself in the midst of the Italian eighteenth century. I have selected that form of words with the intention of your taking it literally. I really did find my way into that period, and really did live in it; for I began to see only the things belonging thereunto; and I had little or no connection with anything else. The eighteenth century existed for me as a reality, surrounded by faint and fluctuating shadows, which shadows were simply the present.
Lee, who published this piece at the age of 31, demonstrated a mature and modern (almost a Modernist) sense of the porous nature of time, and of the myriad complications that beset any straightforward assessment of the relations between the generations. It was, then, through the eighteenth century that she both began to think historically, and also (p.151) to appreciate just how acutely limiting to the imagination, to the direct experience of the past, such thinking could be.6
I should have liked to see, to hear; if not directly, at least through the mediumship of some one who had seen and heard the things of those days. There was in me a vague hope of being able to come nearer to that century, of finding, in some mystic way and hidden place, a hidden corner thereof. I was tremendously interested in very old people, hoping that they might bring me into contact with the days of their childhood; for I forgot all that immense sea of nineteenth century in which their few impressions of earlier times must have got drowned, or at least discoloured; and many disappointments did not quell my ardour in seeking out these precious half‐living relics of my beloved period.5
At the close of ‘Rococo’, Lee noted how her younger self had gradually matured into deciding to write about the eighteenth century not because she was obsessed by it, but because it had been ‘among the great artistic periods of the world's history, along with the times of Pericles and Leo X’. It was a process of intellectual maturation about which she was to grow decidedly self‐critical, not least in regard to what it said about her attitude to history as having been something separable from the immediacy of lived, or even of merely imagined, experience:
Pericles; Leo X; history of art; artistic periods! how little did I understand at that moment the meaning of all this sudden eruption of philosophical and Hegelian verbiage! I really imagined that I loved the eighteenth century as much as ever. Alas, all this phraseology of modern criticism signified that my much‐loved century had ceased to be alive, that it had become, in my eyes, a mere corpse, and that I was preparing to dissect it! It signified that I looked at it no longer from within, but from without; that in issuing from the eighteenth century, I had emerged also out of childhood; that the days of great imaginative passions, of Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette, of Sioux and Mohicans, were gone for ever.7
In a great many ways, Victorians, both believers and sceptics, were haunted by Hanoverians. This theme was strongly to the fore in Henry (p.152) James's late unfinished novel, with its evocatively resonant title, The Sense of the Past, in which a modern man literally enters the world of a predecessor of 1820 as both live out this uncanny experience of doubling in an elegant eighteenth‐century house:
It was this powerful need to experience the past that linked James's late novel, strictly a supernatural rather than merely a ghost story, with the scholarly hauntings that abound in the fictions of Vernon Lee and M. R. James. This desire to transcend the division between the past and the present, to move from intellectual and historical empathy to direct sensual experience, is at the root of much of the horror in their supernatural tales. It is a scholarly and existential desire that made emphatic a dominant historical register in much Victorian scholarly life, the register of historicism.
What he wanted himself was the very smell of that simple mixture of things that had so long served; he wanted the very tick of the old stopped clocks. He wanted the hour of the day at which this and that had happened, and the temperature and the weather and the sound, and yet more the stillness, from the street, and the exact look‐out, with the corresponding look‐in, through the window and the slant on the walls of the light of the afternoons that had been. He wanted the unimaginable accidents, the little notes of truth for which the common lens of history, however the scowling muse might bury her nose, was not sufficiently fine. He wanted evidence of a sort for which there had never been documents enough, or for which documents mainly, however multiplied, would never be enough. That was indeed in any case the artist's method—to try for an ell in order to get an inch. The difficult, as at best it is, becomes under such conditions so dire that to face it with any prospect one had to propose the impossible. Recovering the past was at all events on this scale much like entering the enemy's line to get back one's dead for burial; and to that extent was he not, by his deepening penetration, contemporaneous and present? ‘Present’ was a word used by him in a sense of his own and meaning as regards most things about him markedly absent. It was for the old ghosts to take him for one of themselves.8
In describing that sense of the shadowing of the present by the not so distant past, Vernon Lee and M. R. James deployed in the (p.153) ‘ghost’ story a uniquely problematic narrative structure in which the whole apparatus of rational assent—the reliability of witnesses, the coherence of the stories they told, and, above all, the probability of those narratives—was repeatedly challenged. The stern demands of a dominant historicism—M. R. James had, after all, been chosen to write the chapter on ‘The Christian Renaissance’ for the Cambridge Modern History by no less a practitioner than Lord Acton—occasionally proved too much for his deeply imaginative sensibility, and such tales thus provided something in the way of a busman's holiday for the exhausted scholarly mind.9 The rules of historical explanation could be deployed in plotting a ghost story, but only for them to prove unworkable; M. R. James laid it down as a firm rule of the ghost story that it should provide space for a rational explanation of the events it describes, but that, ultimately, the rational explanation should be seen not to work.10 The irrational had, then, always to evade rational explanation, and a subsidiary element in the argument of this chapter will be provided by an occasional appeal to the insights regarding the uncanny made by another Victorian, Sigmund Freud, who was born in 1856, making him Vernon Lee's exact contemporary. Freud will not be treated here as a privileged exegete, but in this instance as only as one of several narrators of the presence of the uncanny in Victorian culture. In so historicizing Freud, one can begin to make more sense of the centrality of haunting in nineteenth‐century literature.11
(p.154) One has also to take very seriously the huge degree of speculation about the reality of ghost stories that preoccupied so many Victorians; at Cambridge in 1849 the young Leslie Stephen had discussed with other members of a debating society ‘the old problem as to the truth of ghost‐stories’.12 The deep seriousness of such interests reached its apogee at Cambridge in the academic generation following Stephen's, when Edward White Benson, the future Archbishop of Canterbury (who later provided Henry James with the germ of what became The Turn of the Screw) had founded the ‘Ghost Society’ in the 1860s, which formalized discussion of such phenomena. Henry Sidgwick, the philosopher, who, like Stephen before him, had had to resign his fellowship due to his inability to sign his assent to the Thirty‐Nine Articles, nonetheless also maintained a strong conviction regarding the very real possibility of life after death, devoting considerable scholarly labour to researching the problem. Alongside his wife Eleanor, the Principal of Newnham College, he presided over the Society for Psychical Research from 1882, many of whose members were themselves Cambridge dons.13 Some years later, in a contest between differing conceptions of psychic phenomena, Eleanor Sidgwick would strongly criticize a celebrated narrative of an eighteenth‐century haunting produced anonymously by two Oxford dons, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, the Principal and Vice‐Principal of St Hugh's College. Moberly and Jourdain had claimed, in An Adventure, first published in 1911, when visiting Versailles in 1901, to have been caught up psychically in a peculiarly charged moment from the life of Marie‐Antoinette.14 The resonances of this strange tale have lasted for a very long time, and the most recent attempt at a solution to the peculiar enigma as to why two supremely well‐educated women would have published such a potentially compromising account of haunting has been provided by Terry Castle, who has repudiated an explanation of it as a folie à deux, preferring to see it as a knowing challenge to sceptics laid down (p.155) by Moberly and Jourdain.15 However explained, the story provides a striking instance of the cultural authority of haunting in Victorian Britain. The Victorian ghost story, then, whether ostensibly real or totally imagined, and whatever its undoubted limitations as a literary genre, had developed in an ethos of extreme scholarly seriousness. It was in this atmosphere at Cambridge that the young M. R. James had been educated.
As a historian, and one who edited and published a collection of medieval ghost stories, dating from around 1400, in the English Historical Review in 1922, James was deeply aware of their great importance in opening up the worlds of the past to imaginative modern scholarship.16 Ghosts have played a large part in the myriad narratives that constitute what we know of European history, and the student of the Victorian ghost story can learn much by considering that long history. Recently, Keith Hopkins demonstrated how ghosts had strategically intervened in the uncertain belief systems of ancient Rome; later, between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, their appearances in England aided clarifications of theological doctrines concerning penance and purgatory, as religious uncertainties were replaced by ever more concrete dogmas.17 Jean‐Claude Schmitt has likewise shown how apparitions of the dead to the living played a large part in the evolution of ‘the imaginary of Western society’. Instancing an important parallel with his own acts of cultural decoding, Schmitt observed that the success of haunting narratives in medieval Europe depended on a complex of contemporaneous interpretations, leading him to conclude that ‘some of the clerics who passed on these tales of “apparitions” were “intellectuals” whose theological and philosophical reasoning and relentlessness in distinguishing (p.156) the “true” from the “false” were not, in their logical approach, all that different from our own’.18 Indeed, Schmitt emphasized just how integral the medieval intellectual was to the promotion and exposition of ghost stories; judging the credibility of the storyteller was, therefore, very much part of this legitimization process. The authority accorded these stories by clerics and monks placed them beyond suspicion; and it was in the interest of ecclesiastics, who often used such visions as moral exempla through which they could further their much desired reform of lay society, that they should be believed to be true. The ghost story, then, has to be considered an important source for the historian of medieval society, especially since it vitally informed an inherently religious interpretation of everyday life.19 It performs an analogous role for the historian of Victorian thought, as it was a genre that contested intellectual authority, and one that attracted secular as well as religious practitioners. What is more, and contrary to Grant Allen's assertion in his secular ghost story ‘In Pallinghurst Barrow’ (a portion of which acts as the epigraph to this chapter), ghosts might well have avoided the learned in the nineteenth century, but the learned did not themselves avoid ghosts.
In Schmitt's richly suggestive study, the learned, both past and present, are fused in a mutually rewarding interest in ghosts. As interpreters of the interpenetration of the celestial and terrestrial worlds, intellectuals in medieval society had pored over ghostly tales, and ‘the maniacal concern with detail’ which resulted from their involvement ‘enabled the clerics to become masters of the supernatural and to reduce the ambivalence of its meanings’. Likewise, modern historians have to move beyond the Enlightenment‐sponsored disapprobation so long engineered against such tales, and ‘without giving up anything of their own reason’, they must, Schmitt continues, recognize in these hitherto suspect narratives a unique source in writing ‘a social history of the imaginary’.20 Schmitt has signally contributed to the study of the ways in which societies imagine themselves, and of how these constructions ultimately contribute to a culture's critical self‐understanding. When concluding his study, Schmitt observes that he could easily have taken his study forward to the end of the nineteenth century.21 His concerns, therefore, offer a powerful parallel to those that provide the dynamic of (p.157) this study: eighteenth‐century ghosts hovering over the Victorian psyche reveal a great deal about how the nineteenth century saw its relations with the undead of its predecessor culture.
