, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 645–661 | Cite as

History-making and its gendered voice in Wang Tao’s and Vernon Lee’s ghost stories

  • Mengxing FuEmail author


This article examines the establishment of women’s voice and an alternative women’s history in the ghost stories by late nineteenth-century Chinese writer Wang Tao and British writer Vernon Lee. Situating ghost stories as a Gothic mode that offers the marginalized groups, especially women, the opportunity to re-inscribe their voice and subjectivity into a fictional history through the motif of the returning ghost, this cross-cultural analysis proceeds to investigate the possible manipulation and mediation of that gendered voice in the history-making of ghost stories. Continuing the tradition of Chinese zhiguai (namely “the records of the strange”) to fashion an unofficial history of the ghost against the official history of the state, Wang’s two stories of victimized female ghosts centralize the obliterated women’s narration of their own history yet veil the mediation involved in the male historian’s history-making. Reading Lee’s ghost story “Amour Dure” as a meta-critique of the kind of history-making through ghost-making exemplified in Wang’s tales, the article argues that the haunting liminality of the ghost in Gothic ghost stories may offer a better strategy for the marginalized group to re-inscribe their presence into reality than a polarization between official and unofficial histories.


History Gender Ghost story Gothic Vernon Lee Wang Tao 



This article is part of the research project “The new/old woman in British fantastic literature in the fin-de-siècle,” supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities [Grant No. KY01X0222017096] in China.


