Victorian Ghosts, 1852-1907: EN 4573 Collection

Ghostly Returns by Kiran Khan

            The three text compared all look at a form of unrequited love triangle that is the cause of one’s death. The three short stories all share animosity within the characters that are introduced. The titles of each of the stories also are a crucial component as to how the ghost stories are ghostly. In the short story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon the title is The Cold Embrace which looks at a ghostly cold embrace. Secondly, the short story The Romance of Certain Old Clothes written by Henry James looks at the ghostly return of a wife as the old clothes are being taken. Lastly, In the Séance Room by Lettice Galbraith it looks at the revelation made in the séance room regarding the death of a lover. All three short stories show the plot of ghostly time travel towards a loved one that the deceased is trying to reach while emotions such as grief and animosity surrounds the death of said loved one.

            The short story The Cold Embrace written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon follows two protagonists; a woman named Gertrude and an unnamed man. Gertrude and the unnamed protagonist are betrothed to each other before he leaves for Europe to commission for rich men in search for fame and fortune. The lovers mail letters to one another until she stops receiving the letters all together. Gertrude looks for returned letters only to be disappointed, until her father could take no more. A rich suitor comes for Gertrude’s hand in marriage and the wedding date is set for “the fifteenth of June.” (Braddon 26) As a last attempt Gertrude sends a letter to the unnamed protagonist in despair for him to come take her away and marry her. Time goes by and it is the fourteenth of June, Gertrude receives no letter back from her ex-betrothed. On her way back Gertrude takes another path home, where her and the unnamed protagonist “…had stood so often in the sunset watching the rose-coloured light glow, fade, and die upon the river.” (26) The story then switches to the unnamed protagonist’s point of view. The unnamed protagonist is read to be living his best life. He receives Gertrude’s final letter to stop the wedding only his response is “If she had a richer suitor, good! let her marry him; better for her, better at for himself. He had no wish to fetter himself with a wife. Had he not his art always! -his eternal bride, his unchanging mistress.” (26) The protagonist reaches Brunswick where he finds a group of fishermen overlooking a drowned body. The protagonist makes a comment of how “Suicides are always handsome” (27) as wanted to sketch the drowned body. As he uncovers the covers over the face he is met with Gertrude. As he examines her body, he sees that “on the third finger of the left hand, the ring which had been his mother’s- the golden serpent; the ring which, if he were to become blind, he could select from a thousand others by the touch alone.” (27) He is traumatized by this revelation but carries on. However, as soon as he begins to forget his betrothed, he feels a presence, a cold embrace around his neck. This causes him to never wanting to be alone, he begins to be financially unstable and begins to heavily drink. At the ending, he is alone in his room and feels the same cold caress. As he tries to get away, he stumbles over and dies “…from want of food, exhaustion, and the breaking of a blood-vessel.” (28)

            The short story by Henry James The Romance of Certain Old Clothes is narrated by a third perspective. The main characters in the story are Mr. Arthur Llyod, Rosalind and Perdita. The story is set in the eighteenth century, in Massachusetts, of Mrs. Veronica Wingrave, a widowed woman with three children; Bernard, Rosalind and Perdita. Bernard was sent to Oxford for educational purposes. Bernard, returns at the age of twenty-four with his college classmate Mr. Arthur Lloyd. The two sisters try to win over the attention of Lloyd, whereas Lloyd tries to figure out which sister he liked the most. As the two sisters sit together, Rosalind sees that on Perdita “…third finger glistened a little gold ring, adorned with a very small sapphire. Perdita felt that she need no longer keep her secret.” (2) Rosalind learns that Lloyd has asked Perdita’s hand in marriage. Rosalind is disappointed but never confirms Perdita’s thought on her disappointment. The marriage between Perdita and Lloyd takes place, and move to Boston. Lloyd returns in time for Bernard marriage. Lloyd and Rosalind bond over this time since Perdita is left home due to her pregnancy. Lloyd is called back by Perdita after she has given birth to a little girl. Perdita seems to be recovering from child-birth until she “…grew rapidly worse. Lloyd was in despair. It very soon became evident that she was breathing her last.” Before Perdita passes away she makes Lloyd promise to “keep your poor little wife’s old gowns.” He promises and months pass as Rosalind and Lloyd marry. Rosalind learns of Perdita’s old gowns and causes a scene. In anger Lloyd gives the article of clothing to Rosalind. Lloyd finds Rosalind hunched over near the chest in a kneeling position as “her blanched brow and cheeks there glowed the marks of ten hideous wounds from two vengeful ghostly hands.” Rosalind’s death occurs at the hands of Perdita.