A study of the status of ghosts in another self‐consciously rationalizing culture—in this instance, sixteenth‐century England—also assists in the attempt to understand the status of the supernatural in nineteenth‐century England. In Hamlet in Purgatory, Stephen Greenblatt considered the afterlife of medieval Catholicism in a society that had, supposedly, repudiated its central dogmatic contention, namely that the living and the dead were indissolubly linked through the charitable endeavours that depended on a belief in the purgatorial middle state which subsisted between the death of the individual and God's final judgement of humanity. Greenblatt insisted that the principal power of priests, against which Protestant reformers contended, had resided in ‘their hold upon the imagination of their flock’. There was, he notes, an important conviction amongst reformers that Purgatory was exactly what Tyndale had called it, ‘a poet's fable’. In examining ‘the poetics of Purgatory’, Greenblatt emphasized the centrality of narrative as a means of creating and maintaining belief. It was not so much the creation of a doctrine but, rather, a means of ‘shaping and colonizing the imagination’ that priests and allied intellectuals had promoted in their deployment of haunting narratives.22
Greenblatt recognized that the Protestant reformers had to take on a vast imaginative matrix when they began to undo Purgatory, but undo it they did. Naturally, the uncanny continued to survive in a few well‐chosen spaces, but what had previously been a central part of religiously directed cultural poetics underwent a significant displacement to a new locus: the stage. Ghosts took to the stage in the closing decades of the sixteenth century, and with no greater success (p.158) than in the plays of Shakespeare.23 Greenblatt's bravura engagement with the cultural politics of Hamlet is an important display of the ways in which the imaginative inheritance of one generation is reimagined by its successors. In addressing the proposition that the playwright's father had been a recusant who had asked in his secret last testament that his son see to it that prayers were said for his departed soul, Greenblatt demonstrated that the son's encounter with Catholic theology was actually played out in a new cultural key, that of a Protestantism which was still finding its distinctive voice, and which necessarily owed more than it could then acknowledge to what it had formally repudiated.24 Stage‐plays are, therefore, central sites for the deep play of cultural transformation. The tensions in Hamlet are those attendant on intergenerational cultural shifts, and something of an allied kind can be felt in the way that nineteenth‐century writers imagined the survival into their own very specific world of frequently troubling eighteenth‐century cultural memories.
As both Schmitt and Greenblatt argue, the dead are the centre of both cultural memory and cultural forgetting; as the ghost in Hamlet disastrously pleads, ‘remember me’.25 Encounters with ghosts in nineteenth‐century fiction are an important aspect of this constantly repeated act of cultural memory; when they are laid to rest, as they often are, they can also be seen as an aspect of the act of forgetting that matters so much in the Freudian encounter with the imagined dead. As Freud wrote in Little Hans, regarding therapeutic intervention, ‘What remains in the understanding, however, will come again; like an unredeemed ghost it will not be at peace until it is laid to rest and redeemed.’26 As Schmitt observed in this connection, what Freud said of individuals can be said of nations;27 it can also be said of generations, in particular of those generations whose neuroses were so influentially unpicked in Freud's own narratives, the generations whose narratives form the core of the present study.28
At the beginning of his chapter on ‘The Rights of Memory’, Greenblatt observed that: ‘Reports of hauntings were going to recur from time (p.159) to time, no matter what churchmen soberly declared. (They continue to recur, for that matter, no matter what intellectuals declare.)’29 This terse statement could be equally strongly applied to Victorian culture; it could also be said to apply to the age of Enlightenment itself. Whilst both Schmitt and Greenblatt make much of the Enlightenment as the age that permanently undid the uncanny power of the dead, something persisted beyond the ‘Age of Reason’ that would cause disquiet even amongst its self‐conscious heirs.30 Vernon Lee would have seen herself as just such a rationalist, whilst M. R. James was the heir to the Evangelicalism that had arisen in reaction to it. Lee and James, in both their upbringings and their personal commitments, personify that persistent struggle between rationality and religious revival that provides the dynamic of much of the argument of Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century.
Violet Paget, who wrote as Vernon Lee, was brought up in Italy by a consciously Voltairean, freethinking mother, herself the child of a father whose eighteenth‐century rationalism had put him at odds with an England which he thought altogether too rigidly given over to piously driven politics. Born in 1856, six years before M. R. James, Lee died in 1935, a year before him, but, aside from writing ghost stories and a shared preoccupation with the monuments of the past, they had little in common, save that both were born, and largely lived, as Victorians, and, what is more, as Victorians of a firmly homosocial cast of mind and spirit. Most importantly, Lee was brought up as a legatee of the very brands of eighteenth‐century rationalism against which the Evangelicalism imbibed by M. R. James's father had so violently reacted.31 What religion would have been for the generality of mid‐nineteenth‐century women, the progressive evolutionism of Henry Thomas Buckle, as developed in his enormously influential History of Civilization in England (1857 to 1861) (which contained much reflection on eighteenth‐century England, Scotland, and France), was to become to Lee's mother. Mrs Paget saw in Buckle's writings the (p.160) inspiration for a life lived as part of a progressive process, and she saw in it a spirit that would foster in the coming generations the same liberating faith in the future. The eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries were thus richly combined in the secular education of the young Violet Paget, just as they would be in the imagination of Vernon Lee, the androgynous writer and critic who this predominantly self‐taught and independently minded young woman would quickly become.
For Lee, the supernatural was always to take a very different form from that evoked by most of her contemporaries; for her, ghosts are frequently the products of scholarship and the attendant dangers of a life only half‐lived in the present: M. R. James's and Lee's protagonists usually suffer as a result of their having too great a love of the past, which comes dangerously to haunt them as a result of their inattention to the vital importance of the present.32 The ‘ghostly’ took a fictional form in Lee's short stories, but was itself firmly based in a psychologically aware notion of aesthetics consciously independent of—indeed, often directly antithetical to—the supernatural components of Christianity, a system of ideas which she had only ever known as a relic of the ‘past’ that constantly fascinated her.33 Writing in 1893 in the introduction to Althea, a collection of dialogues, she emphasized that ‘some of us, professed unbelievers, have traversed sloughs of despond by no means inferior to those of the orthodox’. One has to remind oneself that this text pre‐dates Freud's Totem and Taboo by some twenty years when she goes on to declare that, by not following some of her friends ‘back into unsatisfactory orthodoxy’, into ‘the darkness revealed by reason’, she preferred to demonstrate how ‘increased thoughtfulness and experience ought to make such intellectual apostasy more difficult, by showing the unreasonableness, the exaggerated personality, the childish expectation that all things should be arranged to suit our likings, which is always at the back of it’. This escape from the childlike and the ‘barbarously odious’ was a consciously generational undertaking, as she observed that ‘we have all of us, however unorthodox, been nourished on theological (p.161) notions and ideals . . . it may take generations, even among the least hampered by the world's older generations, before other notions and ideals have become organic in young minds’.34 Lee's struggle against such tribal memories and generational pressures was quickly to become that of Freud, her direct contemporary.
Lee's was an aesthetic philosophy predicated on the ‘natural’ as the source of all knowledge and wisdom, so that for her, as she had earlier noted in an essay on aesthetics published in 1883, ‘the hostility between the supernatural and the artistic is well‐nigh as great as the hostility between the supernatural and the logical’.35 When acted upon by the imagination of the artist, the ‘natural’ transcends everyday experience into something stronger than the traditionally conceived supernatural of conventionally religious minds: ‘This is the real supernatural, born of the imagination and its surroundings, the vital, the fluctuating, the potent, and it is this which the artist of every age, from Phidias to Giotto, from Giotto to Blake, has been called upon to make known to the multitude.’36 If the supernatural was thereby rescued from the metaphysical realm favoured by Christianity, the ghostly was likewise redefined as a fundamentally modern aspect of a post‐religious sensibility.
Lee's reasoning on this front was characteristically binary, as is apparent in her analysis of how it was increasingly the case that the modern world of post‐Enlightenment reason could undo the potentially disastrous legacies of centuries of faith, both pre‐Christian and Christian:
We have forms of the supernatural in which we believe from acquiescence of habit, but they are not vital; we have a form of the supernatural in which, from logic and habit, we disbelieve, but which is vital; and the form of the supernatural is the ghostly. We none of us believe in ghosts as logical possibilities, but we most of us conceive of them as imaginative possibilities; we can still feel the ghostly, and thence it is that a ghost is the only thing that can in any respect replace for us the divinities of old, and enable us to understand, if only for a minute, the imaginative power which they possessed, and of which they were despoiled not only by logic, but by art. By ghost we do not mean the vulgar apparition which is seen or heard in told or written tales; we mean (p.162) the ghost which slowly rises up in our mind, the haunter not of corridors and staircases, but of our fancies.37
Lee's ghosts of the mind had a distinctly Enlightenment pedigree, but one in which, according to her narrative of intellectual and cultural history, figures such as Goethe had initiated a shift into Romanticism through their disillusionment with the worldly experience that had underpinned Enlightenment conceptions of reason:
Lee's commitment to the truths of art had removed her from the merely reactive rationality of her grandfather's generation of freethinkers, allowing her to appreciate the full force of the shift initiated in Goethe's iconic Faust, with its return to the power of the supernatural and the uncanny.39
It was from this sickness of the prosaic, this turning away from logical certainty, that the men of the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of this century, the men who had finally destroyed belief in the religious supernatural, who were bringing light with new sciences of economy, philology, and history—Schiller, Goethe, Herder, Coleridge—left the lecture‐room and the laboratory, and set gravely to work on ghostly tales and ballads.38
One has to infer, then, that, according to Lee, only a historicized imagination, which could appreciate what marked out the thinking of one era from another, could understand the nature and implications of the post‐religious supernatural. By historicizing belief, Lee could seem to champion an age of faith over one of mere rationality, but it was a history considered as a branch of aesthetics and not a commitment to religious belief systems that allowed the student to understand such differences. The Victorian aesthete could value Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus over Goethe's Faust precisely because she had gained from post‐Enlightenment thought and experience an insight into earlier ways of believing; once again, in this intergenerational family romance, the granddaughter assumes for herself a depth of understanding denied to her grandfather's less imaginative generation:
The devils and ghosts that Greenblatt observes swarming onto the Renaissance stage were, Lee observed, still part of an enchanted universe: the philosophers of the Enlightenment had disenchanted the world sufficiently to expel them from their imaginations, but it had failed fully to exorcize them, and they returned to disturb the comforts of the Victorians.
