BMCR 2021.10.26

Visitors from beyond the grave: ghosts in world literature

, , , Visitors from beyond the grave: ghosts in world literature. Classica Digitalia. Coimbra: Coimbra University Press, 2019. Pp. 300. ISBN 9789892617657

This eclectic collection presents seventeen contributions, with an introduction and comprehensive indices. The essays encompass a wide range of topics related to ghostly manifestations in world literature, with a special emphasis on the classical tradition—to whose study are devoted the efforts of the editors—as well as literary works in Italian, Spanish, English and French. The editors’ aim is to explore “from a polyhedral perspective […] how ghosts have been translated and transformed over the years” (12), and the volume definitely accomplishes this intention, its scope not being limited to the strictly literary, but also including philosophical, religious and ethnographic perspectives.

Consuelo Ruiz-Montero’s “Ghosts [sic] Stories in the Greek Novel: a Typology Attempt” inquires into the origins of ghosts in Hellenic literature, classifying and evaluating nine stories from Ephesiaca, Callirhoe and Babyloniaca, and concluding with a reflection on Latin literature’s encounters with and receptions of Greek texts. Dámaris Romero-González picks up the baton with “The Function of Dream-Stories in Plutarch’s Lives,” where she investigates the workings of three oneiric narratives with ghostly apparitions in the lives of Gaius Gracchus, Cimon, and Caesar-Brutus. Dreams are divided into three articulatory sections, which are discussed before dealing with the chiefly moral raison d’être of their inclusion in Plutarch’s Lives. Although this paper gives a valid insight into the intricacies of dream-stories against the backdrop of the literary ghost tradition, it would benefit greatly from further revision in formal terms (e.g. the omission in the Bibliography of the precise edition of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar from which some verses are quoted in footnote 43) and general linguistic accuracy.

In “Menippus, a Truly Living Ghost in Lucian’s Necromancy”, Pilar Gómez Cardó analyzes the ambivalent ghostly figure of philosopher Menippus, a recurrent character  in Lucianic satire, in light of his liminality and “otherness” (49), and especially the concept of katabasis,  which is crucial in Menippus or The Descent into Hades to articulate Lucian’s social criticism and exhort readers “to common sense and humour” (63). Daniel Ogden in “Lies Too Good to Lay to Rest: The Survival of Pagan Ghost Stories in Early Christian Literature” also focuses on Lucian, or more precisely on the reception of three ghost story-types in early Christian writings and the “range of variously strained theological accommodations” they receive (66). In order to explore the haunted house, the lost-and-found-deposit, and the “Mistaken Underworld Escort” (76) story types, Ogden analyses Lucian’s Philopseudes, Herodotus, Socrates, Augustine, Constantius of Lyon’s Life of St Germanus, and Jacobus de Voragine’s Lives of Gervasius and Protasius, among others.

Miguel Rodríguez-Pantoja’s “The Role of the Ghosts in Seneca’s Tragedies” also offers an ambitious typological approach: classifying ghosts in Senecan tragedy. Rodríguez-Pantoja amply categorizes the functions of simulacra and, particularly, umbrae—“something always joined to a corporeal entity” (119)—in Seneca’s plays, and discusses how they contextualize the author’s pronounced penchant for rhetoric and Stoicism. No mention is made, however, of the literary afterlife and reception of these ghostly apparitions and their specific roles in Spanish Golden Age tragedies or Elizabethan revenge drama, or of other discussions of Seneca’s pervasive influence in current scholarship.

In what is probably the volume at its best, Gabriel Laguna’s “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: Development of a Literary Episode” focuses on the return-from-the-grave-of-the-beloved topos as presented in classical texts from Patroclus to Propertius. He then explores their reception in three Spanish poets—Martín de la Plaza, Jaime Gil de Biedma and Luis Alberto de Cuenca—after channeling his research of this motif towards Petrarch’s Laura in his Canzoniere.

Francisco José Rodríguez Mesa in “On Women’s Faithfulness And Ghosts: About Decameron 7” discusses the etymology of the Italian terms for ghost and the reiterative nature of comic and religious elements inherent in the phantasmal apparitions in one of Bocaccio’s human comedy novellas.

Ane Zapatero Molinuevo focuses on the ghost-disguise motif in, but not restricted to, Calderón’s La dama duende (1629) and El galán fantasma (1637) in “‘Phantom Ladies’ and ‘Ghost Gallants’: the Motif of Supernatural Lovers in the Spanish Golden Age Theatre.” The analysis encompasses the origins of the female supernatural disguise, but not much attention is paid to the use of disguise itself and its gender politics before turning to the male variations. Zapatero Molinuevo also describes some dramatic contrivances and devices of which stage productions availed themselves, such as a hidden passage (166), deception (166-168), stock-characters other than the lovers (168-169), and the anagnorisis or revelation of the secret identities (169-170). She finally stresses as a conclusion the gaining and losing of freedom on the part of women and men respectively when it comes to donning a supernatural or otherworldly disguise.

Mónica Martínez Sariego’s “Tomorrow in The Battle Think on Me: Haunting Ghosts, Remorse and Guilt in Shakespeare’s Richard III and Javier Marías” takes the Elizabethan play and Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation as central hypotexts—indirectly and directly through constant allusions amounting to “Wagnerian motifs” (174)—of Marías’s novel, which revisits the spectral subject-matter objectified in the dark secrets of its main character, Víctor Francés. Martínez Sariego also explores Marías’s abundant intertextual negotiations with Shakespeare’s works in his novels,  availing himself   of remote, unexplored “byways” under the rewriting auspices of postmodernism, “a nightmarish world of refraction and repletion, of reflection and echoes, of doppelgangers and ghosts” (186).

