Visions : the window to the supernatural

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The chapters are very loosely constructed, the instances not rigorously classed or criticised, the repetitions frequent and the whole is written in a deplorable style, packed with solecisms and even faults of spelling. Her narrative runs on interminably with a careless inconsequence betraying the worst aspects of feminine laxity and vagueness. Crowe gathered all the reports and tales in the certainty that ghosts and all the supernatural phenomena reported on were real.

Crowe was also certain that experiences of the paranormal or the supernatural were more frequent than most people thought and she states:. The number of stories on record, which seem to support the view I have suggested is, I fancy, little suspected by people in general; and still less is it imagined that similar occurrences are yet frequently taking place. Crowe makes an interesting comment here about history. Her point is that, whilst some aspects of historical narrative are accepted as factual and believable, those parts of the narrative that document supernatural occurrences and events are not.

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And throughout history, as well as in her own book, the documented experiences that people have had of the supernatural are surprisingly numerous and consistent throughout the centuries. Alex Owen and Vanessa Dickerson, among others, have pointed to Victorian ghost stories and the Spiritualist movement as providing space for women and allowing celebrations of femininity Owen ; Dickerson The Night Side of Nature was certainly a timely book that captured the imagination of the public and helped pave the way for the rapid rise of Spiritualism when it was introduced to Britain a few years later.

1.14 Nightmare

These sightings can happen just as easily in the day as at night and very often do not carry any fear or dread: the experiences themselves seem, at the time, commonplace. Mr C F and some young ladies, not long ago, were standing together looking in at a shop window in Brighton — when he suddenly darted across the way, and they saw him hurrying along the street, apparently in pursuit of somebody. After waiting a while, as he did not return, they went home without him; and, when he was come, they of course arraigned him for his want of gallantry.

He died at that time. Very lately, a gentleman living in Edinburgh, while sitting with his wife, suddenly arose from his seat and advanced towards the door with his hand extended, as if about to welcome a visitor. She had seen nobody. A day or two afterwards, the post brought a letter announcing the death of the person seen. This is a mere fraction of the type of tales that make up The Night Side of Nature.

These stories are contemporary and do not carry any great shocks or surprises; they are mundane. The narrative style is matter of fact and straight-forward, albeit disjointed. There is no drama in the telling, none of the ghost-seers are afraid and the sightings are reported as absolute fact with no questioning of their veracity. These tales are included by Crowe, not for sensational effect, but as proof of the usualness of sightings like these. The stories are subjective, remembered tales and often have more in common with the traditions of oral ghost-telling than with the more usual Victorian literary ghost stories.

These letters provide a seemingly authentic account of an experience of ghost-seeing forming a document that attests to the witnessing of the phenomenon. This story and the characters involved are included in an anthology compiled by Peter Ackroyd in , but the source of the tale is not attributed to Crowe This is what Crowe tells us about her own source:.

The proprietor of the house, who lives in it, declines to make public the particulars of the disturbance to which he has been subjected, and it must be understood that the account of the visit we are about to lay before our readers is derived from a friend to who Dr Drury presented a copy of his correspondence on the subject.

Here we have several frames for the documents, but they are still presented by Crowe as authenticated evidence. The scenario laid out in the correspondence is one familiar to all who read literary ghost stories. Dr Edward Drury, a dis-believer and sceptic, asks leave of the owner of a reputedly haunted house, to take a companion and spend a night there.

Having been granted permission they examine the house and, satisfied it is empty apart from themselves, they begin to sit up and take watch. They hear noises but experience nothing much more and Dr Drury decides to go to bed.

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He notes in one of his letters what happens next:. I took out my watch to ascertain the time, and found that it wanted ten minutes to one. In taking my eyes from my watch, they became riveted upon a closet-door, which I distinctly saw open, and saw also the figure of a female attired in greyish garments, with the head inclining downwards, and one hand pressed upon the chest as if in pain, and the other, viz. It advanced with an apparently cautious step across the floor towards me; immediately as it approached my friend who was slumbering, its right hand was extended towards him.

I then rushed at it, giving, as Mr Proctor states, a most awful yell; but instead of grasping it I fell upon my friend, and I recollected nothing distinctly for nearly three hours afterwards.

I have since learned that I was carried downstairs in an agony of fear and terror. The level of detail given here is important to the writer who bears witness to his experience of seeing the ghost. That it is Mr Proctor who states that Drury gave a terrible cry gives another layer of credibility from a second witness and the fact that the whole is written out in a letter carries connotations of authenticity and truth and points towards the possibility of verification. This reads more as a legal eye witness account than an actual ghost story. This acknowledgment of the truth of the existence of the supernatural has been drawn out of Drury with reluctance.