The Mephistophilis of Marlowe, in those days when devils still dwelt in people, required none of Goethe's wit or poetry; the mere fact of his being a devil, (p.163) with the very real association of flame and brimstone in this world and the next was sufficient to inspire interest in him; whereas in 1800, with Voltaire's novels and Hume's treatises on the table, a dull devil was no more endurable than any other sort of love.40
The ghostly is often present as a palpable metaphor for the richly imagined relationship between the past and the present in Lee's writings; it is particularly potent in her reflections on the power of art, especially music. In her last major work, Music and its Lovers (1934), a study in what she called ‘psychological aesthetics’, she characterized a phenomenon of hearing music that is not actually being played as ‘haunting by music’, instancing a visit to Delphi in 1908 when, as she was walking though the Sanctuary of Apollo, music from Gluck's operas Alceste and Elena and Paride ‘haunted me’.41 In an essay, ‘Hearing Music’, published four years before her experience at Delphi, Lee had related this sensation to a poet's insight:
The sensation of ‘haunting by music’ is something that went all the way back to her Studies in Eighteenth‐Century Italy. Contemplating her cast of once celebrated but now neglected composers and musicians, the young Lee observed, with an elegiac tone that pervades much of her writing, ‘all such ghosts of forgotten genius are poetical’.43
’Tis in this sense, methinks, that we should understand the saying of Keats—to wit, that in a great many cases the happiest conjunction of music and the soul occurs during what the profane call silence; the very fact of music haunting our mind, while every other sort of sound may be battering our ear, showing our highest receptivity.42
In a short chapter devoted to the Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi (the influence of whose work would lead, ultimately, to Puccini's Turandot), (p.164) she observed that ‘he had, unconsciously, evoked the grotesque world of the supernatural, and the supernatural world would not let its wizard go’. Again, for Gozzi, as for Lee, the worlds of the supernatural and of art fuse in the inspiration of the artist and the experience of the aesthete:
the indistinct voice in the wind, the hazy shapes in the moonlight, all this is incomprehensible to him; he wants art, and he is right; but below art, below the clear, the realized, the complete, is a limbo of fair unborn ghosts, shadowy and vague, of distantly heard memories, of vaguely felt emotions of pathos and joy. Let us not despise that limbo, that chaos; out of it emerges every masterpiece, and in it lies hidden many a charming or sublime shape which those who know the secret spell can evoke out of the midst of ever‐changing forms which surround it.44
Meetings with such ghosts have something of the tryst about them, as witness her envoi to this instance of historical empathy (Lee, the consummate Europeanist, introduced this translation of Herder's notion of Einfühlung into English):
The men and women of the Italian eighteenth century are still mere ghosts, whom we have scared in our search after art; for whom we yet feel we know not what vague friendship and pity. And now we turn away from them with reluctance, from these men and women whom we have met in our rambles through the forgotten world of the Italian eighteenth century, these poets, and composers, and playwrights, and singers, to whom we have listened so long and so often; nay, even the poor crabbed little academic pedants and fops, at whom we have so often laughed, have become something to us, and even to them, with their absurdities as to the others with their greatness, we bid farewell with something akin to sorrow.45
Lee was preoccupied by ‘that dead, forgotten world of art’.46 It was her self‐imposed task to act as a bridge from the aesthetically hungry present into that nostalgic landscape, to reanimate the shadows of disembodied ghosts for the understanding of the living present. In a suitably entitled essay, ‘The Immortality of Maestro Galuppi’—with its deliberate echoes of Browning's ‘A Toccata of Maestro Galuppi’—there is a moment of pre‐Proustian synaesthesia, as a day in Venice given over to the composer's honour ends in grey light: ‘It is,’ writes Lee, ‘the colour of the dead melodies . . . the colours . . . of the forgotten songs.’47 (p.165) Elsewhere, she referred to ‘the embalming power of music’.48 The same quality of the uncanny attached to buildings, as well as to music. In her essay, ‘In Praise of Old Houses’, Lee cited a Yorkshire friend's fear of such properties: ‘There seemed to be other people in it besides the living,’ a reaction which Lee, a keen and perceptive traveller with a strongly developed sense of time and place, developed approvingly elsewhere.49 A devotee of Rousseau, whom she admired as a music critic as well as a precursor of romantic sensibilities, Lee visited Les Chamettes, a house associated with the philosopher, with Jean‐Jacques very much in mind. Her description of the house she visited is a process which reversed the fears of her friend, allowing Lee to instantiate her own secular and oddly pleasing sense of haunting:
It is a house, she observes, ‘ready to be inhabited by any purchaser who should have the nerve to share a house with inmates not of this world’. The most perfect house she had ever seen, not the least of its becoming qualities was that it was: ‘So completely and perfectly, also, of the Past!’50 The whole essay is an oblique commentary on the worlds of Rousseau's Confessions and Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, works by two of her greatest eighteenth‐century masters; others—besides the myriad of novelists she (p.166) admired, from Richardson to Marivaux and Laclos—included Vico (to her the solitary ‘thinker’ of the Italian eighteenth century), and Winckelmann, who, following her mentor Walter Pater, she saw as the original creator of the type of aesthetic vision to which she devoted so much of her life and writings.51 A Paterian to her core, Lee was particularly dismissive of Ruskin's dismissal of the plastic arts of the eighteenth century, answering his claim that the eighteenth century was morally bad in sardonic antitheses regarding:
The house you enter stands empty, but with the air of having been inhabited till yesterday, though inhabited a little by ghosts: chairs and tables are in their places on the broken brick floor or dusty parquet; a big Louis XV sideboard also with a few coarse Strasbourg plates and a set of pewter; and beds, in their alcoves, with moth‐eaten silk quilts; while on the walls, among mirrors cracked and dimmed, hang the portraits of the late owners.
The eighteenth century thus remained an immensely rewarding imaginative resource throughout Lee's life, so that when she developed her early interests beyond the neglected eighteenth century, backwards into the Renaissance—the study of which she pioneered, alongside Ruskin, J. A. Symonds, and Jacob Burckhardt—she did so under the imagined gaze of her eighteenth‐century masters. She created in the process a sense of aesthetic genealogies not so unlike those promoted in the writings of her great contemporary, Nietzsche (with whose disavowal of the ‘corrupt’ Wagner she was in complete accord):
the fiendish wickedness of the 18th century, that abominable age which first taught men the meaning of justice as distinguished from mercy, of humanity as distinguished from charity: which first taught us not to shrink from evil but to combat it. And thus, because the 18th century is proved by its smirking fumbellowed goddesses and handkerchief‐Garrotted urns to be utterly, morally, abominable, the one great art which flourished in this period, the glorious music of Bach, and Gluck, and Marcello, and Mozart, must necessarily be silently carted off to the dust heap of artistic baseness.52
For even so short a time ago, the Middle Ages were only beginning to be more than a mere historical expression, Antiquity was being only then critically discovered; and the Renaissance, but vaguely seen and quite unformulated by the first men, Gibbon and Roscoe, who perceived it at all, was still virtually unknown. To Goethe, therefore, it might easily have seemed as if the antique Helena had only just been evoked, and as if of her union with the worn‐out (p.167) century of his birth, a real Euphorion, the age in which ourselves are living, might have been born. But, at the distance of additional time, and from the undreamed‐of height upon which historical science has enabled us to stand, we can easily see that in this he would have been mistaken. Not only is our modern culture no child of Faustus and Helena, but it is the complex descendant, strangely featured by atavism from various sides, of many and various civilizations; and the eighteenth century, so far from being a Faustus evoking as his bride the long dead Helena of Antiquity, was in itself a curiously varied grandchild or great‐grandchild of such a marriage, its every moral feature, its every intellectual movement proclaiming how much of its being was inherited from Antiquity.53
Goethe acted as the efficient guide through the many cultures Lee navigated in her evocative travel books; full of history and personal associations as they are, the guiding presence of Goethe gives them an overall formal consistency, a late Victorian absorption of Goethe's classicizing Romanticism acting as their ideal. It was a Goethean world that she created in her short romantic novel Ottilie (1883), which is essentially an elegiac essay on the world of Werther and Wilhelm Meister. Curiously, she claims to have been haunted by the figures of her novel both before and during its composition; novels, it would seem, just like myths, had their ‘distorted phantoms, too hideous for reality, but which haunt and avenge’.54 Not that the brother and sister who dominate what little action there is in Ottilie are anything other than sweetly imagined, Goethean figures, with more than a hint of Dresden china about them; the ghosts of her ghost stories are, however, altogether more sinister. Lee's best‐known collection of short stories, Hauntings (1890), contains horribly lively spirits of the Renaissance and the seventeenth century—vampires and eerily androgynous men and women—but one of the most celebrated stories in the volume, ‘A Wicked Voice’, is very much a product of her earliest studies in the history of Italian music. It takes her haunted (p.168) impressions of the past to a level of perfection that she would rarely reach again.
Lee's Hauntings are the result of the interpenetration of past and present, as she stated in the ‘Preface’ to the collection:
The narrator of ‘A Wicked Voice’, a Norwegian composer, ‘despised the new‐fangled nonsense of Wagner, and returned boldly to the traditions of Handel and Gluck and the divine Mozart, to the supremacy of melody and the respect of the human voice’. This is, however, no coyly celebratory opening, for what the story will detail is how the dangerous voice of a long‐dead castrato has come to haunt the composer's present, making the would‐be creator of a nationalistic Wagnerian opera, Ogier the Dane, into a prisoner of ‘the miserable singing‐masters of the Past’.56Lee, Hauntings: Fantastic Stories (London, 1890), pp. x–xi. The singer in question, Balthasar Cesari, nicknamed Zaffirino, is clearly based on the celebrated castrato Farinelli, by whom the young Violet Paget had long been obsessed. She had absorbed and accepted contemporary valuations of the legendary singer's talent:
That is the thing—the Past, the more or less remote Past, of which the prose is clean obliterated by distance—that is the place to get our ghosts from. Indeed we live ourselves, we educated folk of modern times, on the borderland of the Past, in houses looking down on troubadours' orchards and Greek folks' pillared courtyards; and a legion of ghosts, very vague and changeful, are perpetually to and fro, fetching and carrying for us between it and the Present.55
Farinelli was thus idealized by the young writer, who insisted that:
His voice, it was universally acknowledged throughout Europe, had been infinitely more voluminous, extensive, and beautiful than any that had been heard before or since; his musical talent far more versatile and astonishing than any other; in short, the eighteenth century was unanimous in placing him alone and far above all its other great singers, his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors.
there is something nobler than romance in this man, who was neither a genius nor a wizard: modest and self‐respecting in the most corrupting position, unselfish and forgiving amidst baseness; something which makes him appear like almost an idyllic hero among the artificial, worthless people around him.57
Zaffirino is, in these respects, the very reverse of Farinelli, but, in the fascination with the ambiguities of the castrato voice, he is still very (p.169) much its haunting representative. Lee was, perhaps, giving away more than she thought when she observed, in the preface to a new edition of Studies in Eighteenth‐Century Italy, published in 1907, a quarter of a century after its first appearance, that it was the female, contralto voice that had preserved Handel's operatic arias;58 the ambiguities of gender are central to her appreciation of voices and art. There is much of fin‐de‐siècle decadence in the mood evoked by the story, as in the way the male narrator collapses the worlds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when gazing on a portrait of the singer:
That effeminate, fat face of his is almost beautiful, with an odd smile, brazen and cruel. I have seen faces like this, if not in real life, at least in my boyish romantic dreams, when I read Swinburne and Baudelaire, the faces of wicked, vindictive women.59
The good Farinelli has become the wicked Zaffirino and, in the process, he has acquired a dangerously sexualized identity. One can also deduce, from an observation Lee made in her 1907 preface, that he has become positively vampiric:
There is, then, a genuine sense of anxiety in Lee's disinterment of the purely physical traces of long lost voices; it is as if her writing is itself the blood for the ghosts that will bring them back, however fleetingly. Such a preoccupation with the dead appears to be indulged at the cost of the living. Zaffirino, in eighteenth‐century life, had killed an admiring woman through the literal instrumentality of his wicked voice, and the composer sees the very moment in the singer's past when this event occurred: as in so many of her ghost stories, past and present are blurred (p.170) in ‘A Wicked Voice’, and a harpsichord which accompanies a swelling voice one minute is seen to be broken and splintered the next.61
the musicians of former ages may be compared with the ghosts flocking hopelessly round the artificial trench of Odysseus, waiting in vain for the drink which restores their bulk and their voice; spectres, some of them, heroic or lovable, but who, for lack of that life‐blood of attention, can never speak to posterity nor lay their hands on its soul.60
Three years after ‘A Wicked Voice’ was published, Lee, in a dialogue called ‘Orpheus in Rome’, had her alter ego Baldwin confess to his fascination with the original singer, Guadagni, ‘for whom Gluck composed his Orpheus’. Guadagni, like Farinelli‐Zaffarino, is an obsessive haunting, as Baldwin notes: ‘It's odd by what caprice one singles out some particular forgotten creature of the past; or rather by what caprice some particular ghost chooses to manifest himself and haunt.’ Guadagni is considered to be ‘evidently . . . uncanny’ by one of Baldwin's party, but so also is a musical instrument, the oboe‐like hautboy, whose use in Gluck's opera leads to the claim that ‘the hautboy, with its soft shrillness, its quivering breath, or at least this particular hautboy of Gluck's, is like the ghost of a human voice’:62 music, and the voices of singers especially, were potent sources of an aesthetic of the uncanny in Lee's writings. Haunting is an aesthetic metaphor, the aftertaste of immediate experience and sensation, in Lee's writings; aesthetics, acting as something very like the ‘natural supernaturalism’ of Romanticism, is the space in which to trace the actions of the uncanny in her stories and in her studies in the arts. Religion and its metaphysics are replaced by art and aesthetics in her vision of the spiritual life.
