Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists: Theories of Vision in Victorian Literature and Science (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture)

Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists: Theories of Vision in Victorian Literature and Science (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture)

Srdjan Smaji?

Language: English

Pages: 281

ISBN: B01HC0Z758

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This is an original study of the narrative techniques that developed for two very popular forms of fiction in the nineteenth century - ghost stories and detective stories - and the surprising similarities between them in the context of contemporary theories of vision and sight. Srdjan Smajić argues that to understand how writers represented ghost-seers and detectives, the views of contemporary scientists, philosophers, and spiritualists with which these writers engage have to be taken into account: these views raise questions such as whether seeing really is believing, how much of what we 'see' is actually only inferred, and whether there may be other (intuitive or spiritual) ways of seeing that enable us to perceive objects and beings inaccessible to the bodily senses. This book will make a real contribution to the understanding of Victorian science in culture, and of the ways in which literature draws on all kinds of knowledge.

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psychology.”9 Yet ghost-debunking literature, from the early nineteenth century on, was more invested in the optical argument than Castle allows. Scott’s reference to a “deception of the optic nerves” is indicative of the preoccupation with optics among writers on the supernatural, especially skeptics on the subject of ghosts. Compared to theories that attributed ghosts to “wild vagaries of the fancy” and various forms of mental illness, the optical approach had the advantage of being able to

with a discussion of the nature and general reception of all such stories. The narrator foregrounds the lack of firm evidence in ghost-sighting cases, because of the reticence of those who have experienced something unusual:  “Almost all men are afraid that what they could relate in such wise would find no parallel or response in a listener’s internal life, and might be suspected or laughed at.” As a result, “the general stock of experience in this regard appears exceptional, and really is so, in

Intellect be meant the process by which many different sensations are grouped together, thus forming products unlike any of the several components; and since this process of grouping may be extended from the elements to the groups, the products will, after successive evolutions, be so far removed from all resemblance to the original sensations as to appear due to a different source  – and which in the end is “only another and a better way of expressing the sensational doctrine” (PLM i, p. 192).

Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”: “The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply” (“SV,” p. 535). But to say that detective fiction always had one foot in the occult is not to say that The Hound is just one more example of the genre’s spiritualist or occultist tendencies. Rather it signals, albeit somewhat hesitantly and equivocally, the trend, popular at the turn of the century, to refashion the detective into a professional investigator of the occult, a firm believer in things

to gravity, is perfectly penetrable and apparently not inert … If we insist on calling it by the name ‘matter’ this term has so changed its meaning that what we have called its essential properties are not essential to it at all and we might call it anything we pleased.” From here Hyslop reasons: “If any reality exists in this universe with the properties ascribed to the ether and these the opposite of what we understand by matter, it is not hard to conceive the existence of an energy that thinks

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