“Buyer Beware: Haunted Objects in the Supernatural Tales of Margery Lawrence” (chapter, The Female Fantastic: Gendering the Supernatural in the 1890s and 1920s, Lizzie Harris McCormick, Jennifer Mitchell, and Rebecca Soares [editors], Routledge, 2018).
In a career spanning more than forty years, Margery Lawrence (1889-1969) published best-selling novels and supernatural fiction that frequently highlighted an often troubled past and the effect of that past on the living. During the 1920s—her first decade as a professional author—Lawrence published numerous supernatural stories in popular literary magazines of the day, eventually turning many of these pieces into the collections Nights of the Round Table (1926) and its sequel The Terraces of Night (1932). These books were followed a few years later by another collection of supernatural stories titled The Floating Café (1936). Yet despite the contemporary critical and commercial success of the three collections, Margery Lawrence is all but forgotten among scholars of the supernatural.
Along with her contemporaries Elizabeth Bowen, Violet Hunt, May Sinclair, and Eleanor Scott, Lawrence produced some of the best and most socially conscious supernatural fiction of the early twentieth century. Her lifelong belief in Spiritualism and the occult channeled itself into effective narratives that examine the inner workings of the mind and the violent impulses that lurk just beneath otherwise calm and “normal” human exteriors. In particular, these themes can be seen in Lawrence’s frequent use of haunted or cursed objects. These objects, which are initially described as valuable, one-of-a-kind antiques, come into otherwise peaceful British homes and subsequently wreak physical and emotional havoc on the people who come to own them.
This essay will examine selected supernatural stories that trace Margery Lawrence’s use of haunted objects. “The Haunted Saucepan,” first published in The Tatler on 1 December 1922, describes the lasting evil influence of a murderess that inhabits an otherwise comfortable apartment in central London. In this story, the traditionally feminine space of the kitchen becomes a nightmare for its unsuspecting male occupant. Gender issues examined through a supernatural lens resurface in “The Crystal Snuff-box,” originally published as “The Mystery of the Crystal Snuff-box” in Nash’s Pall Mall in June 1929. Like the homicidal femme fatale of “The Haunted Saucepan,” the story concerns the return of a vengeful, sexually predatory English witch who battles a modern English heroine over the soul of the latter’s fiancé. In a similar vein, “The Mask of Sacrifice,” originally published as “The Mask” in the 30 November 1923 issue of The Tatler, also concerns the unravelling of a newly-married couple’s relationship in the presence of a cursed Indian sacrificial mask that had been recently purchased and brought into the couple’s home. “The Mask of Sacrifice” also adds an element of imperial critique as it subtly interrogates Britain’s connection to empire and how the foreign object infiltrates the perceived safe space of the British home.
Taken together, the haunted objects in these stories represent not only a troubling of the present by the past, but also the extent to which these supernatural objects—and the effect they have on their owners—highlight very real social concerns over gender, sexuality, empire, and class.
“Women Writers and Ghost Stories” (chapter, The Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story, Scott Brewster and Luke Thurston [editors], 2017).
In her review of Edith Birkhead’s The Tale of Terror (1921), Virginia Woolf famously declared, “It is at the ghosts within that we shudder, and not at the decaying bodies of barons or the subterranean activities of ghouls” (307). By 1920, the “set piece” ghosts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Gothic novel had gone out of fashion and gradually given way to a new kind of fear—an internal one that existed within the individual mind. Yet, this ability of the ghost to hold a mirror up to our anxieties and fears was not unique to Woolf’s day, and if we apply her idea of the modern “ghost within” to supernatural short fiction written by women from the second half of the nineteenth century into the beginning decades of the twentieth century, we may recognize that women’s ghost stories have always been ahead of their time.
“‘Thought is everything’: Women’s Work in Rose Macaulay’s First World War Novels” (chapter, Rose Macaulay, Gender, and Modernity, Kate Macdonald [editor], Routledge, 2017).