‘A Wicked Voice’ has also been read as a vividly imagined commentary on Lee's championing of eighteenth‐century music over the Wagnerians, and as a subtle evocation of the homoeroticism that accompanied so much aesthetic thought in the 1890s, as well as being an immediately pre‐Freudian essay on the fears of castration.63 It is also a vivid reversal of that fascination with the eighteenth century which the younger Lee had felt. By 1907, in the introduction to a new edition of her first book, she was noting how the eighteenth century in Italy had been (p.171) the ‘lumber‐room’ of her childhood, ‘full of the discarded mysteries of lurking ghosts’; as a mature woman she could recognize what the younger woman had failed to see, that ‘the Italian eighteenth century was humdrum’.64 Humdrum in everything, that is, but its music, which she persisted in championing, usually against the admirers of Wagner, of whom the narrator of ‘A Wicked Voice’ was one.65 Nonetheless, for all its charm, the eighteenth century can obsess the nineteenth century to a dangerously subversive degree, and Lee's readers are to take seriously the narrator's horror at ‘this odious eighteenth century!’, ‘That cursed eighteenth century!’, ‘that hated eighteenth century!’66 It had blunted his inspiration, effectively castrating his creativity: love of the past, even if it is a love created by a fascinating, if sexually ambiguous figure, can, Lee suggested, distort one's living relationship with the present. Ghosts are not exorcized in the therapeutic manner approved of by Freud in Lee's stories; they take over, and not the least of the reasons that they can fatally do so—as in such tales as ‘Amour dure’ and ‘Oke of Okehurst’—is that the imagination can propel their existence in the mind into the external world.
Lee wrote another supernatural tale with an eighteenth‐century Italian setting, ‘Alberic and the Snake Lady’, but it is more in the nature of a typically decadent fairy tale of the 1890s than the sort of complex psychological, aesthetically driven tale typified by ‘A Wicked Voice’. ‘Alberic and the Snake Lady’ first appeared in Aubrey Beardsley's Yellow Book; it marks Lee's most obvious experiment with the literature of decadence. With its scenario of an effete, dying dynasty, finally undone by an enchanted and enchanting ‘snake‐lady’, the story has been persuasively read as another of her castration fantasies, somewhere between E. T. A. Hoffmann's ‘The Sandman’, which Freud famously read as an instance of such anxiety, and Hans Andersen's similarly troubling ‘Little Mermaid’.67 ‘Alberic and the Snake Lady’, shivering (p.172) with sexual ambiguity, and quietly moralizing in tone, is very much a fairy tale for consenting adults; it is an effective evocation of the deadening effects of aestheticism turned decadent. Only the Beardsley who illustrated The Rape of the Lock could have hoped to depict the sinuous decor of the court of Luna, whose grotesquely made‐up Grand Duke reminds one irresistibly of W. M. Thackeray's drawing, ‘An Historical Study’, depicting an ancient, spindly, pot‐bellied Louis XIV being absorbed by a hitherto empty set of regal robes, and emerging in the process as a resplendently fat, beribboned, bejewelled, but monumentally dead, Roi Soleil.68 Thackeray's Grand Monarque was drawn in the same year, 1840, that Carlyle dismissed him, fittingly echoing King Lear, as the very antithesis of the heroic: ‘Strip your Louis Quatorze of his king‐gear, and there is left nothing but a poor forked radish with a head fantastically carved;—admirable to no valet.’69
Whilst such effete yet masculine bodies figured all that was wrong with the eighteenth century in Lee's writings, the life‐enhancing androgyny of Beaumarchais and Mozart's Cherubino represented all that was charmingly ambiguous about it. Cherubino:
seems a delicate poetic exotic . . . this page, this boy who is almost a girl, with his ribbons and his ballads, his blushes, his guitar and his rapier . . . this is no delicate and gracious young creature of the stock of Elizabethan pages, no sweet exotic in the France of the 1780s; this Cherubino is merely a graceful, coquettish little Greuze figure, with an equivocal simplicity, an ogling naïveté, a smirking bashfulness, a hidden audacity of corruption; a creature of Sterne or Marivaux, tricked out in an imitation Medieval garb, with the stolen conscious wink of the eye, the would‐be childlike smile, tinged with leer, of eighteenth‐century gallantry.70
The eighteenth century lived for Lee in two extremes: on the one hand, rouged death; on the other, androgynous ambiguity. It was at once the troublingly aestheticized locus of pampered death, the world (p.173) of Louis XIV's marmoreal absolutism, and the potential source for the escapist imaginings of a nervous chronicler of same‐sex desire. It is not too much to say that Lee was engaged, in every sense, in queering the past. The eighteenth century was very much to Lee what the Renaissance had proved to be to Walter Pater, her much‐esteemed exemplar of deeply imagined art historical reflection.
M. R. James, the Provost of King's College, is the best known of the three Cambridge heads of house who wrote ghost stories in the early twentieth century. Arthur Gray, the Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, published a short collection of ghost stories in 1919. The first of the stories, ‘The Everlasting Club’, gestures at the memories of costume that Grant Allen had thought so important in the cross‐generational nature of haunting: Gray described a long‐locked room in the college, in which ‘legs have been stretched and wine and gossip have circulated in the days of wigs and brocade’. This was not, however, a happy memory of the eighteenth century, as Gray noted that the club was just one of the many dissipated societies that had once flourished in Cambridge, and which had ‘in their limited provincial way aped the profligacy of such clubs as the Hell Fire Club of London notoriety’. The generally low morals of early eighteenth‐century Cambridge were, Gray emphasized, lowered even further by the Everlasting Society, at least one of whose members had been ‘in attendance on the Young Pretender in Paris’; these were in the ‘graceless days of George II’, which were succeeded ‘by times of outward respectability, when religion and morals were no longer publicly challenged’. The last remaining member of the society could not, therefore, have expected to survive long into the reign of the pious George III, and, accordingly, away from them he was taken, seemingly by supernatural forces, though as Gray teasingly confided in his readers, ‘Such superstitious belief must be treated with contemptuous incredulity.’71 Plainly, Gray's heart was not in the eighteenth century, and his condemnation of it as immoral and profligate was fairly typical of his age. It would take the work of a Cambridge don of the next generation, D. A. Winstanley, to rescue (p.174) eighteenth‐century Cambridge from its Victorian detractors.72 A. C. Benson, the Master of Magdalene College, James's Eton friend and contemporary, wrote several ghost stories, but set none of them in the eighteenth century, unless an otherwise anonymous series of stories that appeared in the Magdalene College Magazine between 1911 and 1914 contributed by one ‘B.’, all but a couple of which concerned hauntings in eighteenth‐century Magdalene, were his work, as their modern editor has speculated.73
James, like Leslie Stephen, was the product of an Evangelical family. Born in 1862, a couple of years before Stephen's religious doubts would compel him to leave Cambridge, James dedicated his life to his college and university before retiring in 1918 to the provostship of Eton. A consciously conventional churchman who was to remain solidly Protestant, James nevertheless moved some way from his father's committed Evangelicalism. His father was also both an Etonian and a former fellow of King's, where he had imbibed the Evangelical temper inaugurated in the college by Charles Simeon in the opening decades of the nineteenth century.74 The younger James was never as sure of his sense of vocation as his father had been, and his decision not to pursue ordination has continued to prove something of a puzzle to his biographers. Nevertheless, whatever the certainties of his father's generation, from the date of his own election to a King's fellowship in 1887, James had settled into a changing and potentially turbulent academic atmosphere in a Cambridge in which the revolutionary New Testament scholarship of Westcott and Hort was making its mark on conventional belief; James's own explorations in what he called (p.175) ‘Christian archaeology’ were also confirming suspicions common to many of his intellectual generation regarding the necessary relativity of religious beliefs.75 Indeed, James's lifelong interest in the religiously ambivalent world of apocryphal scholarship may provide a clue to the distance he sometimes seems to have felt, however subliminally, from conventional Christian apologetics. As the literary critic Austin Warren noted, no one seems to have questioned James about his fascination with the apocryphal and the heretical, and he himself never openly questioned his own ‘subterranean motives’ in pursuing work on ‘the Apocrypha’, those otherwise forgotten books of the Christian Bible, whose ultimate, and sometimes arbitrary, exclusion from scriptural authority so suggestively questioned the status of holy writ.76 Whether or not such apparently unconscious scepticism implies a refusal to be explicit about religious and metaphysical doubts, critics of the nineteenth‐century ghost story have to take seriously Jack Sullivan's suggestion that the genre might well embody the very scepticism it ostensibly seeks to combat:77 in this sense, James may have been much closer to such irreligious exponents of the form as Grant Allen (a journalistic favourite of Leslie Stephen, an excerpt from one of whose characteristically sceptical tales provides an epigraph to this chapter) than he would ever have cared to admit, either to himself or—still less—to others.
Furthermore, as Sullivan noted, James's ghostly tales are consciously addressed to readers with a sceptical turn of mind; and that scepticism is often implicitly eighteenth as well as explicitly twentieth century in orientation.78 A great many of James's always malevolent ghosts are eighteenth‐century revenants; and several of his tales take place during the long eighteenth century. His first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), contained stories that dated back to the early 1890s. All but four of the eight stories assembled in this slim but influential volume either had eighteenth‐century settings, or else involved the (p.176) actions in the nineteenth century of ghosts dating from the long eighteenth century. The tally is slightly smaller in the next collection, More Ghost Stories (1911), but even there three of the seven stories it contains had a markedly eighteenth‐century provenance. No fewer than three of the five stories that constituted A Thin Ghost and Other Stories (1919) shared eighteenth‐century associations. The pattern is also marked in the final collection, A Warning to the Curious (1925), with three of the six stories being firmly rooted in the experience of the long eighteenth century. A late story, ‘Rats’, contributed to Lady Cynthia Asquith's 1931 miscellany, Shudders, contains an unusually active eighteenth‐century skeleton, kept more or less safely under lock and key in a nineteenth‐century seaside inn.79 Something like a half of James's published ghost stories are thus concerned with eighteenth‐century hauntings; a story recently published from a manuscript at King's, ‘The Fenstanton Witch’, similarly concerns two eighteenth‐century undergraduates of the college and the consequences of their ill‐advised adventures in amateur diabolism.80
Certain patterns of association are discernible in James's preoccupations with the eighteenth century. The first theme concerns the nineteenth‐century consequences of eighteenth‐century necromancy. In ‘Canon Alberic's Scrap Book’, the opening story in his first collection, the nefarious dealings of a diabolically inclined French canon, who had died in 1701, come to afflict that most modern of personages, a Cambridge don with a taste for photography.81 Similarly, in ‘Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance’, a story which first appeared in 1911, an eighteenth‐century squire returned from the Grand Tour with a set of beliefs that had frightening consequences for his late nineteenth‐century successor, Mr Wilson of Wilsthorpe, who had undertaken a great deal of building at his country seat, and had also been an enthusiast for pagan religion, a type that clearly fascinated James.82 This was an associated theme that haunted his ghost stories, whatever their period settings, but it is especially visible in those with an eighteenth‐century (p.177) setting. In ‘Lost Hearts’, Mr Abney, a studious heathen revivalist with a pronounced interest in the mystery cults of the later Roman empire, allows his reading to get the better of him, leading to a bloody outbreak of antiquarian enthusiasm and sacrifical violence. Abney, who had contributed a description of an ancient statue of Mithras to the Gentleman's Magazine, succumbs to the results of his own horribly misplaced scholarship (when a comparatively old man) on his Lincolnshire estate in 1812; his peculiar scholarly tastes, allied with a penchant for child sacrifice, are, therefore, a much exaggerated variant of those of a post‐Christian generation indebted to the work of writers such as Gibbon.83 In the meticulous plotting and historical verisimilitude of ‘Lost Hearts’, James plainly relished taking the Gibbonian brand of gentlemanly semi‐paganism to its logical limit. Eighteenth‐century rationalism had transformed itself into irrationalism, a theme whose resonances Carlyle had enjoyed tracing in his French Revolution.
