By Simon Hay (auth.)
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Additional info for A History of the Modern British Ghost Story
90–1) The historical novel and the ghost story both stage history for us by bringing the dead before us as a spectacle. The second concern that the ghost story and the historical novel share is an understanding of modernity that is fundamentally dependent on this project of bringing the past to life. Jameson is again useful. For the most part, he argues, ‘modernity’ is a word best avoided, a reiﬁcation of the already-reiﬁed concept of ‘capitalism’ (2002, for example, pp. 12, 13, 80, 215). But on at least one occasion, he explains modernity in 30 A History of the Modern British Ghost Story ghostly terms, ‘as a trace and an abstraction from a real historical event and trauma, .
Donald himself thus provides a layer of mediation to these tales. Donald, according to Mrs Baliol, was ‘one of a rare breed of postboys whom, I suppose, mail-coaches and steam-boats have put out of fashion’ (p. 136). He also, that is, functions as something like a ghost, the remnant of the past persisting into the present, his way of life superseded by commercial society, a ﬁgure who now makes his living through commodifying his own links to that past. The focus of the memorandum, written forty years after the tour took place, is Mrs Baliol’s record of the story she was told on that tour by Elspat MacTavish, describing Elspat’s son’s encounter with the ghost of his father.
Mrs Baliol declares herself to be unlike the superstitious and gullible Highlanders: she tells us that one Scottish character shared ‘the universal turn of his countrymen for the marvelous’ (p. 173). Nonetheless, the key characteristic of Mrs Baliol’s narrative is its sympathetic interest in and engagement with its subject, a sympathy already clear in her feelings for the Scottish landscape, but especially marked in her ﬁrst encounter with Elspat, the Highland Widow of the story’s title, of which Mrs Baliol writes that ‘I heard the narrative with a mixture of horror and sympathy .