In his 1926 essay “Rose Macaulay and Women,” Stuart Sherman begins, “Rose Macaulay is one of the wittiest writers going. But she makes me as uncomfortable as a patch of nettles, and very anxious about the future of mankind.” Through her celebrated wit and irony – mixed at times with an unflinching anti-sentimentalism – Macaulay indeed managed to make her readers “uncomfortable” with blindly accepting the world without questioning one’s place in it. This is particularly true in her portrayals of intelligent, inquisitive women in three novels dealing with the First World War: most extensively in Non-Combatants and Others (1916), but also in Potterism (1920) and Told by an Idiot (1923).
This chapter examines how these novels critique two “fronts”: battlefield and homefront. In Non-Combatants and Others (dedicated to Macaulay’s brother and “other combatants”), she presents one of the earliest depictions of the lingering psychological trauma faced by soldiers. This trauma is shown through the shell-shocked nightmares of John Orme, as well as Paul Sandomir’s mental breakdown, which leads to his desperate, self-inflicted wound and subsequent death in the trenches. Yet, in these WWI-era novels, Macaulay is equally interested in homefront responses to the war as she challenges traditional notions of what “women’s work” is, and what it should be (a subject very close to Macaulay, who herself struggled to find her place during the war, going from nurse to land-girl to the War Office and later to the Ministry of Information).
These three novels represent varying female attitudes to the war. In Non-Combatants, the self-centered Alix Sandomir, must confront the horrors of war and the lasting effects of her brother’s death at the front. With an outlook similar to the speaker in Macaulay’s poem, “Picnic, July 1917,” she tries to avoid the war at all costs and is known as “the Girl who isn’t doing her bit.” On the other hand, early in Potterism (in a scene reminiscent of Macaulay’s poem “Many Sisters to Many Brothers”), Jane Potter questions why she cannot join her twin brother on the Western Front. Unlike the other women in Jane’s family, she sees no value in knitting socks and asks, “Why should women always get the dull jobs?” (jobs which are taken up by the main female characters in the brief “Smash” section of Told by an Idiot). Jane’s inability to serve what she considers a useful (masculine) purpose in the war, and thus to subsequently find autonomy and self-worth by serving something other than her own interests, eventually leads to the loss of her liberal ideals and her inevitable return to conservative “Potterism.” Macaulay’s presentation of Alix’s mother, Daphne, represents a pragmatic and productive approach to women’s involvement in the war. Daphne’s leadership role in the Society for Promoting Permanent Peace shows that people must work for a truly lasting peace and a world-wide democracy. She convinces Alix that pacifism must be proactive instead of reactive, and that it is vital for the women “who have the brains to be some use.” Through her mother’s influence, Alix soon learns that working against war is the best way for women to fight.
Through these portrayals, Macaulay made her contemporary readers question their beliefs about war and women’s place in it. In moving women’s work away from the more traditional physical roles (knitting, nursing, and munitions manufacturing), Macaulay privileges women’s intellectual potential in wartime. In her WWI novels, she shows that although they are not allowed to fight alongside men, women can use their intellect in order to actively fight for a better world and a lasting peace.
“‘The cataclysm we all remember: Haunting and Spectral Trauma in the First World War Supernatural Stories of H. D. Everett.” Women’s Writing (special issue on Women’s Writings of WWI, Emma Liggins and Elizabeth Nolan [editors]), 2016).
During the First World War, ghost stories (many of which reported as “real” occurrences) appeared in newspapers and journals, and the shortness of the form allowed writers (both amateur and professional) to respond quickly to war events as they unfolded. Experienced practitioners of the supernatural, such as H. G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Machen, likewise turned to the supernatural in order to comment on the war. A great many of these supernatural accounts were authored by women writers who remained far away from the front lines of battle, but who had, nonetheless, experienced the cultural trauma brought about by four years of war and the tremendous loss of life. A prime example is Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Demon Lover,” from her collection The Demon Lover and Other Stories (1945), a ghost story that memorably melds traumas from both World Wars as a woman comes face to face with a menacing ghost from her past during the London Blitz.
Much less well-known (compared to her contemporaries Bowen, May Sinclair, Violet Hunt, and Rebecca West) is the First World War fiction of Henrietta Dorothy Everett (otherwise known as “Mrs. H. D. Everett”). She began her career publishing under the pseudonym “Theo Douglas” and, if her name is recognized at all, is perhaps best known for two Gothic novels, the Egyptian mummy-inspired Iras: A Mystery (1896) and the physic vampire tale, Malevola (1914). Her final work, The Death-Mask and Other Ghosts (1920), is a collection of supernatural short stories, several of which are centered on ghostly events occurring during the First World War. During the war, Everett also published two more WWI ghost stories that were not included in the 1920 collection. “The Whispering Wall” and “The Pipers of Mallory” originally appeared in Novel Magazine, in February 1916 and May 1917 respectively.
