ghost Stories

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A modern form of short story designed to provoke dread and unease in its readers by bringing about a crisis in which fictional characters are confronted terrifyingly by spirits of the returning dead. Such stories draw upon ancient traditions of folklore concerning ghosts, but their narrative conventions date from the mid-19th century, when the Anglo-Irish writer J. Sheridan LeFanu perfected the required manipulation of suspense in his Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851) and later collections. Other popular Victorian writers took part in this new craze, notably Charles Dickens (as in his ‘The Signalman’, 1866) and Amelia B. Edwards (in ‘The Phantom Coach’, 1864), while magazine editors adopted the habit of publishing such works in their Christmas numbers. The classic age of the ghost story in English lasted through the early 20th century, when the recognized master of the genre was M. R. James, author of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904) and other collections. The ghost story may be distinguished from its apparent near neighbour the Gothic tale (derived from the longer Gothic novel) in one of two ways: it often employs settings that are distinctly non-Gothic in their apparently rational modernity; and it must exhibit a ghost, which need not actually appear in a Gothic tale. For a fuller account, consult Julia Briggs, Night Visitors (1977).

Subjects: Literature.

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