  1. Auerbach, N. (1982). Woman and the demon: The life of a Victorian myth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barr, A. (2007). Liaozhai zhiyi and Shiji. Asia Major,20(1), 133–153.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, S. (1999). Introduction. In S. Becker (Ed.), Gothic forms of feminine fiction (pp. 1–20). Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Briggs, J. (2012). The ghost story. In D. Punter (Ed.), A new companion to the Gothic (pp. 176–185). Oxford: Welly-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chan, L. T. (1998). The discourse on foxes and ghosts: Ji Yun and eighteenth-century literati storytelling. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  6. Chiang, S. L. (2005). Collecting the self: Body and identity in strange tale collections of late imperial China. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  7. Christensen, P. (1989). The burden of history in Vernon Lee’s ghost story “Amour Dure.” Studies in the Humanities, 16(1), 33–43.Google Scholar
  8. Colby, V. (2003). Victorian literature and culture: Vernon Lee, a literary biography. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  9. Dewoskin, K. J. (1977). The Six Dynasties chih-kuai [zhiguai] and the birth of fiction. In A. H. Plaks (Ed.), Chinese narrative: Critical and theoretical essays (pp. 21–52). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Dickerson, V. D. (1996). Victorian ghosts in the noontide: Women writers and the supernatural. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dijkstra, B. (1986). Idols of perversity: Fantasies of feminine evil in fin-de-siècle culture. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Ding, C. (丁传靖) (2001). Jia yi zhiji gongwei lu [Records of the virtuous women in 1644–1645] (甲乙之际宫闱录). Haikou: Hainan Publishing.Google Scholar
  13. Epstein, M. (2001). Competing discourses: Orthodoxy, authenticity, and engendered meanings in late imperial Chinese fiction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Evangelista, S. (2006). Vernon Lee and the gender of aestheticism. In C. Maxwell & P. Pulham (Eds.), Vernon Lee: Decadence, ethics, aesthetics (pp. 91–111). Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Feng, M. (冯梦龙) (2000). Yang Siwen meets an old acquaintance in Yanshan. In M. Feng (Ed.), Stories old and new: A Ming dynasty collection (pp. 430–449) (S. Yang & Y. Yang, Trans.). Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  16. Feuchtwang, S. (2010). The anthropology of religion, charisma and ghosts: Chinese lessons for adequate theory. New York: De Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fraser, H. (1998). Women and the ends of art history: Vision and corporeality in nineteenth-century critical discourse. Victorian Studies,42(1), 77–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fraser, H. (2014). Women writing art history in the nineteenth century: Looking like a woman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fu, M. (2017). The perturbed self: Gender and history in the late nineteenth-century ghost literature in China and Britain. Ph.D. Dissertation. City University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  20. Golda-Derejczyk, A. (2009). Repetition and eternity: The spectral and textual continuity in Michele Roberts’s In the red kitchen. In R. Arias & P. Pulham (Eds.), Haunting and spectrality in neo-Victorian fiction: Possessing the past (pp. 45–57). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Huang, M. W. (2006). Negotiating masculinities in late imperial China. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ji, Y. (纪昀). (2010). Yuewei caotang biji [Jottings from the thatched cottage of close scrutiny] (阅微草堂笔记). Hangzhou: Zhejiang Ancient Books Publishing.Google Scholar
  23. Kane, M. P. (2004). Spurious ghosts: The fantastic tales of Vernon Lee. Roma: Carocci.Google Scholar
  24. Lee, V. (1909). The economic parasitism of women. In V. Lee, Gospels of anarchy (pp. 262–297). New York: Bretanos.Google Scholar
  25. Lee, V. (2006). Hauntings and other fantastic tales (ed. K. Maxwell, & P. Pullman). Plymouth: Broadview.Google Scholar
  26. Lee, V. (2011). The collected supernatural and weird fiction of Vernon Lee. Volume 2, including one novel “Louis Norbert,” one novelette and nine short stories of the strange and unusual. Driffield: Leonaur.Google Scholar
  27. Li, W. (2005). Women as emblems of dynastic fall in Qing literature. In D. Wang & W. Shang (Eds.), Dynastic crisis and cultural innovation: From the late Ming to the late Qing and beyond (pp. 93–150). Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Li, W. (2014). Women and national trauma in late imperial Chinese literature. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.Google Scholar
  29. Makala, M. E. (2013). Women’s ghost literature in nineteenth-century Britain. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.Google Scholar
  30. Maxwell, C. (1997). From dionysus to dionea: Vernon lee’s portraits. Word and Image, 13(3), 253–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McMahon, K. (2010). Polygamy and sublime passion: Sexuality in China on the verge of modernity. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.Google Scholar
  32. Moers, E. (2004). Female gothic. In F. Botting & D. Townshend (Eds.), Gothic: Critical concepts in literary and cultural studies (Vol. 1, pp. 123–144.) London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Nietzsche, F. W. (1997). Untimely meditations (R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Owen, A. (1989). The darkened room: Women, power and spiritualism in late Victorian England. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Qin, Y. (秦燕春) (2008). Qingmo minchu de wanming xiangxiang [Imaginations of the late Ming in the late Qing and early republican era] (清末民初的晚明想象). Beijing: Beijing University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Scott, J. W. (1986). Gender: A useful category of historical analysis. American Historical Review, 91(5), 1053–1075.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith, B. G. (1998). The gender of history: Men, women, and historical practice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Sondeep, K. (2010). Vernon Lee. Tavistock: Northcote/British Council.Google Scholar
  39. Spivak, G. C. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In C. Nelson & L. Grossberg (Eds.), Marxism and the interpretation of culture (pp. 271–313). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Spongberg, M. (2002). Writing women’s history since the Renaissance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wallace, D. (2004). Uncanny stories: Ghost story as female Gothic. Gothic Studies, 6(1), 57–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wallace, D. (2009). “The haunting idea”: Female Gothic metaphors and feminist theory. In D. Wallace & A. Smith (Eds.), The female Gothic: New directions (pp. 26–41). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wallace, D. (2013). Female Gothic histories: Gender, history and the Gothic. Cardiff: University of Wales.Google Scholar
  44. Wang, T. (王韬) (1983). Jixian yishi [Lost stories of the planchette spirits] (乩仙逸事). In T. Wang (Ed.), Songyin manlu [Random jottings upon the Song River] (淞隐漫录) (pp. 198–202). 1887. Beijing: People’s Literature Publishing.Google Scholar
  45. Wang, T. (王韬). (2004). Li Zhen’gu xiatan zishu shimo ji [The true history of Li the chaste as told by herself when she possessed the planchette] (李贞姑下坛自述始末记). In T. Wang (Ed.), Songbin suohua [Trivial talks upon the Song River] (淞滨琐话) (pp. 367–368). 1893. Jinan: Qilu Books.Google Scholar
  46. Wei, X. (魏晓红). (2010). Lun Yuewei caotang biji zhong de fuji minsu [On the fuji practice in Yuewei caotang biji] (论《阅微草堂笔记》中的扶乩民俗). In Wei (Ed.), Yuewei caotang biji yanjiu [A study on Yuewei caotang biji] (《阅微草堂笔记》研究) (pp. 152–177). Changchun: Northeast Normal University.Google Scholar
  47. Zeitlin, J. T. (1993). Historian of the strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese classical tale. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Zeitlin, J. T. (2007). The phantom heroine: Ghosts and gender in seventeenth-century Chinese literature. Honolulu: University of Hawaii.Google Scholar
  49. Zhang, Y. (2013). Lun Wang Tao dui Liaozhai zhiyi fuji gushi de jicheng yu bianyi. [On Wang Tao’s inheritance and variation of the fuji stories in Liaozhai zhiyi] (论王韬对《聊斋志异》扶乩故事的继承与变异). Study on Pu Songling (蒲松龄研究), 1, 151–160.Google Scholar
  50. Zorn, C. (2003). Vernon Lee: Aesthetics, history, and the Victorian female intellectual. Athens: Ohio University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Postdoctoral Studies CenterShanghai International Studies UniversityShanghaiChina

Personalised recommendations