James was always suspicious of secularizing forces, and he seems to have exorcized some of these fears through ghost stories that detailed the grisly consequences of earlier repudiations of Christianity. A self‐conscious Victorian moralist right up to his death in 1936, he saw himself as a fundamentally Christian scholar, and he heartily disliked the secular scholarship of such consciously post‐Christian writers as Stephen, with whom he had stayed in Cornwall in 1888 as a friend of his stepson, George Duckworth. This was an occasion that greatly troubled James's mother, especially when she learned that her son thought his friend's sister, Stella Duckworth, extremely beautiful. She feared an unsuitable match, in which a pious James might marry a member of the irreligious Stephen clan, a religiously explosive variant of the Stephen family romance.84 Her worries were excessive: James would never marry anyone, however beautiful, whether irreligious or devout, and his sexual ambivalence was least likely to resolve itself into companionship with a woman, though many of his friends tried to persuade him otherwise, especially when he became provost of King's.85 Even when represented by Stella Duckworth, or her charismatic step‐cousin J. K. Stephen, another young fellow of King's, with whom James (p.178) was on close terms, heathenism was anathema to him.86 Whether it took the morally outrageous form of eighteenth‐century paganism, or the morally serious, but no less distasteful, shape of nineteenth‐century secularism, unbelief was for him simply unimaginable as a philosophy of life.
Such was the strength of James's dislike of the forces of secularization he saw at work around him that aspects of his Anglicanism assumed a vigorous, not to say vindictive, form in the sometimes repulsive logic of his fiction. Opponents of the Church of England at its most triumphant were wont to meet grisly ends. In ‘The Uncommon Prayer‐Book’, an avaricious book‐dealer, Poschwitch, is drained of his life blood by the indistinct but long‐dead form of Lady Sadleir, an anti‐Cromwellian who had dared to have Prayer Books printed during the Interregnum.87 Another outsider, an Irish peer whose parents had given him the name Saul—‘ “whatever his godfathers could have been thinking of” ’—meets a grisly end in ‘The Residence at Whitminster’ while still a child, the direct result of the witchcraft he had practised in his native land. The express liminality of Ireland in the British polity, and the suggestion that it had not been properly Christianized, is typical of James's insular variety of anti‐Catholicism.88 ‘The Residence at Whitminster’, a complex narrative, not only works on the level of geographical distancing—the young Irish peer dies in the environs of Whitminster, an English foundation which had contrived to survive in the interstices of the Dissolution and the Reformation up to the era of reform in the 1830s—but also in terms of temporal distancing.89 The story begins with an Anglican clergyman disapprovingly surveying (p.179) Lord Saul's behaviour in 1730, and it moves on to the haunting of the Residence by Lord Saul and his particularly repugnant familiars in the 1820s. A story published in 1919 thus examines the interrelations of two moments, divided by almost a hundred years, within the long eighteenth century, and it articulates in so doing a strong sense of the ineluctable and persistently troubling presence of the past in the present that is of the essence of ‘haunting’ in much nineteenth‐century fiction. It is a story that resonates strongly with the theme of Henry James's The Sense of the Past.
‘The Residence at Whitminser’ gave James an opportunity for imaginative literary engagement with earlier historical sensibilities, providing him with a forum in which the imagination can be brought to articulate historical questions relating to such contentious issues as notions of historical progress and secularization. His stories demonstrate how a gothicized version of English history provides a different means of meditating imaginatively on the past, whether through Lady Sadleir's contempt for Cromwell, or, as instanced in ‘The Rose Garden’, via the haunting after‐effects of Judge Jeffreys' trials in the West Country, that familiar staple of Whig historiography. The historical verisimilitude of his tales is at the centre of this spectral twist on the otherwise familiar. Vivid echoes of the language of Judge Jeffreys as recorded in the State Trials of the 1680s—a great favourite with Leslie Stephen—are registered in mock collations in ‘The Rose Garden’ and in ‘Martin's Close’, while in the enigmatic ‘Two Doctors’, he reproduced the style of a legal dossier from the reign of Queen Anne, and in ‘The Diary of Mr Poynter’ he performed the same service for an earlier type of the scholarly antiquarian don with a taste for an unlikely tale, Thomas Hearne.90 The mosaic‐like narrative of ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’, which details the terrible fate of a murderous late eighteenth‐century cleric whose unconventional pursuit of preferment is fatally blighted by a curse on seventeenth‐century cathedral carvings, allowed James to evoke the instantly recognizable cadences of the Gentleman's Magazine. The obituary notice for the unfortunate Dr Haynes is a small masterpiece of eighteenth‐century pastiche, and merits lengthy quotation accordingly: (p.180)
The knowing bow to the complaint of all generations that their generation is lamentably less godly than its predecessors is a slyly ironic challenge to secular notions of progress. It was a complaint James, a passionate lover of King's and its music, would eventually and all too frequently make of his own successors in Cambridge. For James's reader of the generous tribute in the Gentleman's Magazine the irony is that Dr Haynes, the embodiment of charity, grace, and loyalty, is discovered to have been an ambitious, if troubled, murderer, and a suborner of witnesses in his household. He meets with a brutal end.
On February 26th, at his residence in the Cathedral close at Barchester, the Venerable Archdeacon Haynes, D.D. aged 57, Archdeacon of Sowerbridge and Rector of Pickhill and Candley. He was of—College, Cambridge, and where, by talent and assiduity, he commanded the esteem of his seniors; and when, at the usual time, he took his first degree, his name stood high in the list of wranglers. These academical honours procured for him within a short time a Fellowship of his College . . . His speedy preferments, first to a Prebend, and subsequently to the dignity of Precentor in the Cathedral of Barchester form an eloquent testimony to the respect in which he was held and his eminent qualifications. He succeeded to the Archdeaconry upon the sudden decease of Archdeacon Pulteney in 1810. His sermons, ever conformable to the principles of the religion and Church which he adorned, displayed in no ordinary degree without the least trace of enthusiasm, the refinement of the scholar united with the graces of the Christian. Free from sectarian violence, and informed by the spirit of the truest charity, they will long dwell in the memories of his hearers . . . The productions of his pen include an able defence of Episcopacy, which, though, often perused by the author of this tribute to his memory, afford but one additional instance of the want of liberality and enterprise which is a too common characteristic of the publishers of our generation . . . The urbanity and hospitality of the subject of these lines will not readily be forgotten by those who enjoyed his acquaintance. His interest in the venerable and awful pile under whose hoary vault he was so punctual an attendant, and particularly in the musical portion of its rites, might be termed filial, and formed a strong and delightful contrast to the polite indifference displayed by too many of our Cathedral dignitaries at the present time.91
Language, as incarnated in texts recovered from a dangerous past, is a medium vivid with the presence of the uncanny in James's writings; it haunts his antiquarian heroes, who tend to come across exactly the appropriate text precisely in those terrified intervals that follow their (p.181) confrontation with otherwise unspeakable horrors. This symmetry of language and experience, at the very root of Freud's notion of the uncanny, is also apparent in James's evocation of the Sortes Biblicae, the technique of biblical divination, whereby divine exhortations were read into randomly selected texts, favoured by Moravians and once practised by John Wesley in the eighteenth century. (Wesley's experience of it was ambiguous; it nearly decided him against preaching to the colliers at Kingswood, a vital part of his field preaching career).92 James makes appropriately effective use of this technique in ‘The Ash‐Tree’, a story in which seventeenth‐century witchcraft fatally haunts the dismissively worldly eighteenth century, as poisonous spiders, the unholy familiars of Mrs Mothersole—executed as a witch in 1690 on the evidence of Sir Matthew Fell—make away with Sir Richard Fell, Sir Matthew's direct descendant, in 1754. The disjunction in attitudes towards the supernatural evinced in the two periods is paralleled in the different resorts to the Sortes Liturgicae which the story describes as taking place in 1690 and 1754 respectively, indulged on both occasions by pious clergymen determined to make some sort of sense of the otherwise inexplicable events which have taken place.
