The antiquarian at play: S. Baring-Gould’s “A Book of Ghosts”

Abstract: 

The article deals with S. Baring-Gould’s “A Book of Ghosts” (1904). This collection comprises a variety of texts which let us raise the question of the limits of a ghost story as a genre. In most stories the basic scheme (a common person meeting a ghost, a narrative frame) is visibly transformed incorporating various elements in accordance with the author’s “antiquarian” tastes. For example, the narrative frame expands owing to numerous historical details and the narrator’s thoughts, sometimes becoming a real essay connected with the main story only through its theme or setting. On the contrary, the story itself is reduced to its bare essentials or is used as a mere excuse for a political allegory or a comic dialogue. The quality of the texts varies greatly: the author does not always succeed in his experiments with crossing different genres. Some of the stories are not hybrids; they reproduce older traditional forms of ghost stories – moralizing stories and a translation-retelling of a Scandinavian saga fragment . The author evidently intends his book to be a collection of different kinds of ghost stories, both traditional and experimental. The very fact that this collection exists shows how wide the combinatory abilities of ghost stories are (the fact clearly known to those who wrote them). The structure and epistemological basis of the genre allows it to incorporate not only the elements of other kinds of fiction, but also some features of nonfiction (actual or imitated).

Key words: 

ghost story, fiction, nonfiction, essay, narrative frame, limits of a genre.

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