By D. Downey

This booklet indicates simply how heavily overdue nineteenth-century American women's ghost tales engaged with gadgets reminiscent of pictures, mourning paraphernalia, wallpaper and humble household furnishings. that includes uncanny stories from the massive urban to the small city and the empty prairie, it bargains a brand new viewpoint on an outdated style.

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Extra resources for American Women’s Ghost Stories in the Gilded Age

Sample text

No hue of the animal or vegetable kingdom rivals the tints with which the charms of woman glow. They were bestowed as the strongest appeal to the sensuous heart. United with virtue they robe the sex with irresistible attraction. 39 As this passage illustrates, however, such assertions exist in uneasy tension with the lingering descriptions of curves and skin, of the colors and textures of flesh. This tension is effectively critiqued in Underwood’s ‘The Mirror of La Granja’ (1909), in which a young violinist falls in love with Zarabanda, a woman born centuries previously, whom he sees trapped in a mirror that reflects ghosts and dreams rather than physical reality, and from which he frees her with his playing.

63 She has moved so far beyond the body already that to be reminded of it is to be terrified. At the same time, speech and interaction with the living are denied to her. She is powerless, trapped in a body that is no longer a valuable or pleasure-giving asset but a liability, even an enemy. It is here that Spofford’s story all but explicitly alludes to the problematic status of the objectified female body in nineteenthcentury American culture. As her relationship with her husband, Rose, deteriorates, he begins to act out his desire to ‘kill’ her into a timeless, motionless art object.

2 Faced with the construction of America as an unsettling historical void, one that forecloses the possibility of the engagement with buried pasts so central to Old-World haunted houses, interpretations of American gothic texts often fall back upon the psychopathology of individuals living within the house, reducing the events and indeed the house itself to functions of the psyche of those individuals. Many critics turn to Sigmund Freud’s ‘The “Uncanny”’ (1919), the opening section of which is devoted to the proximity of meaning between the German words heimlich and unheimlich, the former having two, not entirely contradictory, meanings.

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