            The ghost story In The Séance Room by Lettice Galbraith focuses on a doctor named Valentine Burke. His profession focuses on the art of psychics and hypnosis. He marries a wealthy woman named Miss Elma Lang, an orphan. Burke finds a newspaper cutting that was headed about the disappearance of a young lady named Katherine Greaves. Greaves was the daughter of a well-known physician and had gone to visit her married sister when she disappeared. The newspaper points to an “unfortunate love affair.” The interaction that Burke has with the article portrays this idea that he may know something about the disappearance of the lady. A lady came knocking on Burke’s door in desperation and soon faints. Soon readers realize that the lady who arrived at his door is the lady who has disappeared. Burke is rationalizing with himself “If only she were dead! The words repeated themselves again and again, beating into his brain like the heavy strokes of a hammer. Why should she not die? Her life was over, a spoiled, ruined thing.” As the lady comes to consciousness, they have a conversation where Burke whispered a few words into her ear repeatedly. The next morning a lady is found in the canal and it happens to be the lady Burke was talking to the night before. Miss Elma Lang and Burke go to a séance. In the séance room, Burke is met with his reality. A note that was from Katherine Greaves that accuses him of hypnotizing her since they were the only individuals in the room. He is completely caught off-guard. Burke leaves the room to console himself but hears a scream. He returns and sees “…one hand outstretched, and on the open palm a small, glittering object - a diamond ring!” After the incident the couple drive home. Miss Elma Lang confronts Burke only to not be returned a truthful proper answer. She leaves him with a letter that entails how they are not good for one another and that the only thing left for the two is death. Burke takes “a small polished box, unlocked it, and took out the revolver. It was loaded in all six chambers.” He proceeds to relax rationalising “He had no regret for the life he was leaving. As Elma had said, there was only one thing left for him to do, and - he did it.” The text insinuates that Burke commits suicide.

            In the summaries above the commonality amongst the three Victorian ghost stories is that there is a love affair gone wrong that leads to one of the protagonist’s death which ensues the animosity filled ghostly time travel. This death is specifically the death of the female protagonist first. In can be said that in all three text there is an “[…] affinities between women, ghosts and ghost stories.” (Freeman 186) In the short story The Cold Embrace there is a prevalent ghost travel towards a loved one that first begins from grief and later becomes fulfilled with animosity that causes another death. Gertrude commits suicide in order to escape her second betrothal to a man who she does not want. The man she is initially betrothed to does not reply to her desperate letter that inform him of what is occurring in his long absence. In completely disparity of her situation “She takes another path than that which leads home; she hurries through some by-streets of the city, out on to a lonely bridge, where he and she had stood so often in the sunset watching the rose-coloured light glow, fade, and die upon the river.” (Braddon 26) This quote directly speaks to the quote when her betrothed are talking before he leaves for Europe where they make promises “…she told him, that the dead who die at peace with God are happy in Heaven, and cannot return to the trouble earth; and that it is only the suicide, the lost wretch on whom sorrowful angels shut the door of Paradise-whose unholy spirit haunts the footsteps of the living.” (Braddon 26) It can be said that Gertrude foreshadows her own ending. She commits suicide, she is becoming an unholy spirit that haunts the footsteps of the living, specifically that man she wanted to marry.