These short stories represent varying facets of war trauma experienced by combatants and non-combatants, men and women. In dealing with WWI, Everett covers much ground. “Over the Wires” concerns Belgian atrocities, while “A Perplexing Case” deals with shellshock. “The Pipers of Mallory” and “The Whispering Wall” concern themselves with soldiers who have to leave their ancestral homes for an uncertain future on the battlefields of France. Yet, each story centers on the lingering trauma caused by being in contact with both the violence and uncertainty of war and some sort of unexplainable, supernatural episode. These occurrences, in turn, symbolize the “troubling” of real life war events as well as the otherworldly “haunting” that becomes a direct result of those events. Through these stories, Everett gives her readers fictional renderings of troubled remembrance, as her use of the supernatural becomes a unique form of memorial and a statement on the lasting effects of war trauma. Additionally, these stories become even more critically important in the ever-expanding analysis of Great War literature because they represent avenues that have, as yet, received relatively little scholarly attention. These underrepresented avenues include war fiction told through the genre of the short story, war stories told through a supernatural lens, and narratives of the war told from a female perspective.
“Alice Perrin.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Sir David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
“Land of the living that’s thronged with the dead”: Mary Kingsley and the Spirits of West Africa.” Supernatural Studies 2.2 (Summer 2015): 93-107.
Though best remembered today for Travels in West Africa (1897) and West African Studies (1899), Kingsley observed the spiritual and religious customs of West Africans in two important essays: “Black Ghosts” published in The Cornhill Magazine for July 1896, and “The Forms of Apparitions in West Africa,” an address to the Society for Psychical Research which was then published shortly afterward in their Proceedings (1899). These essays attempt to bridge the gap between African and European cultures by describing spectral superstitions that are common to the people of both continents. Kingsley first seeks to understand the spiritual culture at the root of African belief before she assumes privileged knowledge of the region’s past, present, or future. Her studies of West African folklore offer glimpses into imperial Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, and Kingsley’s descriptions of supernatural African tribal life serve to bring the distant “dark” colonies into British homes, showing her audience that their own apparitions had much in common with African ghosts. Her detailed descriptions of West African spiritual traditions allowed the British public to begin to recognize how intricate a belief system Africans possessed. In so doing, Kingsley was able to strengthen her progressive cultural views which insisted that Africans were no less human than Europeans.
“Between Two Worlds: Racial Identity in Alice Perrin’s The Stronger Claim.” Victorian Literature and Culture 42.3 (September 2014): 491-508.
Like many Anglo-Indian novelists of her generation, Alice Perrin (1867-1934) gained fame through the publication and popular reception of several domestic novels based in India and England. However, within the traditional Anglo-Indian romance plot, Perrin often incorporated subversive social messages highlighting racial and cultural problems prevalent in India during the British Raj. Instead of relying solely on one-dimensional, sentimental British heroes and heroines, Perrin frequently chose non-British protagonists who reminded her contemporary readers of very real Anglo-Indian racial inequalities they might wish to forget. In The Stronger Claim (1903), Perrin creates a main character who has a mixed-race background, but who, contrary to prevailing public opinion of the time, is a multi-dimensional, complex, and perhaps most importantly, sympathetic character positioned between two worlds. Even as Victorian India was coming to an end, many of the problems that had plagued the British Raj intensified in the early decades of the twentieth century. Perrin’s novel is one of the earliest attempts to present a sympathetic and heroic mixed-race protagonist, one whose presence asked readers to question the lasting negative effects of race relations and racial identity in both India and England.
“Supernatural Empire: The Anglo-Indian Ghost Stories of B.M. Croker and Alice Perrin.” In The Male Empire under the Female Gaze: The British Raj and the Memsahib. Eds. Susmita Roye and Rajeshwar Mittapalli. New York: Cambria Press, 2013. 129-163.
