By Simon Hay (auth.)
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Extra resources for A History of the Modern British Ghost Story
Likewise, a bit later, Edward receives some letters while staying with Fergus: ‘It would be impossible for the reader, even were I to insert the letters at full length, to comprehend the real cause of their being written, without a glance into the interior of the British Cabinet at the period in question’ (p. 122). Edward, though, lacks precisely such a ‘glance’ and so ﬁnds himself easily manipulated A Failed Modernity 41 by those who understand the politics. He is to one side of what matters, historically, about this story.
The Highland Widow’ sets out precisely to make visible the limits and failures of sentimental philanthropy, but then this critique is substantively different from the account Scott gives in his historical novels. If we now consider instead how sympathy is generated and deployed in Waverley, we will see that the historical novel invites the experiment of sympathy with a particular suffering or dead body, only to substitute for it a generalized compassion or wistfulness; sympathy as such substitutes for sympathy for this particular thing.
The ghost appears at this nexus of desire and repression, the femininity repressed A Failed Modernity 45 by the homosocial bonds celebrated in upper-class English masculinity, as well as the repressed homosexual desire, provided we qualify this observation with the recognition that what we call homosexuality has not really come into social existence at this moment. If the ghost that interrupts the homosocial bond between commoner and lord is the ‘trace’ left by ‘vile and hideous passions,’ then we need to pay attention to the story’s mechanism for obtruding the past upon the present, which means we need to ask a pair of questions: What history does the story deem salient?