Objects and places, no less than texts, are redolent sites of haunting in the tales of M. R. James. The disparity between the rational classicism of eighteenth‐century houses such as that depicted in ‘The Ash‐Tree’ and the horrible events that will occur within them was of some aesthetic moment. In ‘The Mezzotint’, the textual representation of a similar house resonates with a twofold sense of horror, the classic doubling of the uncanny experience. In this story, a Victorian don—for once at Oxford, rather than at Cambridge—witnesses the disappearance of a baby in 1802 in the clutches of a skeletal figure as the tragedy is replayed in a mezzotint of the scene, executed by the bereft father in 1805. Similarly, in ‘The Haunted Doll's House’ a macabre eighteenth‐century murder is replayed en miniature in a reproduction of a mansion built in the style of Strawberry Hill Gothick.93 ‘The Haunted Doll's House’ (p.182) is an appropriately Walpolean fantasia, akin to (and the reverse of) the out‐of‐scale horrors of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, a work of which James was no great admirer, observing of it in a 1929 essay on ghost stories, ‘I fear it is merely amusing’;94 he was, nonetheless, plainly fascinated by its narrative potential. His architectural tastes were decidedly not Walpolean, as is made clear in the opening to ‘The Ash‐Tree’:
James was fairly typical of his generation in his love of eighteenth‐century vernacular classicism; it was to an altogether more modest specimen of such a house as the one he describes, Lamb House in Rye in Sussex, that Henry James moved from London, and in whose Garden House he dictated the later short stories and novels. The revival of the Queen Anne style, of what became known, borrowing an Arnoldian epithet, as ‘sweetness and light’, had begun in earnest in the 1860s, the decade of M. R. James's birth, would ultimately provide the style in which such new academic communities as Newnham College, Cambridge, and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, were to be built.96
Everyone who has travelled over Eastern England knows the smaller country‐houses with which it is studded—the rather dank little buildings, usually in the Italian style, surrounded with parks of some eighty to a hundred acres. For me they have always had a very strong attraction: with the grey paling of split oak, the noble trees, the meres with their reed‐beds, and the line of distant woods. Then, I like the pillared portico—perhaps stuck on to a red‐brick Queen Anne House which has been faced with stucco to bring it into line with the ‘Grecian’ taste of the end of the eighteenth century; the hall inside, going up to the roof, which hall ought always to be provided with a gallery and a small organ. I like the library, too, where you may find anything from a Psalter of the thirteenth century to a Shakespeare quarto. I like the pictures, of course; and perhaps most of all I like fancying what life in such a house was when it was first built, and in the piping times of landlords' prosperity, and not least now, when, if money is not so plentiful, taste is more varied and life quite as interesting. I wish to have one of these houses, and enough money to keep it together and entertain my friends in it modestly.95
James was not, then, drawn to the ‘Gothick’, be it in the tales or the buildings of Horace Walpole. James was in no doubt as to the tradition (p.183) in which his own stories belonged, and it was not the Walpolean Gothic, nor yet a contemporary vision of the supernatural tale, but rather that which had prevailed during his own childhood. As he observed in the ‘Preface’ to More Ghost Stories: ‘I am well aware that mine is a nineteenth‐ (and not a twentieth‐) century conception of this class of tale; but were not the prototypes of all the best ghost stories written in the sixties and seventies?’97 James found the world of his childhood inescapable; his biographers have always cannily resisted any acceptance of a Freudian interpretation of his tales.98 The writer from those decades whose work he most admired, many of the best examples of which he published in a small but effectively chosen collection with an affectionate introduction, was the Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Many of Le Fanu's supernatural tales have an eighteenth‐century Irish setting; his celebrated vampire story, ‘Carmilla’, from his collection In a Glass Darkly, is set in central Europe in the 1790s. He also wrote a novel of the uncanny, The House by the Churchyard (1863), set on the outskirts of eighteenth‐century Dublin.99 Le Fanu provides a signal instance of the phenomenon referred to by Terry Castle, that of an author whose love of the irrational and the supernatural prospered and took shape alongside Victorian rationalism. Lecky, the author of The Rise of Rationalism in Europe, was, like Le Fanu, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and his vision of eighteenth‐century Ireland was a decidedly different, infinitely more progressive, if less altogether entertaining one than that to be found in the spectral evocations, redolent of folk tales and superstitions, to be found in the popular stories of his contemporary, many of which had first been published in the Dublin University Magazine.100
(p.184) In James's ghostly narratives the alleged rationality of the eighteenth century is similarly but an ill‐conceived attempt at overcoming older and much darker forces that would dangerously re‐emerge in the nineteenth century. As with Carlyle, James saw much greater strength in the religious (and supernatural) beliefs of the seventeenth century than he did in the cooler elements which thrived in the sceptical eighteenth century, and his stories frequently reflect this dimension of his historical thinking. Unlike Carlyle, however, there is reason to believe that James felt temperamentally more drawn to the equability of the eighteenth century than he did to the passions of the seventeenth century; passion, in James, is the force which frequently brings destruction in its wake. Just as ‘The Ash‐Tree’ contained malevolent powers from the superstitious seventeenth century that would successfully overwhelm the complacent scepticism of the eighteenth century, so James's creation of that bridge into a nineteenth‐century narrative would, nonetheless, question the ability of scepticism ever to dispel those instincts and intuitions that would continue to unsettle the secularizing elements in nineteenth‐century thought. What would increasingly trouble James as he grew older was that twentieth‐century unbelief would prove ever more invincible, and that his own quiet Anglicanism could not see it off; his war with the ‘godless’ party at King's obliged him to retreat from the world of Maynard Keynes, whose election to a strongly contested fellowship at King's James had approved, although the possibility of his later becoming Provost of the college would cause James much anxiety.101 Disorientated by post‐war Cambridge, James made his way back to the more comfortingly Christian ambience of Eton, where he would live out the final eighteen years of his life. It was at Eton that he had originally marvelled as a schoolboy at elderly survivors from the ancien régime; he had much enjoyed the fact that one elderly fellow of Eton, who lived on to witness the two jubilees of Queen Victoria, could remember the jubilee of George III.102 It was the living generational perspective of the historian that informed James's reactions to the worlds in which he lived. The post‐war generation was not one he found attractive; Victorianism was to serve as his favoured antidote, (p.185) and he firmly adopted the mores and attitudes of the adult community, including its eighteenth‐century remnants, who had presided over his schooldays.
His protest against the tone set by Lytton Strachey's classic of intergenerational revolt, Eminent Victorians (1918), further emphasized his desire to reinvent himself as a Victorian relic in a world with whose self‐consciously mature adults he was markedly out of sympathy.103 He described the situation in which he found himself in the sardonic opening of ‘A Neighbour's Landmark’:
As the tale that ensues demonstrates, ‘Cursed is he that moves his neighbour's landmark,’ and James, the pious antiquarian, was less than happy with those who would reform or denigrate that which they had inherited, be it the Henrician foundation of King's College, or the Victorian religion in which he had been reared. Indeed, not all the younger men produced by James's beloved Eton and King's would turn against the conservative interpretation of those institutions and their mores that their Provost had dedicated his singularly Victorian life to preserving, long after the old queen had died.
‘Remember, if you please,’ said my friend, looking at me over his spectacles, ‘that I am a Victorian by birth and education, and that the Victorian tree may not unreasonably be expected to bear Victorian fruit. Further, remember that an immense amount of clever and thoughtful Rubbish is now being written about the Victorian age. Now,’ he went on, laying his papers on his knee, ‘that article in The Times Literary Supplement the other day—able? of course it is able; but, oh! my soul and body . . . ’104
In the most powerful of his Stoneground Ghost Tales (1912), E. G. Swain, a former chaplain of King's (where he had written particularly bloodthirsty plays for the choristers in the 1890s), likewise plotted a story of eighteenth‐century revenge around the biblical comminations, ‘Cursed is he who moves his neighbour's landmark’ and ‘Remove not the ancient landmarks’ (Proverbs 22: 28).105 Fear of change and (p.186) its consequences haunted James and his small band of conservative followers, chief of whom were Swain and R. H. Malden, later to become Dean of Wells and the author of an able collection of Jamesian tales, Nine Ghosts (1942).106 The godless generation that James and Swain had feared would indeed transform King's some way from the godly college over which the Provost had presided, and the Victorian fear of Hanoverian worldliness would, in its turn, give way to the moral seriousness of Bloomsbury‐inspired agnosticism. It was therefore fitting that the funeral of the elderly Provost of Eton, who had played Handel's funeral music on the organ rather than attend a May Ball when a young fellow of King's, should have been accompanied by the ‘Dead March’ from Handel's Saul; James's musical tastes were those of a Victorian discoverer of the eighteenth‐century classics, a conventional taste for a man of his generation.107 His was a Victorian funeral that took place towards the close of the Bloomsbury era; strikingly, his period as Provost at Eton was remembered by two writers, John Lehmann and Cyril Connolly, as having been decidedly eighteenth‐century in atmosphere.108 In thus uniting the eighteenth century and the Victorian age, the life and the writings of M. R. James marked the end of a tradition that would give way to the Modernist generation, and its own enthusiasms for the eighteenth century, often detailed through a deep detestation of the Victorian generation that preceded them. The eighteenth‐ and nineteenth‐century portions of Woolf's own supernatural tale, Orlando, unpicking the bookmanship of her father, mark the same point from which Lehmann and Connolly had critically viewed M. R. James. The Victorian appreciation and construction of the eighteenth century had come to an end, and it was about to begin to be newly understood in their own terms by their successor generation.
(1) In Ivan Greet's Masterpiece (London, 1893), 68–89, at pp. 76–7.
(2) Vernon Lee, Studies in Eighteenth‐Century Italy (1880), 291. On the relationship between such interests and her ghost stories, see Catherine Maxwell, ‘Vernon Lee and the ghosts of Italy’, in Alison Chapman and Jane Stabler (eds.), Unfolding the South: Nineteenth‐Century British Women Writers and Artists in Italy (Manchester, 2003), 201–21.
(3) Lee, The Poet's Eye (1926). For an argument that Lee's notion of empathy influenced aspects of Woolf's thought, see Dennis Dennisoff, ‘The forest beyond the frame: picturing women's desires in Vernon Lee and Virginia Woolf’, in Talia Schaffer and Kathy Alexis Psomiades (eds.), Women and British Aestheticism (Charlottesville, Va., 1999), 251–69.
(4) Terry Castle, ‘Introduction’ to The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth‐Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny (Oxford, 1995), 3–20.
(5) Lee, ‘Rococo’, in Juvenilia: Being a Second Series of Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions (2 vols., 1887), i. 131–47, at pp. 137, 139–41. Lee's aesthetic would come to acquire a bodily dimension; she noted that music had a bodily as much as a spiritual impact: ‘The riddle of music,’ Quarterly Review, 204 (1906), 207–27, at p. 211. On the physicality of her aesthetics, which also had, on occasion, a same‐sex character, see Dinana Maltz, ‘Engaging “delicate brains”: from working‐class enculturation to upper‐class lesbian liberation in Vernon Lee and Kit Anstruther‐Thomson's psychological aesthetics’, in Schaffer and Psomiades, Women and British Aestheticism, 211–29, and Kathy Alexis Psomiades, ‘ “Still burning from this strangling embrace”: Vernon Lee on desire and aesthetics’, in Richard Dellamora (ed.), Victorian Sexual Dissidence (Chicago, 1999), 21–41.
(6) Lee's explorations of the eighteenth century, alongside those of Emilia Dilke, fashioned a new period in, and a new way of pursuing, art history, on which see also Hilary Fraser, ‘Regarding the eighteenth century: Vernon Lee and Emilia Dilke construct a period’ in Francis O'Gorman and Katherine Turner (eds.), The Victorians and the Eighteenth Century: Reassessing the Tradition (Aldershot, 2004), 223–49. Emilia Dilke, first married to Mark Pattison, whose essay on eighteenth‐century religion so strongly affected Leslie Stephen's career as an intellectual historian, and then to the Liberal politician Sir Charles Dilke, wrote several volumes on the arts in eighteenth‐century France, often of a rather technical kind, but always attractively written, and with none of the knowing idiosyncrasy of Lee's texts. These are: French Painters of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1899), French Architects and Sculptors of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1900), French Furniture and Decoration in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1901), and French Engravers and Draughtsmen of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1902). Like Lee, she also wrote about the Renaissance and the culture of Louis XIV's France, in her magisterial Art in the Modern State (London, 1888). Also like Lee, she wrote two collections of mystically inclined stories: The Shrine of Death and Other Stories (London, 1886), and The Shrine of Love and Other Stories (London, 1891). Unlike Lee, with her marked indebtedness to Pater, it was Ruskin, in many ways Lee's bête‐noire, who first encouraged Dilke as a very young woman, and his presence is visible in her studies. On Dilke, see Kali Israel, Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture (Oxford, 1999). Emilia Dilke's life and writings can very interestingly be read alongside the experience and writings of Vernon Lee.
(7) Juvenilia, i. 146–7.
(8) Henry James, The Sense of the Past (1917), 48–9. For a suggestive reading of the novel see Karl Miller, Doubles: Studies in Literary History (Oxford, 1981), 234–9. The best statement on James's deployment of the uncanny is T. J. Lustig, Henry James and the Ghostly (Cambridge, 1994). Early in his career James had written an atmospheric ghost story set in mid‐eighteenth‐century Massachusetts: ‘The romance of certain old clothes’, in Leon Edel (ed.), The Complete Tales of Henry James (12 vols., London, 1962–4), i. 297–319.