British women occupied a unique social space in colonial India. They were part of the ruling class, but at the same time distanced from the official business of empire because of their gender. Unlike British men, they did not make political decisions, build roads and bridges, or serve in the army. They were instead expected to manage the household, including their native Indian servants, raise their children, and support their husbands in whatever way was needed to contribute to the maintenance of a smoothly-working imperial project. This is the typical image we have of the Victorian memsahib. However, there were many women who took their observations of the workings of empire a step further. Unburdened from the daily political and administrative pressures of running a colony the size of India and having more time to spend at leisure, socializing with other women and encountering Indian natives in local markets and bazaars, many British women communicated these first-hand observations in a body of literature that has been undervalued by scholars who generally dismiss them as simply “lady romancers,” while ignoring what their works can tell us about how the British saw themselves and those they colonized. In effect, what these women authors often did was to complicate the traditional notion of the “colonial gaze,” using their own status as marginalized and objectified subjects within the British social system to look sympathetically upon Indian natives who were likewise marginalized by the British.
Two of these Anglo-Indian authors who have essentially vanished from critical view are the Irish-born Bithia Mary Croker (c.1847-1920) and the Indian-born Alice Perrin (1867-1934). Between them, they created some of the most striking cultural commentaries on the British colonial presence in India. Their writings span the years 1880-1930, the apex of the British Empire in India. In addition to increasing British awareness of the complex gender dynamics and role of women in British imperial society through their numerous best-selling novels, these Anglo-Indian authors also exposed the dangers and problems of inter-cultural encounter that could come from colonialism in several short story collections that, in their narrative technique and complex subject matter, rival the best works of Rudyard Kipling and E.M. Forster.
This chapter focuses on how Croker and Perrin utilized the supernatural in their short fiction in order to relate the cultural and social dynamics of the Indians and British to the British reading public. In stories that are far more subversive than the majority of their novels, they use ghosts, native superstition, reincarnation, and curses to illustrate the nebulous relationships and the often fragile détente that existed between colonized and colonizer.
“The ‘Uncomfortable Houses’ of Charlotte Riddell and Margaret Oliphant.” Gothic Studies 12.1 (May 2010): 51-67.
Many nineteenth-century ghost-story writers focused on the haunted house, but these stories mainly concern themselves with the fear, danger, and near-escapes experienced by the people who spend time in the houses. The ghosts are usually pure evil, grotesquely described, and often seek to physically harm their visitors. Other authors during this period, however (and particularly women writers), chose to center their supernatural stories on connections between the ghosts in these houses and the living characters that dwell in them. These ‘relationships’ usually bring about a change in the way in which the house is haunted. For instance, the ghosts are less troubled after they are able to communicate a message to the living which enables a change to take place, namely stories of found wills, recovered inheritances, and reconnecting to loved ones who are still alive. In these stories, the living characters who encounter the ghosts also experience some kind of change or improvement. Often, the characters profit financially in respect to found treasure of some sort, or the characters profit emotionally, whereby their time in these houses leads to a greater sympathy for the deceased person or an awareness of their own shortcomings and prejudices in life.
Women writers of the supernatural frequently used the motif of the haunted house to comment on property, class, and economic issues. In many of their stories, these ‘uncomfortable houses’, as they were popularly called at the time, are troubled because of some injustice or social inequality that left the past inhabitants seeking help from the current owners of the properties. Indeed, through the presence of the ghosts, the very ‘ownership’ of the properties is questioned. Often,as in Charlotte Riddell’s ‘The Old House in Vauxhall Walk’ from her collection, Weird Stories (1882), the troubled past comes to the knowledge of the present inhabitant in the form of a dream vision, visions which ultimately turn out to be quite real to the people who must deal with the ghosts. These dreams also lead to tangible results because by the end of the stories, the main characters have learned to change their present ways by taking more responsibility for their actions, and some characters actually find happy endings, as is the case in Riddell’s ‘Walnut-Tree House’. This idea alone makes women’s stories of haunted houses something different from their male counterparts, whereas in most stories by men, the apparition doing the haunting is malevolent and, in many cases, successfully drives the visitors or tenants out of the house by terrifying them with frightening visions, or even physical harm. Likewise, their presence in these houses and the traumas that led to their unhappy afterlives are usually never fully understood by readers. The added element of psychological appeasement that is such a part of ghost stories by women can be seen in both Riddell’s and Oliphant’s stories. For instance,in Margaret Oliphant’s ‘The Open Door’, originally published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1882, the haunted property comes to the attention of the current owners through mysterious voices and moving shades which reside near certain parts of the house or grounds, parts which represent some past trauma for the former inhabitants. This trauma leads to reconciliation and a greater understanding between the living and the dead by the end of the story.
