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Spectres of the Self
Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750–1920


  • Author: Shane McCorristine, National University of Ireland, Maynooth and Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge
  • Date Published: July 2010
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521747967

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About the Authors
  • Spectres of the Self is a fascinating study of the rich cultures surrounding the experience of seeing ghosts in England from the Reformation to the twentieth century. Shane McCorristine examines a vast range of primary and secondary sources, showing how ghosts, apparitions, and hallucinations were imagined, experienced, and debated from the pages of fiction to the case reports of the Society for Psychical Research. By analysing a broad range of themes from telepathy and ghost-hunting to the notion of dreaming while awake and the question of why ghosts wore clothes, Dr McCorristine reveals the sheer variety of ideas of ghost seeing in English society and culture. He shows how the issue of ghosts remained dynamic despite the advance of science and secularism and argues that the ghost ultimately represented a spectre of the self, a symbol of the psychological hauntedness of modern experience.

    • Incorporates literature, psychiatry and popular belief, presenting a variety of ideas about ghost-seeing
    • Compares contexts from Germany, France and America, providing an international understanding of the topic
    • Examines the culture of ghost-seeing rather than the validity of ghost-belief
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'New research is revealing the origins of England's reputation as a land of ghosts.' BBC History Magazine

    'Ghosts have been seen, and in so many ways. They have been seen as evidence of an afterlife, of insanity, of telepathy. They have been seen as unusual and common illustrations of the unreliability of the normal mind, as the causes of belief and as the product of belief. And what this book shows is that they can be seen as a useful reminder of the need to address what is meant by real, before considering whether anything is real … as in all good cultural histories, Spectres of the Self draws a rich web of connections, provides subtle insights, and reveals the degree of complexity which lies behind the simple questions.' English Historical Review

    'The historical research presented in the book details the works, debates, and criticisms of the SPR and will not only interest the informed readership, but also a more general one. [This book] presents enthralling and laborious scholarship. But more importantly, it will inspire future researchers to work on this previously unmapped terrain of the supernatural.' Irmak Ertuna-Howison, Canadian Journal of History

    'McCorristine deftly contextualises the specifics of the SPR's methods and internal disagreements with the broader cultural history of Victorian death rituals and perceptions of the afterlife, thus demonstrating a breadth of analytical scope that offers insightful information for both the general and the scholarly reader. Spectres of the Self is a valuable addition to the growing canon on the cultural history of ghost-seeing and is highly recommended to anyone interested in the history, literature, and cultural mindset of Europe in the 1750s to 1920s.' Kirsten Møllegaard, Folklore

    'Spectres of the Self offers a fresh perspective on how we should read the relationship between ghost stories and modern subjectivities. McCorristine's book will undoubtedly prove to be a valuable resource for scholars and students with an interest in supernatural beliefs and more broadly in the sociocultural and intellectual history of contemporary Europe.' Sasha Handley, Journal of British Studies

    'The book is a welcome and necessary contribution to the field - necessary because, while it covers some trodden ground, it does so with a thoroughness lacking in much other scholarship … McCorristine's book, for its wealth of information and strength of research, should be required reading in any course on the Victorian supernatural, especially if the course has anything to do with ghosts.' Srdjan Smajic, Victorian Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521747967
    • length: 286 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 151 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.46kg
    • contains: 6 b/w illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Dreams of the Ghost-Seers:
    1. The haunted mind, 1750–1850
    2. Seeing is believing?: Ghost-seeing and hallucinatory experience
    Part II. A Science of the Soul:
    3. Ghost-hunting in the Society for Psychical Research
    4. Phantasms of the living and the dead
    5. The concept of hallucination in late-Victorian psychology
    Epilogue: towards 1920

  • Author

    Shane McCorristine, National University of Ireland, Maynooth and Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge
    Shane McCorristine is a post-doctoral researcher in the Humanities Institute of Ireland, University College Dublin. He has previously published articles on surrealism, children's literature and supernatural fiction.

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