Supernatural horror is  considered by Juan L. Pérez-de-Luque in “Ghostly Presences in H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘Cool Air’ and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Lovecraft’s “weird tale” is a modernist amalgamation, a “liminal genre” (188), here analyzed in search of remnants of the archetypal gothic ghost, which Pérez-de-Luque finds not as such, but embodied in several characters and situations that might well be considered to be supernatural. After some solid theoretical grounding that stresses the boundary nature or liminality of the ghostly presence, Pérez-de-Luque focuses on the spectral physician in the short-story “Cool Air,” and next the hauntings of past family errors in the novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; “textual haunting” (197) becomes central through indirect testimony and written texts, a Lovecraftian trope in itself that reflects further fragmentation. Likewise, Cristina A. Huertas Abril’s “The Influence of The Castle of Otranto in The Shining, or the Reception of Eighteenth-Century Gothic Ghosts in Stephen King’s Literature” provides an insightful investigation of how Stephen King has re-imagined the gothic spectral tradition, more specifically Horace Walpole’s intertextual presence in King’s The Shining as seen through “settings, claustrophobic atmosphere, family relationships, and ghosts and paranormal phenomena” (209), but tinged with the American novelist’s orientation towards social criticism.

María J. López’s “The Ghostly, the Uncanny and the Abject in Jean Rhys’s After Leaving Mr Mackenzie” also examines the gothic elements in Rhys’s response to the gothic tradition in her second published novel. López deftly brings into her argumentation a discussion of the liminality of the ghost figure and its interaction with categories such as Freud’s uncanny and the abject as seen by Kristeva, “both of them resulting from the blurring or destabilization of conceptual boundaries” (218), in the same way as the concomitant rhetoric and aesthetic category of the grotesque, which is also central to the protagonist’s perceptive and responsive experiences.

The volume concludes with two ethnographic studies. María Porras Sánchez’s “The Moroccan Jinn in the Anglo-American Literary and Ethnographic Tradition” discusses the jinn—a supernatural, but not necessarily ghostly figure—in Islamic mythology and Moroccan folklore, exploring its construction in American writer Paul Bowles and Anglo-Afghan author Tahir Shah. The second study, Ignacio Alcalde Sánchez’s  “Purgatory in Los Pedroches. An Anthropological Approach from the Ethnographic Analysis of a Ceremony: Ánimas Benditas in [sic] Christmas Eve in Dos Torres,” examines the Christian concept of purgatory through the lens of a local rite that takes place in a small Spanish village on Christmas Eve. In the rite as celebrated in Dos Torres, groups of carol singers or ánimas benditas—blessed souls—walk around the village door-to-door collecting money for the priest to say masses for the souls in purgatory. In medieval Catholicism, the souls that awaited their purification could “come back to the living world to be in contact with the living, to send messages or to settle a debt, so they can leave their temporary state”, a status close to Van Gennep’s “liminal stage” (242), thus fusing religion, anthropology and the supernatural, which may invite some compelling debate alongside Stephen Greenblatt’s inspiring Hamlet in Purgatory (2001) and his interpretation of the social and cultural effects of the English Reformation.

All in all, despite the absence of clear-cut sections in the Contents and the somewhat confusing attempt to outline them in the Introduction, and apart from one or two contributions with the odd lexical/syntactic mistake and minor faults in idiom that do not do justice to the neatness of the volume and the stimulating methodological approaches adopted by all contributors, Visitors from beyond the Grave: Ghosts in World Literature adheres to and is built upon academic rigour, not deviating from its ambitious aim to provide the reader with solid, broad grounding in the fundamentals and inflections of literary ghosts across space and time, spanning classical to contemporary texts.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Dámaris Romero-González, Israel Muñoz-Gallarte, Gabriel Laguna Mariscal
1. Ghosts Stories in the Greek Novel: A Typology Attempt, Consuelo Ruiz Montero
2. The Function of Dream-Stories in Plutarch’s Lives, Dámaris Romero-González
3. Menippus, a Truly Living Ghost in Lucian’s Necromancy, Pilar Gómez Cardó
4. Lies Too Good to Lay to Rest: The Survival of Pagan Ghost Stories in Early Christian Literature, Daniel Ogden
5. Demons, Ghosts and Spirits in the Philosophical Tradition, Manuel Bermúdez Vázquez
6. The Atomistic Denial of Ghosts: from Democritus to Lucretius, Ángel Jacinto Traver Vera
7. The Role of the Ghosts in Seneca’s Tragedies, Miguel Rodríguez-Pantoja
8. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: Development of a Literary Episode, Gabriel Laguna Mariscal
9. On Women’s Faithfulness And Ghosts: About Decameron 7, Francisco José Rodríguez Mesa
10. The “Ghost” in the Magic Treatises by Lope de Barrientos, Antonia Rísquez
11. “Phantom Ladies” and “Ghost Gallants”: the Motif of Supernatural Lovers in the Spanish Golden Age Theatre, Ane Zapatero Molinuevo
12. Tomorrow in The Battle Think of Me: Haunting Ghosts, Remorse and Guilt in Shakespeare’s Richard III and Javier Marías, Mónica Martínez Sariego
13. Ghostly Presences in H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, Juan L. Pérez-de-Luque
14. The Influence of The Castle of Otranto in The Shining, or the Reception of Eighteenth-Century Gothic Ghosts in Stephen King’s Literature, Cristina A. Huertas Abril
15. The Ghostly, the Uncanny and the Abject in Jean Rhys’s After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, María J. López
16. The Moroccan Jinn in the Anglo-American Literary and Ethnographic Tradition, María Porras Sánchez
17. Purgatory in Los Pedroches. An Anthropological Approach from the Ethnographic Analysis of a Ceremony: Animas Benditas in Christmas Eve in Dos Torres, Ignacio Alcalde Sánchez