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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 May 2012

Wilt thou yet confess?

Hi, Rose here! As I mentioned in my last post, I'm doing research for my next book, about a revenue officer, a governess, and a ghost in Orkney (tentatively titled The Ghost and Miss Moore). I've always liked stories with ghost characters, but real-life ghost sightings have never been much of an interest of mine, so I'm reading The Haunted: a Social History of Ghosts by Owen Davies. It's a fascinating book and it's been giving me lots of ideas for how I want my ghost character to work!

He's a murder victim seeking justice (or maybe vengeance...he's not entirely a nice ghost), which has been a popular kind of ghost over the centuries--so popular, in fact, that murder investigations have been opened because of ghost sightings, up through the early part of the eighteenth century. In one case in 1660, a Westmoreland magistrate investigated the death of Robert Parkin because of a report that Robert's ghost had appeared to a man in the parish church crying "I am murdered I am murdered I am murdered."

In 1728, a Dorset coroner exhumed a body because of several sightings of the boy's ghost. In this case the ghost didn't even speak--its appearance was enough to indicated foul play, despite no previous suspicion about his death. Upon examining the body, the coroner decided he had really been murdered.

A painting of Macbeth seeing Banquo's ghost
"Never shake thy gory locks at me!"

Murder victims sometimes haunted their killers: a servant who had killed his master and gotten clean away  to Ireland was driven to turn himself in by a headless ghost who appeared to him every night demanding "Wilt thou yet confess?" Sometimes they haunted other acquaintances.

David Garrick in his iconic just-caught-sight-of-the-Ghost pose.

One of the most upsetting incidents described in the book is this one:

The astrologer and occultist John Heydon (1629-c.1670) recounted how one of his mother's maids was pulled out of her bed one night by the ghost of a lover named John Stringer, who had recently been murdered by a jealous admirer. Despite three doors leading to her bedroom being locked, the maid 'had the right side of her haire and headclothes clean shaved or cut away' by Stringer's ghost.
That poor woman! Whether you believe in ghosts, or whether you think she imagined the ghost out of guilt and shaved her own hair, it's an awful story. I hope the "jealous admirer" was prosecuted, and didn't get to continue stalking and attacking her and her loved ones.

Sometimes ghosts appeared to strangers at the site of their hidden graves. This tied in with another ghost tradition, that souls who didn't receive Christian burial would walk until their bodies were found and interred in consecrated ground. In 1806, in a town near Manchester, the townsfolk drained a deep pool after a recently missing man's ghost repeatedly appeared over it at midnight, leading to suspicion he had been murdered. His body was actually found at the bottom, although the evidence indicated he had drowned accidentally.

Francis Grose [in his 1787 A Provincial Glossary, with a Collection of Local Proverbs, and Popular Superstitions] wondered why the ghosts of those murdered did not go straight to the nearest justice of the peace, rather than hang about their burial place frightening passers-by. 'Ghosts have undoubtedly forms and customs peculiar to themselves,' he concluded.

Ghosts historically have not talked much, although apparently they talked more in the past!

Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar 1802
Great Caesar's ghost! "Aye, at Philippi."

Completely silent ghosts became the norm to a much greater extent over the course of the nineteenth century. Generally ghosts who did speak were wrong-righting ghosts. (Although there were exceptions! In 1706 Mr. Shaw, a fellow of St John's College, Oxford, chatted with the ghost of a dead colleague for two hours before receiving his warning of untimely death.) Murder victims were the most common. (Conflicts over inheritance were also a big one: "Mother's ghost appeared to me and she says I get the antique dining set!") Ebenezer Sibly, eighteenth century writer on astrology and the occult (and huge racist), insisted that only murder victims could speak (and possibly only those who had been killed in "circumstances uncommonly horrid and execrable), because the traumatizing memory did "more powerfully operate upon the faculties of the apparition, so as to enable it to frame the similitude of a voice, so as to discover the fact, and give some leading clue to detect and punish the wicked perpetrator."

My ghost is going to be a bit more talkative, since he's a prominent character in the book, but this research is giving me ideas for how to make him more distinctly ghostly and disturbing.

