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Classic Ghost Stories

By Megan Powell, Yagmur Dur, and Michael Calder

With Halloween being just around the corner, the classics team have decided to reveal some of our favourite classic ghost stories to get readers in the spooky mood.

The Signal-Man by Charles Dickens

First published in 1866, Charles Dickens’ short story The Signal-Man offers mystery, suspense and horror. All the qualities associated with a classic ghost story, Dickens captures them all in this chilling and unsettling story.

The duty of the Signalman is positioned in a cutting near the signal box, further along the railway tunnel, controlling the running of the trains and receiving alerts of danger if an incident occurs. The plot follows a signalman who tells the sceptical narrator of his frequent encounters with an apparition that haunts him. He tells the narrator that whenever he has seen the phantom a tragic incident has followed. The first being a terrible train crash, which had many casualties. The second a woman being killed and then the Signalman reveals he has seen the apparition again, suggesting a third incident is imminent. Stirred by these notions the narrator contemplates the supernatural and is in anticipation for the third. The Signalman hears the warning of a bell, understanding another tragedy is pending. The narrator considers that the signalman might be hallucinating and describes the conditions of the tunnel being a dark and lonely place. However, upon returning to work the next day he finds the signalman dead by his station.

It is without a doubt that this short story will leave readers with goosebumps as Dickens so brilliantly writes the disturbing tragedies, through a first person narration. By having the narrator appear pragmatic, allows the final incident to be read in such a shocking and horrific way. The nature of the death connects the stories told by the signalman which asserts the supernatural presence in the railway tunnel.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black is a gothic horror novel published in 1983. The story follows the narrator, Arthur Kipps, as he tells his paranormal/haunting experiences at Eel Marsh House. Kipps is a junior solicitor who is sent to a small town in the east coast of England to settle Mrs Alice Drablows’ estate after she passed away. In Drablows’ funeral, Kipps sees a woman dressed in black with a ghostly pale face and dark eyes whom a group of children are also watching. As he settles into Drablows’ Eel Marsh House, Kipps experiences a series of paranormal experiences which ultimately intertwine him with the mysterious spirit of a woman with a dark, and yet sorrowful past in the Eel Marsh House.

In her novel, Hill explores multiple themes such as fear, isolation and influences of the past. These themes are not only present within her characters, but also in the settings and the complex structure of the narration. However, the most interesting theme is influences of the past as our protagonist fails to run away from the death of his wife and child. Kipps’ inability to escape this tragic past creates a claustrophobic feeling throughout the novel, and thus inevitably heightening the horror factor throughout the story. Psychological hauntings toppled with breathtakingly scary imagery of a Victorian spirit, The Woman Black is a must read for horror enthusiasts this Halloween!

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s phenomenal twentieth century ghost story which traverses the phantasmagoria of the eponymous manor house - Hill House - struck the literary community upon release. In fact, the supernatural novel was popular enough to earn a spot amongst finalists in the National Book Awards. The literary hit, published in 1959, typifies subtle horror, relying on psychological fear and the unknown, rather than expressive instances of supernatural terror. Now, Jackson’s masterpiece has solidified a place amongst the ‘haunted-house’ hall of fame, continuing to inspire the creativity of popular culture and shape the landscape of Gothic literature. Two film adaptations have been released, however, most recently, the Netflix series which holds the same title and draws loosely from the novel has seen incredible success.

Renowned for a masterful escalation in tension, The Haunting of Hill House recounts an occult science experiment with tragic consequences. Dr Montague - an anthropologist with a penchant for the supernatural - yearns for an academic breakthrough within the field of parapsychology and notoriety. To this end, the Doctor manufactures an investigation. He invites two women with previous paranormal experience to a notoriously haunted manor; Theodora, a young woman with supposed psychic sensitivity and Eleanor Vance, a woman in search of her liberty. Alongside the heir to Hill House, the group begin their scrutiny, but realise far too late that, potentially, they are the ones being probed and prodded.



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