The stories in this article each highlight the interest of the authors not simply to scare, but to teach readers lessons beyond the narrative. More so than their male counterparts, female authors increasingly turned to the ghost story as a way to critique the economic problems in both the impoverished streets and wealthy ancestral homes of England, as well as to shine a light on the emotional grievances existing behind closed doors. Issues of economic and social inequality arise just as frequently as the ghosts in these stories. Their troubled houses expanded the traditional idea of the haunted house as a place of fear and made it into something more meaningful,a place not only where fear resides but also where there is the potential for individual awareness, as well as mutual understanding that transcends the boundaries between life and death.
“Bithia Mary Croker and the Ghosts of India.” The CEA Critic 72.2 (Winter 2010): 94-112.
Bithia Mary Croker (1849–1920) used her fourteen years in India and Burma as the wife of a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Scots and Munster Fusiliers to her literary advantage. During these years, from her arrival in 1877 to her return to England in 1892, Croker wrote novels and stories based on her first-hand experiences within the British colonial
empire. To Let (1893) contains several of her stories set in India and Burma in the 1880s, including the story which gives the collection its name, as well as “The Dâk Bungalow at Dakor.” Both stories are told from the viewpoints of native Englishwomen traveling alone through the uncharted (i.e. non-English) territory of India. These women are forced by various unforeseen circumstances to take refuge in abandoned bungalows, and during their respective stays at these ironically named “rest houses,” witness the presence of ghosts of former British officials who have either been murdered by Indian natives or have otherwise died while serving the British in India. These portrayals of mysterious deaths allow Croker to critique the British presence in India through the motif of the haunted house. Just as the previous inhabitants of these dwellings met with unhappy ends, the female narrators of her stories find themselves driven out of their supposed refuges, and this disorientation with regard to place leads to a greater uneasiness about their position as unwanted outsiders in India. Croker uses not only the ghosts as warnings of the negative effects of empire, but she also establishes her female narrators as witnesses to these ghosts. These women, therefore, become privileged critics of the English imperial presence.
“‘Love’s Bitter Mystery’: Stephen Dedalus, Drowning, and the Burden of Guilt in Ulysses.” English Studies 90.5 (October 2009): 545-556.
“Complicating Kitty: A Textual Variant in Rebecca West’s The Return of Soldier.” Notes and Queries 253 (December 2008): 492-493.
“‘Try What Depth the Center Draws’: Classicism and Neoclassicism in Andrew Marvell’s ‘A Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure’.” English Studies 87 (June 2006): 294-302.
“The Sotherton Episode in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.” English Language Notes 41 (December 2003): 57-66.
“Wilfred Owen’s Letter No. 288: A Possible Source for ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’.” Notes and Queries 248 (September 2003): 327.
“Poetic Memorials to North Carolina’s Lafayette Pilots.” North Carolina Literary Review 12 (2003): 64.
“‘I pay my part for Lafayette and Rochambeau’: North Carolina’s Lafayette Escadrille Pilots.” North Carolina Literary Review 12 (2003): 57-67.
“A Space for Fanny: The Significance of Her Rooms in Mansfield Park.” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal 23 (Winter 2002).
Fanny Price of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is an unusual heroine. Unlike other Austen heroines, Fanny is quiet, passive, and never wants to disturb anyone. On her arrival at Mansfield Park, Fanny feels like an outsider in the household and does not connect emotionally with any of her relatives. She spends much of her time in her little room and cries herself to sleep. Gradually, however, Fanny begins to be more comfortable in the house and makes strong attachments with members of the Bertram family. Specific areas of the house correspond to Fanny’s emotional growth, and the description of the rooms she inhabits throughout Mansfield Park helps readers better understand her growth as a character and her status within the Bertram household.