‘The Dear Old Sacred Terror’: Spiritualism and the Supernatural from The Bostonians to The Turn of the Screw

Authored by: Bridget Bennett

The Ashgate Research Companion to Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism and the Occult

Print publication date:  July  2012
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754669128
eBook ISBN: 9781315613352
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042280


 Download Chapter



Henry James wrote a number of ghost stories. 1 1

A good deal of work has been done on this; see, for instance, T.J. Lustig, Henry James and the Ghostly (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 3–4. See also Martha Banta, Henry James and the Occult: The Great Extension (Bloomington, 1972).

But he also produced what J. Hillis Miller has dubbed ‘quasi-ghost stories’ in which the ghostly is invoked figuratively. 2 2

J. Hillis Miller, Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James (New York, 2005), p. 299.

This second kind of use of the ghostly has an important aesthetic dimension for James. Instead of representing actual ghosts or apparitions he uses ghostly metaphors to represent characters who behave as if they are ghosts. Terry Castle has brilliantly explored the way in which James represents Olive Chancellor in ghostly terms, but other examples of this might be given. 3 3

Terry Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian (New York, 1995).

Miller extends his analysis of the ghostliness of James’s work to make a further, more radical claim:

My double hypothesis about James’s ghost stories: (1) All James’s stories and novels are ghost stories; (2) The ghost stories ‘proper’ are really, obliquely, about the act of literature. They bring into the open the way all works of fiction that are ‘believed in’ by the reader work their magic by using language to ‘raise the ghosts’ of the characters. 4 4


Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.