What's your favorite ghost story? (Either a famous one, or one that happened to you or someone you know...)

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9 Comments:

Blogger Lil said...

I love ghost stories where the ghost actually is a ghost and not someone playing games. My favorite is an oldie, as in 1940s, Dorothy Macardle's The Uninvited. There are actually two ghosts—one good and one bad.
It was made into a movie, also very good, with Ray Milland. The book is hard to find, but the movie still turns up from time to time.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Ooh, that sounds great! I love Ray Milland. What's it about?

10:03 AM  
Blogger Alyssa Everett said...

Lil (and Rose), "The Uninvited" is my favorite ghost story ever! Rose, it's about a brother and sister who buy Windward House, a to-die-for mansion on the cliffs of Cornwall, only the ridiculously beautiful house is haunted. Soon, the brother is falling in love with his lovely young neighbor, an orphan named Stella, whose artist father and well-bred mother were former residents of the house. When Stella visits Windward House, she's menaced by the ghost, who seems to bear her horrible ill will. Such a cool and creepy movie!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Tin said...

Favorite movie about ghosts: The Others with Nicole Kidman

Favorite story with ghosts: Does Hamlet by William Shakespeare count? ^_^

Favorite romance novel with ghosts: This Magic Moment by Patricia Rice

Enjoyed reading this blog post. ^_^

3:15 PM  
Blogger Rose Lerner said...

Alyssa-that sounds awesome! I will definitely check that one out.

Tin-Of course Hamlet counts! I put a picture of him in the post, didn't I? I'm glad you enjoyed the post! My favorite ghost romance is probably the Mediator series by Meg Cabot. I'll have to check out This Magic Moment!

11:04 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I’m not crazy, but I have seen what I can only say must have been a ghost (and I wasn’t alone, and my friend saw it too, so I wasn’t hallucinating!). A glowing orb about the size of a basketball floated up the stairs, hovered outside the French doors as though it were checking us out, and then winked out of existence at the sound of the night watchman opening the side door to the building to come check on us (it was the middle of the night and we were up late working on an animated film in a c.1830s building on campus). The building in question is currently the music building at the college, and it’s pretty infamous for pianos being heard but when you open the practice room, there’s nobody there. But as far as I know, EJ and I are the only ones who’ve *seen* anything in the building.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Jane Charles said...

I love ghost stories. I think I am going to have to look for The Haunted and give it a read. I wish I had a ghost story, but I don't. Though, I do have friends that insist the house they grew up in was haunted.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

My brother, the world's most rational man and biggest skeptic when it comes to ghosts, finally gave in and had the Alabama Parapsychology Group come in and check disturbances in his 200 year old farmhouse. Lets just say he is now a believer.

I don't know why he didn't believe as our youngest brother had an imaginary friend named John the three years we lived in England. At the end of our stay we had tea with our landlord and my brother pointed to a photo on the sideboard and announced "That's John." It was a photo of our landlord's brother who had died in our house twenty years ago.

The only ghosts who visit me are animals. I will feel a brush against my legs, smell the distinct smell of one of my dogs long gone and I know they are with me.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

My parents’ home is haunted by a little girl. We call her Margie. My Dad is the only one who has ever seen her, but he, my Mom and sister have heard her talk. She calls my Dad by his name or calls him Daddy. Although I’ve never seen her, I have experienced her work. The most personal was last Christmas Eve when we were spending the night at their home. We were getting the baby to sleep and he just wouldn’t go, so I had my husband give me the pacifier then pass the baby to me in hopes of getting him to sleep. Once I had the baby settled in my arms, I couldn’t find the pacifier. We were desperate by this point so we did a very detailed search of the room, even moving the bed. We looked everywhere and couldn’t find the pacifier. Finally, my Mom found one she already had and we got him to sleep. My husband and I asked the little girl if she could help us find the pacifier, half joking, but half seriously asking for help. The next morning we got up and opened presents. At some point I needed to get something from the bedroom and when I walked in there, there the pacifier was sitting on the pillow. I thanked her and when on about my business. I guess my ghost sister was just helping out her nephew.

5:44 PM  

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