(9) On the commission, see Richard William Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James (1980), 141. For the result, see M. R. James, ‘The Christian Renaissance’, in A. W. Ward, G. W. Prothero, and Stanley Leathes (eds.), Cambridge Modern History, i: The Renaissance (Cambridge, 1902), 585–619. James, all too aware, perhaps, of the Actonian spirit which was to pervade the Cambridge Modern History, almost parodies the nature of his scholarly enterprise in his essay. He notes, of an inventory of the books belonging to Pope Nicholas V, that ‘A short survey of the collection, if dry, will at least afford some basis of solid fact.’ Similarly, halfway through his essay, he declares: ‘To most men the study of inventories and catalogues seems dry work; but the evidence derivable from it is of a kind not easily to be upset’ (ibid. 594, 600). Such a strategy is almost reversed by the rather differently dry surprises awaiting the unlucky scholars in his ghost stories.
(10) M. R. James, ‘Introduction’ to V. H. Collins (ed.), Ghosts and Marvels: A Selection of Uncanny Tales from Daniel Defoe to Algernon Blackwood (1921), pp. v–xiii, at pp. vi–vii.
(11) For recent and suggestive attempts to historicize Freud's writings, see Michel de Certeau, ‘What Freud makes of history: “a seventeenth‐century demonological neurosis” ’ and ‘The fiction of history: The writing of Moses and Monotheism’, in The Writing of History, trans. Tom Conley (New York, 1988), 287–307, 308–54, and Carl E. Schorske, ‘To the Egyptian dig: Freud's psycho‐archaeology of culture’, in Thinking with History: Explorations in the Passage to Modernism (Princeton, 1998), 191–215.
(12) Leslie Stephen, ‘Introduction’ to James Payn, The Backwater of Life, or, Essays of a Literary Veteran (London, 1899), pp. ix–xliv, at p. xviii.
(13) For excellent discussion, see Bart Schultz, Henry Sidgwick, Eye of the Universe: An Intellectual Biography (Cambridge, 2004), 90, 275–334.
(14) [Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain], An Adventure (London, 1911); Eleanor Sidgwick, review from the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (London, 1911), reproduced in Lucille Iremonger, The Ghosts of Versailles: Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain and their Adventure: A Critical Study (London, 1957), 146–55. She dismissed the book as not adding ‘anything of interest on the positive side of Psychical Research’ (p. 155).
(15) Terry Castle, ‘Contagious folly: An Adventure and its skeptics’, Critical Inquiry, 17 (1991), 741–72; Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (New York, 1993), 112–25, 149.
(16) M. R. James, ‘Twelve medieval ghost stories’, English Historical Review, 37 (1922), 413–22.
(17) Keith Hopkins, Death and Renewal: Sociological Studies in Roman History (Cambridge, 1983), 226–35; C. S. Watkins, ‘Sin, penance, and Purgatory in the Anglo‐Norman realm: The evidence of visions and ghost stories’, Past and Present, 175 (2002), 3–33.
(18) Jean‐Claude Schmitt, Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago, 1998), 2, 8, 9–10.
(19) Ibid. 77–8, 141.
(20) Ibid. 158, 9–10.
(21) Ibid. 224.
(22) Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton, 2001), 33, 35, 40–1, 61, 85. Intriguingly, Purgatory was treated by many of its believing proponents, especially in the work of Thomas More, as the centre of intergenerational activity: see p. 144 for Greenblatt's reading of this claim. For a reading of the same phenomenon by a social historian, see Peter Marshall, ‘Deceptive appearances: Ghosts and reformers in Elizabethan and Jacobean England’, in Helen Parish and William G. Naphy (eds.), Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe (Manchester, 2002), 188–208. On the survival of supposedly accredited ghostly tales into the late seventeenth century, and its place in religious apologetic, Dissenting and Anglican, see Sasha Handley, ‘Reclaiming ghosts in 1690s England’, in Kate Cooper and Jeremy Gregory (eds.), Signs, Wonders, Miracles: Representations of Divine Power in the Life of the Church (Studies in Church History 41) (London, 2005), 345–55.
(23) Greenblatt, Hamlet, 151–204.
(24) Ibid. 229–57.
(25) Schmitt, Ghosts, 5–6, 33, 35, 53, 66, and passim; Greenblatt, Hamlet, 143, 205–8, 214–29.
(26) Freud, ‘Analysis of a phobia in a five‐year‐old boy: Little Hans’, in The ‘Wolfman’ and Other Cases, trans. Louise Adey Huish (Harmondsworth, 2002), 1–122, at p. 100.
(27) Schmitt, Ghosts, 227, referring to the essay by Freud in the preceding note.
(28) For a sustained argument relating Freud to his own Victorian generation, see Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: From Victoria to Freud (5 vols., New York, 1985–98).
(29) Greenblatt, Hamlet, 102.
(30) Schmitt, Ghosts, 224–7; Greenblatt, Hamlet, 46–9, 229.
(31) Peter Gunn, Vernon Lee: Violet Paget, 1856–1935 (London, 1964), 1, 14, 16–17.
(32) Christa Zorn has argued that the narrative uncertainties deployed by Lee in her fantastic stories allowed her to develop a critique of conventional history writing, particularly as it applied to the growing fields of art and cultural history: Vernon Lee: Aesthetics, History, and the Victorian Female Intellectual (Athens, Oh., 2003), pp. xxiv, xxxi, 140–8.
(33) For valuable commentary on Lee and the supernatural as a means whereby she could experience the past at first hand, see Julia Briggs, Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story (London, 1978), 111–23.
(34) Vernon Lee, ‘Introductory’, in Althea: A Second Book of Dialogues on Aspirations and Duties (London, 1894), pp. ix–xviii, at pp. xii–xiii.
(35) Lee, ‘Faustus and Helena’ in Belcarro, Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions (London, 1883), 70–105, at p. 74.
(36) Ibid. 80.
(37) Lee, Belcarro, 93.
(38) Ibid. 97.
(39) ‘It was from this rebellion against the tyranny of the possible that Goethe was charmed with that culmination of all impossibilities, that most daring of ghost stories, the story of Faustus and Helena. He felt the seduction of the supernatural, he tried to embody it—and he failed.’ (Ibid. 97.)
(40) Lee, Belcarro, 98. On Marlowe's Doctor Faustus as consciously secularizing, see Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory, 154–6, 236, 258–9.
(41) Lee, Music and its Lovers (London, 1934), 451–2; she also used the phrase ‘Chante Interiéur’ to characterize such experiences: 113–14, 170–1, 508–9.
(42) Lee, ‘Hearing music’, in Hortus Vitae: Essays on the Gardening of Life (London, 1904), 45–54, at p. 49.
(43) Lee, Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880), 120.
(44) Lee, Studies, 277, 283.
(45) Ibid. 295.
(46) Ibid. 139.
(47) Lee, ‘The immortality of Maestro Galuppi’, in Juvenilia: Being a Second Series of Essays on Sundry Aesthetic Questions (2 vols., London, 1887), ii. 2–17, at pp. 16–17. She refers approvingly to Browning's poem in Studies, 101, and, noting the once merely quotidian nature of the past, in ‘In praise of old houses’, in Limbo and Other Essays (London, 1897), 19–41, at p. 40: ‘Reading over Browning's Galuppi lately it struck me that this dead world of vanity was no more charming or poetical than the one we live in, when it also was alive.’ On her view of the musical equivalences of ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’, see Music and its Lovers, 92, 96. Browning had referred admiringly to the young Vernon Lee in Asolado (1889): Gunn, Vernon Lee, 2. An association between haunting and synaesthesia is present in the opening of a 1904 essay, ‘Sere and yellow’: ‘ “Alors que je me croyais aux derniers jours de l'automne, dans un jardin dépouillé.” The words are Madame de Hauterive's, one of the most charming among eighteenth‐century letter‐writers; but one of whom, for all the indiscretion of that age, we know little or nothing: a delicate, austere outline merely, a reserved and sensitive ghost shrinking into the dimness.’ (Hortus Vitae, 151–63, at p. 151.)
(48) Lee, ‘The love of the saints’, in Renaissance Fancies and Studies: Being a Sequel to Euphorion (London, 1895), 1–63, at p. 30.
(49) Lee, ‘In praise of older houses’, 21.
(50) Lee, ‘Les charmettes’, in The Enchanted Woods: And Other Essays on the Genius of Places (London, 1909), 173–82, at pp. 177–9.
(51) Lee, Studies, 147 (on Vico); on Winckelmann, see the essay in Belcarro, ‘The child in the Vatican’, 17–48, at p. 24, ‘Orpheus and Euridice’, 49–69, at pp. 53–4; and ‘A seeker of pagan perfection’, in Renaissance Studies and Fancies, 163–231, at p. 202. On her debt to Pater, see ‘The imaginative art of the Renaissance’ and ‘Valedictory’ in Renaissance Studies and Fancies, 65–133, 233–60, at pp. 114 and note, 248–60. She had dedicated Euphorion to Pater, ‘in appreciation of that which, in expounding the beautiful things of the past, he has added to the beautiful things of the present’.
(52) Lee, ‘Ruskinianism: The would‐be study of a conscience’ in Belcarro, 197–29, at pp. 221–22. On Ruskin's highly critical position, see Dinah Birch, ‘Ruskin's revised eighteenth century’, in The Victorians and the Eighteenth Century, 163–81.
(53) Lee, ‘Introduction’ to Euphorion: Being Studies of the Antique and the Mediaeval in the Renaissance, (2 vols., London, 1884), i. 1–13, at pp. 6–7. On Lee's standing as a historian and critic of the Renaissance, see Hilary Fraser, The Victorians and Renaissance Italy (Oxford, 1992), 234, 252, Zorn, Vernon Lee, 25–59, and Angela Leighton, ‘Resurrection of the body: women writers and the idea of the Renaissance’, in Chapman and Stabler, Unfolding the South, 222–38. Lee's Renaissance was, however, a truly European experience, allowing her to explore comparative themes over time and place, as instanced, most remarkably, in the essay in the first volume, ‘The Italy of the English dramatists’: Euphorion, i. 55–108.
(54) Lee, Ottilie: An Eighteenth‐Century Idyll (London, 1883), 14; Studies, 188.
(55) Lee, Hauntings: Fantastic Stories (London, 1890), pp. x–xi.
(56) Lee, ‘A wicked voice’, in Hauntings, 195–237, at 195–6.
(57) Lee, Studies, 111, 113.
(58) Lee, ‘Retrospective chapter: Preface to the new edition’, in Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (London, 1907), pp. xiii–xlix, at p. xxii.
(59) Lee, ‘A wicked voice’, 206. On the strongly Paterian nature of Lee's vivid imaginings of what many critics read as lesbian desire, see Ruth Robbins, ‘Apparitions can be deceptive: Vernon Lee's androgynous spectres’, in Ruth Robbins and Julian Wolfreys, Victorian Gothic: Literary and Cultural Manifestations in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke, 2000), 182–200.
(60) Lee, ‘Retrospective Chapter’, p. xlv.
