Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This project attempts to identify and explain numerous significant transformations in the genre of the literary ghost story in the period roughly contemporary with the earliest emergence of literary Modernism. Through a detailed examination of the literary encounters with invisibility in pivotal American ghost stories from the end of the twentieth century, the project considers the rich literary trope of ghostly haunting according to its capacity to provoke an engagement with marginalized, liminal spaces. In traditional ghost stories, however, as ghosts are ultimately overcome and order is restored, normative structures resume, and such engagements are trivialized. My analysis identifies a critical historical moment in which when certain authors explore changes to this practice. Particularly, this project performs a detailed reading of a select group of texts published between the years 1887-1910, namely, Guy de Maupassant's "Le Horla" (1887), Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" (1892), Henry James's "Sir Edmund Orme" (1891), and Edith Wharton's "Afterward" (1910). Through exploring the ways these texts significantly innovate the genre of the literary ghost story, this project proposes the emergence of a distinct subgenre, which I ultimately term the Revisionist ghost story.
Through the trope of literary haunting, Revisionist ghost stories reflect on the nature of otherness and its essential incomprehensibility. In figuring haunting as a pervasive and ubiquitous force capable of disrupting order and stability, such texts challenge traditional assumptions of subjective mastery and explore alternatives to prevailing normative structures. Revisionist ghost stories further suggest an essential incomprehensibility intrinsic to subjectivity as they present their characters' ultimate powerlessness to exorcize their ghosts or escape their haunting. Not even the attempt to reflect on the inexplicable experience of haunting through the work of narrative can formulate an adequate coherence, for the characters' frequent endeavors to recount their situation only intensify and propagate the impression of haunting. When a ghost appears in a Revisionist ghost story, it is not to signal the commencement of haunting, but to reveal the essential point that the experience of reality is itself always-already haunted by the profound limitations of human subjectivity and the incomprehensible vastness in the reality beyond.
Trafton, Math, "The Ghostmodern: Revisionist Haunting in Turn-of-the-Century American Literature (1887-1910)" (2013). Comparative Literature Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 46.