            The love affair seen in The Romance of Certain Old Clothes is between Rosalind, Perdita and Mr. Lloyd. Perdita and Lloyd fall in love and are soon married while Rosalind is in extreme jealous. Lloyd, marries Perdita in spite of Rosalind. However, Perdita soon dies after childbirth. Before she comes to terms with her death Perdita makes Lloyd promise that their daughter would be the one to wear her clothes. Once Rosalind and Lloyd are married, Rosalind vainly begins to persistently ask to wear Perdita’s clothes. Lloyd eventually tires of the continuous asking and gives Perdita’s clothes up. However, this attempt by Rosalind is unsuccessful as Lloyd walks in Rosalind “On her limbs was the stiffness of death, and on her face, in the fading light of the sun, the terror of something more than death. Her lips were parted in entreaty, in dismay, in agony; and on her blanched brow and cheeks there glowed the marks of ten hideous wounds from two vengeful ghostly hands.” (James) Perdita’s angry ghost returns to murder her sister Rosalind for touching clothes that were specifically not for her. Perdita engages ghostly time travel, in the rescue of Lloyd and their child’s safe keepings from her vain sister Rosalind. The “[…] ghost experiences are almost always reserved for men (Auerbach 281) which is prevalent since Lloyd is seen to be caught up “with amazement and horror the figure of his wife.” (James) The experience is Perdita making sure Lloyd fulfills the promise he made with her.

            Dr. Valentine Burke’s undiscovered love affair with Katherine Greaves goes under the radar for a long time until unusual events begin to take place in front of his wife Miss Elma Lang, in the short story In the Séance Room. Dr. Burke marriage to Miss Elma Lang is heavily dependent on the financial security Miss Lang provides him. Dr. Burke comes to a newsletter that is headed “‘MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF A YOUNG LADY’” of a woman named Miss Katherine Greaves. In the article it is written “the unhappy girl threw herself into the harbour during a fit of temporary insanity, resulting, it is believed, from an unfortunate love affair.’” (Galbraith) Greaves reaches Dr. Burke only to have a fatal ending under hypnosis. Dr. Burke did not want his love affair with Greaves be known so he makes the Greaves’ disappearance a permanent reality. Greaves’ murder is portrayed as a suicide where Dr. Burke is seen as man who was trying to rescue her. However, soon Dr. Burke is forces to meet with the murder of Katherine Greaves at the séance, his wife and he are at. A séance connects “[…] the voiceless spirit of telepathy and the spirit voice of recording, broadcast, and peer-to-peer media […]” (Zeavin 55). This voiceless spirit is Katherine Greaves that broadcast her reality to Dr. Burke through a hand written paper. This night turns out worse for the couple. Miss Lang confronts her husband who does reply honestly. Miss Lang leaves her husband alone with a final letter that informs him of her knowing about Katherine Greaves and how he had murdered her. She finally states that there is nothing else for them but death. This leads Dr. Burke to make his last and final decision. He makes good of Elma Lang’s final words with a loaded gun “…there was only one thing left for him to do, and - he did it.” (Galbraith) The return of Katherine Greaves ghostly time travel is pulled at the séance which causes her ex-lover to come face to face with her murder.

            The three female characters, Gertrude, Perdita and Katherine Greaves participate in some way of ghostly time travel to reveal. Gertrude is a ghost since she believes people who suicide becomes vengeful spirit, Perdita is a vengeful spirit that returns to only protect her daughter clothing from her vain sister and Katherine Greaves returns at a séance where her murder is revealed. The three female characters ghostly time travel towards a loved one with the commonality of animosity.

Works Cited
Auerbach, Nina. “GHOSTS OF GHOSTS.” Victorian literature and culture 32.1 (2004): 277–284. Web.
Braddon, M. E. “The Cold Embrace.” Indiana University, 26 August 2020, Accessed 10 December 2020.
Freeman, Nick. “SENSATIONAL GHOSTS, GHOSTLY SENSATIONS.” Women’s Writing, vol. 20, no. 2, May 2013, pp. 186–201, doi:10.1080/09699082.2013.773772.
Galbraith, Lettice. “In the Séance Room.” The Haunted Library, 25 February 2015, Accessed 10 December 2020.
James, Henry. “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.” American Literature, 21 October 2019, Accessed 10 December 2020.
Zeavin, Hannah. "Freud's Séance." American Imago, vol. 75, no. 1, 2018, pp. 53-65. ProQuest,éance/docview/2158571734/se-2?accountid=15182, doi:

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