Salley Vickers, Venice, and the Victorians
Are ‘haunting’ and’ spectrality’ the best figures for describing the contemporary novel’s sense of the Victorian? Are ‘haunting’ and ‘spectrality’ the best figures, indeed, for describing the presence of the past of any sort? They are useful tropes — but they come at a cost. To go straight to their problems: ghosts are, for the most part, passive. They appear, but who knows by what mechanism? Bernardo’s uncertainty in Hamlet, ‘Is not this something more than fantasy?’ (Shakespeare, 1974, 1.1.54), is unanswerable. Phantoms may speak of the accidental, unwilled lingering of history into different periods, as if history always appears unbidden. Ghosts do not suggest literature’s deliberate imaginative engagements with the past or its will to encounter it. Ghosts do not speak, either, of history’s vibrant presences, its powerful and vital reassertions, because ghosts are traces of the dead not their living return. They suggest the loss of the living past and history’s persistence only in faint shadows. History’s capacity to reappear, startlingly, to shape human lives decisively in the present is not what they imply.
KeywordsNineteenth Century Evil Spirit Grand Canal Victorian Period Contemporary Fiction
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