(61) Lee, ‘A wicked voice’, 233–6. For a positive pre‐echo of the image see her fairy tale, The Prince of the Hundred Soups: A Puppet‐Show in Narrative (London, 1883), at p. 170: ‘She was standing by the open spinet. She struck a chord, and, as she spoke the last words, burst into a wonderful, brilliant vocal phrase, triumphant, like her smile.’
(62) Lee, ‘Orpheus in Rome’ in Althea, 51–104, at pp. 51–6, 94. Signora Olimpia Fantastici, the good musical force in The Prince of the Hundred Soups, is the feminine reverse of the uncanny, sexually ambiguous male alto in ‘A wicked voice’, so that only positive results stem from the fact that she is ‘the greatest, most beautiful, but also the most fantastic and unruly singer in the world’ (The Prince of the Hundred Soups, 58).
(63) Carlo Caballero, ‘ “A wicked voice”: On Vernon Lee, Wagner, and the effects of music’, Victorian Studies, 35 (1992), 385–408; Patricia Pulham, ‘The castrato and the cry in Vernon Lee's Wicked voices’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 30 (2002), 431–7. Wagner is criticized, and Gluck praised, in ‘Orpheus in Rome’: 84–93.
(64) Lee, ‘Retrospective chapter’, pp. xvi, xviii.
(65) Ibid., p. xxx‐liv.
(66) Lee, ‘A wicked voice’, 206, 218, 223.
(67) Lee, ‘Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady’, in Pope Jacynth and Other Fantastic Tales (London, 1907), 91–111. Freud, ‘The Uncanny’, in The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (Harmondsworth, 2003), 121–62; Jane Hotchkiss, ‘(P)revising Freud: Vernon Lee's castration phantasy’, in Carola M. Kaplan and Anne B. Simpson (eds.), Seeing Double: Revisioning Edwardian and Modernist Literature (Basingstoke, 1996), 21–38; Zorn, Vernon Lee, 152–7. On the polymorphous sexuality of snake imagery, see Martha Vicinus, ‘The adolescent boy: fin‐de‐siècle femme fatale?’ in Dellamora (ed.), Victorian Sexual Dissidence, 21–41. This was not the first time Lee had depicted the confrontation between a young man and a serpent: see also ‘The three golden apples’ in Tuscan Fairy Tales (London, 1880), 21–30. She was an admirer of Hoffmann, to one of whose most celebrated uncanny tales she devoted an essay which began with the assertion that ‘There is nothing stranger in the world than music’: ‘Chapelmaster Kreisler: A study of musical romanticists’, in Belcarro, 106–28.
(68) The drawing, which dates from 1840, is fittingly reproduced in Peter Burke, The Fabrication of Louis XIV (New Haven, 1992), at p. 124. The baroque extravagances of the court of Luna are very easily rendered unstable by the interventions of a Gothic past into something very like a court of Lunacy.
(69) Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero‐Worship and the Heroic in History (1841: Lincoln, Neb., 1966), 184.
(70) Lee, ‘Cherubino: A psychological art fancy’, in Belcarro, 129–55, at pp. 135, 137.
(71) Arthur Gray, ‘The everlasting club’, in Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye (Cambridge, 1919), 1–8.
(72) D. A. Winstanley, The University of Cambridge in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1922); Unreformed Cambridge: A Study of Certain Aspects of the University in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1935).
(73) Rosemary Pardoe (ed.), When the Door is Shut and Other Ghost Stories by ‘B’ (Runcorn, 1986). None of A. C. Benson's ghost stories, collected in The Hill of Trouble and Other Stories (London, 1903), and The Isles of Sunset (London, 1904), has an eighteenth‐century setting. Benson's brothers also wrote in this vein. The two supernatural collections by R. H. Benson, a Catholic priest, are essentially a celebration of his religion, by turns morbid, in The Light Invisible (London, 1903), and quirkily apologetic, in The Mirror of Shallot: Composed of Tales Told at a Symposium (London, 1907). E. F. Benson, the most secular‐minded of the brothers, has a sceptical friend of Voltaire suffer an agonizing death in 1760 as the result of seeing two seventeenth‐century ghosts, in ‘How fear departed from the Long Gallery’ in The Room in the Tower and Other Stories (London, 1912), 133–55, at pp. 139–41.
(74) Pfaff, James, 62; Michael Cox, M. R. James: An Informal Portrait (London, 1983), 2, 72. On Simeon, see Charles Smythe, Simeon and Church Order: A Study of the Evangelical Revival in Cambridge in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge, 1940).
(75) Pfaff, James, 90, 425. For another attempt at resolving the puzzle, see Cox, James, 72, 86–7, 165.
(76) Austin Warren, ‘The marvels of M. R. James, antiquary’ in Connections (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1970), 86–107, at p. 99. Julia Briggs has seen in his playfulness with textual authority in the ghost stories a parody of his work on biblical scholarship; the citation of learned texts—real or imaginary—is shown to be capable of proving almost anything: Night Visitors, 125.
(77) Jack Sullivan, Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood (Athens, Oh., 1978), 4.
(78) Ibid. 79.
(79) James, ‘Rats’, in Cynthia, Lady Asquith, Shudders: A Collection of New Nightmare Tales (London, 1930).
(80) James, The Fenstanton Witch and Others, ed. Rosemary Pardoe (Chester, 1999).
(81) James, ‘Canon Alberic's Scrap‐Book’ in Ghost‐Stories of an Antiquary (London, 1904), 1–28.
(82) James, ‘Mr Humphreys and his inheritance’, in More Ghost Stories (London, 1911), 215–74. A complex reading of the story as a religious allegory is offered by Martin Hughes, ‘A maze of secrets in a story by M. R. James’, Durham University Journal, 85 (1993), 81–93.
(83) James, ‘Lost hearts’, in Ghost‐Stories of an Antiquary, 29–52.
(84) Cox, James, 87; Pfaff, James, 64, 88 n. 42.
(85) Pfaff, James, 62; Cox, James, 165. As Richard Holmes has noted ‘it is the unspecifically feminine, the stiffening ectoplasm of feminality which seems to carry in the end the maximum emotional charge in James's fiction’: ‘M. R. James and others’, in Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer (London, 2000), 161–71, at p. 170.
(86) On his friendship with the notoriously unstable J. K. Stephen, the much loved son of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, see Cox, James, 85, and Pfaff, James, 83. James was happy to recall his membership of J. K. Stephen's Coffee Club at Cambridge: M. R. James, Eton and King's: Recollections, Mostly Trivial 1875–1925 (London, 1926), 170.
(87) James, ‘The uncommon prayer‐book’, in A Warning to the Curious and Other Stories (London, 1925), 35–69. The story was inspired by the fanatically royalist Dame Anne Sadleir, who had donated to Trinity College, Cambridge, the Trinity Apocalypse, on which James quickly became an authority: Pfaff, James, 189; Cox, James, 144.
(88) He opposed Irish Home Rule, remarking in 1888 of Irish separatists: ‘I have no patience with these people. Neither have I with the Home Rulers.’ (Pfaff, James, 99; Cox, James, 107.) Such was his suspicion of Catholicism that, as provost in 1909, he refused permission for a performance in King's College Chapel of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, a setting of Newman's poem, because, as he told A. C. Benson, it was ‘too papistical’: Cox, James, 72.
(89) James, ‘The residence at Whitminster’, in A Thin Ghost and Others (London, 1919), 1–47. Warren observes of James's attitude to time that: ‘The antiquary and the mimic combine in the delight, and the skill, with which James varies the times of his stories. The time is often double: the traditional device of the discovery and reading now of some document written in the remote or more recent past.’ (Connections, 99.)
(90) James, ‘The rose garden’ and ‘Martin's Close’, in More Ghost Stories, 19–44, 169–213; ‘Two doctors’ and ‘The diary of Mr Poynter’, in A Thin Ghost, 135–52, 49–71. On Stephen's interest in such matters, see ‘The state trials’, in Hours in a Library (3 vols., London, 1904), iii. 287–315.
(91) James, ‘The stalls of Barchester Cathedral’, in More Ghost Stories, 135–67, at pp. 137–9. For a suggestive reading of the tale, see Martin Hughes, ‘Murder of the cathedral: A story by M. R. James’, Durham University Journal, 87 (1995), 73–98.
(92) For discussion, see Henry D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism (London, 1986), 190, and for Wesley's account of it, see his journal entry for 10 Mar. 1739 in W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (eds.), The Works of John Wesley, xix: Journals and Diaries II (1738–43) (Nashville, Tenn., 1990), 37. For a fascinating and moving parallel from his own clerical experience, see Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1975), 257–58.
(93) James, ‘The mezzotint’, in Ghost‐Stories of an Antiquary, 53–80; ‘The haunted doll's house’, in A Warning to the Curious, 9–34.
(94) M. R. James, ‘Some remarks on ghost stories’, The Bookman (Dec. 1929), 169–72, at p. 170.
(95) James, ‘The ash‐tree’, in Ghost‐Stories of an Antiquary, 81–112, at pp. 83–4.
(96) On the fortunes of which style, see Mark Girouard, Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement, 1860–1900 (New Haven, 1977).
(97) More Ghost Stories, vi.
(98) As recently as 1983, Michael Cox wrote of the stories that ‘to dwell on them as vehicles of unconscious psychological investigation, to the exclusion of all other considerations, is to view them through a distorting lens’ (James, 149 n.). This ought not, however, to disavow the usefulness of psychological readings alongside other considerations.
(99) Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Madam Crowl's Ghost, and Other Tales of Mystery ed. M. R. James (London, 1923); In a Glass Darkly (3 vols., London, 1866); The Purcell Papers (3 vols., London, 1880); The House by the Churchyard (3 vols., London, 1863). He also wrote two historical novels set in Ireland both immediately before and two decades or so after the Williamite wars there. Both novels—The Cock and Anchor (1845) and The Fortunes of Turlogh O'Brien (1847)—though undoubtedly Protestant in flavour, are politically ambivalent.
(100) For excellent studies of Le Fanu and his Irish context, see W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1980), and Dissolute Characters: Irish Literary History through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Bowen (Manchester, 1993). Victor Sage, Le Fanu's Gothic: The Rhetoric of Darkness (Basingstoke, 2004), offers a suggestive reading of many of the short stories and novels.
(101) On his increasing suspicions of Keynes and the ‘godless party’ which promoted him, and which he in turn promoted, see Pfaff, James, 214, 331–2, 340; Cox, James, 169–70, 187.
(102) James, Eton and King's, 80.
(103) James told Sir Sydney Cockerell in 1923 that he couldn't stand Strachey: Pfaff, James, 392, Cox, James, 220. What would he have made of his brother, James Strachey, then busily translating the works of Freud for publication by the Hogarth Press?
(104) James, ‘A neighbour's landmark,’ in A Warning to the Curious, 70–96, at p. 71. Pfaff has identified the piece in question as ‘The stricken years’, which appeared in The Times Literary Supplement on the 11 Aug., 1921.
(105) James, Eton and King's, 235; Cox, James, 95; E. G. Swain, ‘The rockery’, in The Stoneground Ghost Tales: Compiled from the Recollections of the Reverend Roland Batchel, Vicar of the Parish (Cambridge, 1912), 103–21.
(106) Cox, James, 95, 119, 123, 150; Pfaff, James, 267, 416 n. 77.
(107) Cox, James, 65; Pfaff, James, 37, 61, 147, 352, 399, 420, 421.
(108) Cox, James, 207; Ibid. 339, 348.