Throughout the Victorian Era, the ghost story has often served as a means to address unconformable topics such as death, sexuality and fears of degeneration more directly than could have been done in more realistic fiction. Women writers used the genre to criticise their gender role restrictions in the patriarchal society which saw marriage and motherhood as the only proper occupations for women. Similarly, authors used the form to write about men and the gender expectations they were supposed to act on. By leaving a loophole for a rational explanation of the seemingly supernatural events, these stories hinted at the possibility that ghosts are nothing but a hallucination and are therefore not located in external forces but within the mind of the ghost-seer. Thus, the genre provided a platform for the subtle criticism of societal issues.

In this seminar, we will explore the characteristics of the ghost story and examine the ways in which the genre was used to erode, challenge, mock and/or blur contemporary ideas about gender, sexuality, and the supposed superiority of the white Englishman. For this purpose, we will read a wide selection of stories – among them stories by famous authors such as Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle. In the course of the semester, we will also discuss literary theories about ghost stories and encounter Sigmund Freud and his psychological concept of the uncanny.