14 June 2011

Peter Ackroyd, The English Ghost / Wednesday, 11 May 2011

ckroyd introduces the collection with a historical overview of the English relationship with ghosts, briefly tracing it from the medieval period through the Reformation and into the twentieth century, which “marks the general popularity of the ghost story in English literature” (4). Following the establishment of a historical context, he regionally documents the etymology of several terms associated with ghosts, including “spook,” “wraith,” “dobby,” and “boggart.” Each regional manifestation of the ghost developed its own specific mythology: some spirits are benevolent, while others are more mischievous, and still others are simply horrifying. Ackroyd keenly notes that though regions have their varying mythologies, the initial experiences of the ghost are similar: “noises are often the first inklings of a haunting[;…] then there are voices” (9-10). Ackroyd’s overview is drawn significantly from his own interpretation of the primary material which, given his scholarly gravitas, is not necessarily negative; however, readers seeking a text that further engages academic conversations surrounding the contextual field of ghosts/hauntings will be disappointed, as the text provides very little secondary criticism. The introduction continues with a nod towards church relations and the idea of exorcism, before concluding with a direct acknowledgement of the audience’s tendency towards skepticism: “it is merely stating the obvious to observe that the witnesses here fully believed in the reality of what they had seen or experienced. Whether the reader chooses to believe in it is another matter” (13). Such a disinterested response in the reader’s willingness to believe serves as an effective invitation, like beckoning someone through a partially opened, dilapidated and abandoned, mansion door, on a dark and stormy night; a sort of, “come see for yourself.”

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