Edward Drury has seen something and this has convinced him of the reality of the supernatural. The letters that Crowe includes persuade the reader also that they are witnessing something that is a true account: Edward Drury has seen a ghost. It is not just that ghosts are seen, most ghosts need to be seen. Ghosts themselves are a phenomenological experience: a sensory experience. These most un-fleshly of beings can only be perceived by the flesh, be it merely a shrinking, trembling feeling, an intuitive sense that something is there, or an actual vision.

There are of course paradoxes here, not least the idea that ghosts come from the realm of the unseen ; the Otherworld, the Beyond, from elsewhere. Ghosts re-turn from the place of the unseen and the unknown.


Ethereal, delicate or see-through as the ghost may be, it is the seeing, the perceiving of the phenomena that matters. In the example of ghost seeing just given in the letters, it is the middle class, respectable male figure who narrates his experience and in an authoritative epistolary form and Dr Drury himself claims objective vision in relation to the ghost he saw. Yet Crowe claims that it is often Other people who see ghosts. Yet it is often these people who are themselves over-looked. Alex Owen, when talking about Victorian spiritualism says:.

Spiritualism as a movement … privileged women and took them seriously …. Spiritualist culture held possibilities for attention, opportunity and status denied elsewhere. In certain circumstances it could also provide a means of circumventing rigid nineteenth-century class and gender norms.

When Spiritualism arrived in Britain Crowe became a strong advocate of the movement. Her own work, published earlier than Spiritualism, also always held radical potential. Her view of who can and cannot see clearly is progressive. Crowe advocates a different way of seeing which is less sure and more open. And it is this openness that might enable us to see what was, before, unseen.

This is certainly the case with Crowe.

Crowe believed spirit-seeing to be empowering and enlightening. It is not the body of the seer that is important, it is the opening of perception as well as a willingness to believe. Crowe is always critical of those who refuse to countenance the possibility of ghosts and other supernatural phenomenon.

I am Illuminating the Way for Souls

Interpretation of a seeming ghost-sighting is certainly a difficulty. She documents the case of Mr H:. Mr H was one day walking along the street, apparently in perfect health, when he saw, or supposed he saw, his acquaintance, Mr C, walking before him. He called to him aloud, but he did not seem to hear him, and continued moving on. Mr H then quickened his pace for the purpose of overtaking him, but the other increased his […] and proceeded at such a rate that Mr H found it impossible to make up to him.

Confounded at such treatment from a friend, the latter instantly opened the gate, and looked down the long lane into which it led, where, to his astonishment, no one was to be seen. She says:. Yet for Crowe, the imperative point is to keep an open mind. She is certain that these experiences are real and because of this they are worthy of documenting and discussing.

Crowe herself took many of her sources from German texts and she was fluent in the language. Crowe had a deep love and respect for German culture and German people. This shows the concept of vision, as she sees what others do not see other people or the readers. She makes this concept from something direct to a metaphor. Without allowing anything to distract her, the young girl gazes upon the window and sees a movement.

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She describes seeing something that is not actually visible and notes that everyone must know what she means by this. I think this section could be an example of how the young girl is not all there and shows how some may interpret her as hallucinating or going mad.

She claims to see things that are not physically visible, as if its in her mind. In this instance, vision is not something you physically see but perhaps sense. She says it might be this and it might be that, but it certainly is something living and different from anything else. What is also very interesting is that Aunt Mary is unable to see what she is claiming to see.

This section questions the definition of visibility in this story. I think the passage you have pointed to is an important one in thinking about vision in the story and to what extent we can rely on our sight. The fact that the girl sees what others cannot is definitely of interest in assessing her mental state but also in understanding what can be known about the world through visual perception. She sees this man through her eyes, but i believe it implies to her eyes of the supernatural, almost like the third eye.

Sometimes, as I have said, he would turn around in his chair and turn his face towards it, and sit there for a long time….. When Mrs. Your comments on the point and range of visions in the story is very interesting. Or is it something that Oliphant has made exclusively available for the heroine as a character trait? Vision plays an extremely vital role in the narrative, starting in the very beginning when Mr.

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  • Pitmilly is downplaying that there is any window at all. Instead he suggests that the narrator is perceiving an image of a window that is not really there. Later on as the story progresses we find out that vision is well connected to the age of the characters. The conversation between the narrator and Aunt Mary shows the importance of vision and how being an adolescent helps in witnessing the supernatural.

    I feel Aunt Mary plays an important role in the story because it validates that perhaps the young girl truly does see this window, this man, and that her supernatural experiences are real. The word sight can have many meanings depending on the context that is given within that specific area. Perhaps it is a shadow making just one flicker in the still place. Oliphant This first perception of sight is just sight in itself. It is just how the eye operates and what is seen from ones vision. This first perception is a given and the obvious, but the next perception of sight that comes into play is a bit different and supernatural.

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    It might only be a dog or a cat…but it someone, something living, the things that are not living. It seemed to strike right through me, and I gave a little cry. Whatever it was it; it could have not been proven by the rational.