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Ghost Stories of The Victorian Era

Victorian ghost stories, which dealt with the supernatural were quite popular. Fairies, ghosts, and witches were largely taken up by authors of their books. Ghost stories were appreciated largely by the people.

Victorian ghost story
A ghostly 19th-century story illustration by FS Coburn.(Guardian)

Why were stories of ghosts popular in the 19th century?

Britain was a very religious nation during the Victorian age. However, if we’re to examine in retrospect, we will find that religious views of the people were accompanied by several other beliefs. Pagan beliefs were included too. Stories which spoke of fairies were not as popular as those which spoke about ghosts. Stories dealing with fairies had lost their charm in the Elizabethan era.

But, the Victorian era seemed to be haunted by the ghost stories. In some of the stories, the ghosts visited the mortal world to haunt the living. Religion taught the people that the blessed souls were resting in heaven and the evil ones were damned in hell. The Catholic Church had to provide enough space to let the ghosts function.

Victorian Ghost stories
Ghost stories in Victorian times were devoured by people

Victorian era Ghost Stories had a link to the religion

The Church taught people that ghosts were disturbed spirits whose souls were trapped in purgatory. They could not rest easy because of the sins that they committed.

The Protestant Church had a different take on the subject. The elite came under the influence of the beliefs of the Protestant Church. They regarded the ghosts to be Popish. The ghosts were frauds who were masters of deceiving people.

The Victorian age witnessed an upheaval in people’s beliefs. The new rational outlook generated by the philosophies of Marx and the scientific theory of Darwin challenged many popular existing beliefs, of which ghost was one. People were provided with an alternative explanation of the world. These were very new ideas and of course, they did not change people’s beliefs overnight! But they did have considerable influence on the society.

So the people clung to the teaching of the Church and ghosts stories during the Victorian era continued to be popular. But their beliefs were shaken a little, the new outlook served as an eye opener to some people. However, people continued to be scared of death and the life after death.

We can claim from the Ghosts stories of the Victorian era that the Victorians were quite obsessed with death. The protestant church differed from its Catholic counterpart by claiming that the good souls went straight to heaven, Gods aboard and the sinners went to hell. They did not leave enough room for the ghosts to function and disturb the mortal world.

Which are popular Victorian ghost stories?

‘The Old Nurse’s Story‘ (1852) by Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell is known for a classic novel like North and South, but she proved she could also write spooky and supernatural. ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ was meant for Charles Dickens’s magazine Household Words.

‘An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street‘ (1853) by Sheridan Le Fanu. Irishman Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was a classic ghost storyteller, and his creepy tale is one of his most popular. The story revolves around a couple of friends spending a night in an old mansion.

‘The Signal-Man‘ (1866) by Charles Dickens. While a Christmas Carol influenced Christmas Eve ghost story tradition, this story has the ability to chill the blood.

‘Was it an Illusion?‘ (1881) by Amelia B. Edwards.

‘The Open Door‘ (1882) by Charlotte Riddell. Haunted house, with a mysterious door that keeps opening. What lies behind the door?

‘The Body Snatcher‘ (1884) by Robert Louis Stevenson.

‘The Canterville Ghost‘ (1887) by Oscar Wilde. It’s not really scary, though.

‘At the End of the Passage‘ (1890) by Rudyard Kipling. Set in India. A British colonial official starts to hallucinate and experience unsettling visions, may be due to the heat.

Another popular Victorian ghost story is ‘Lost Hearts‘ (1895) by M. R. James. The story of an orphan who goes to stay at the house of his distant relative.  After his arrival, the boy learns about the mysterious disappearance of 2 boys who stayed here previously.

The Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James is another popular Victorian ghost story. The narration is by a governess who is in charge of two children. She begins to see two figures of men, suspected to be both former employees at the house.