Book Chapter

"German has a word for the total effect": Robert Aickman’s Strange Stories



Jones T (2017) "German has a word for the total effect": Robert Aickman’s Strange Stories. In: Brewster S & Thurston L (eds.) The Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story. Routledge Literature Handbooks. London: Routledge, pp. 168-176.

First paragraph: Simon Hay, writing A History of the Modern British Ghost Story, suggests we can expect any ‘individual ghost story [to give] an account of a specific and irreducible trauma; some specific haunted mansion, murdered count, or interrupted inheritance’ (2011, p. 2). Hay surveys the British form from from Walter Scott through the twentieth century, and concludes that these specific traumas point, more generally, towards an anxious modernity, where the present  has not successfully distinguished itself from its past; indeed, the whole point of the ghost story is that the present cannot wrench free of the past and so has not become fully modern. The ghost story, in other words, holds to a model of history as traumatically rather than nostalgically available to us. (2011, p.15).  This is perhaps a fairly common reading of the genre; hidden history uncannily returns and repeats itself. Nevertheless, it’s a reading which struggles to account for a writer like Robert Aickman, who offers narratives that tend to confound this pattern. In Aickman, the source of whatever haunting he describes is usually elided. He is uninterested in accounting for the origins of his ghosts, no ancestral crime is uncovered, nothing as dull as an explanation is offered. Moreover, Aickman’s ghosts emerge in a modern world where precisely the opposite problem to the one described by Hay is considered; the present has been all too easily separated from the past. Continuity and humanity is lost. Modernity threatens to become complete, and it is into this space that ghosts emerge. They are forces which potentially bring disastrous consequences for Aickman’s struggling heroes, but they disturb the equally disastrous power of the present.

Title of seriesRoutledge Literature Handbooks
Publication date30/11/2017
Publisher URL…ok/9781138184763
Place of publicationLondon

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Dr Timothy Jones

Dr Timothy Jones

Lecturer in Gothic Studies, English Studies