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Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain

By Melissa Edmundson Makala

Throughout nineteenth-century Britain, female writers excelled within the genre of supernatural literature. Much of their short fiction and poetry uses ghosts as figures to symbolize the problems of gender, class, economics, and imperialism, thus making their supernatural literature something more than just a good scare. Nineteenth-century ghost literature by women shows the Gothic becoming more experimental and subversive as its writers abandoned the stereotypical Gothic heroines of the past in order to create more realistic, middle-class characters (both living and dead, male and female) who rage against the limits imposed on them by the natural world. The ghosts of Female Gothic thereby become reflections of the social, sexual, economic, and racial troubles of the living. Expanding the parameters of Female Gothic and moving it into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries allows us to recognize women’s ghost literature as a specific strain of the Female Gothic that began not with Ann Radcliffe, but with the Romantic Gothic ballads of women in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Women’s Ghost Literature in Nineteenth-Century Britain recovers and analyzes for a new audience this “social supernatural” ghost literature, as well as the lives and literary careers of the women who wrote it.
“This groundbreaking study makes a persuasive case that nineteenth-century women authors wrote ghosts into their fiction and poetry not just in order to entertain but also as a vehicle for social criticism. Through the figure of the ghost, they drew attention to religious, gender, and class-based inequality within British society, and to the human costs of empire and the industrial revolution.”
– Paula Feldman, University of South Carolina
University of Wales Press
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