“…I can affirm only one thing, that they have haunted certain brains, and have haunted, among others, my own and my friends’… along the dim twilit tracks, among the high growing braken and spectral pines, of the southern country… while the moonlit sea moaned and rattled against the moldering walls of the house whence Shelley set sail for eternity”.
(Vernon Lee: Preface to “Hauntings”. 1889)
We are living in an age where society – and politics in particular – are at core haunted by suppressed death anxieties. Everywhere you look, fear of what certainly will come is to be found. People try to push away that fear with possessions, with cosmetics, with lifestyle choices. They offload that fear, creating false villains, loading blame on to others, creating scapegoats. They hide behind masks of fashion or ideology. They sanitise, refuse to look, and yet in the process create an all-consuming demon that simply will not go away. Worse, in not facing facts, they live permanently in thrall to their future, and consequently cannot fully appreciate the life they have.
It may seem paradoxical, but ghost stories are needed now, more than ever. Not, however, the “hide behind your fingers at the bogeyman” ghost stories which fit so neatly into the categories of false fear and head in sand fiction as to be a parody. Such stories merely feed the demon. No: the ghost stories for our deeply sick society are those which face, head on, the fears from which people hide. They are stories which truly haunt – which stay with the reader. They are stories which provide questions, not merely shocks. They are stories which are rooted in a sense of place and a continuum of history, They engage which the obsessions and the trivialities of life. They are stories which, in the end, are redemptive precisely because they do not offer an easy way out. They give voice to existential necessities. They are human, in all that entails.
This is not a review post, but if you wish to find out more, I would certainly recommend stories by Vernon Lee, MR James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, WW Jacobs, Willa Cather, Henry James, Daphne du Maurier and Sheridan Le Fanu (amongst many others). You could even try reading mine (he clumsily plugs).
(images, copyright Gavin R Jones, 2018)