Writing The Shell and the Poetics of Inherited Secrets: Transgenerational Haunting in Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, The Lie by Helen Dunmore and in my own writing practice.

  • Graveson, Vivien (CoI)

Project: Research

Project Details


This practice-based PHD explores the role of the ghost in literature. Through an examination of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger, Helen Dunmore’s The Lie, and through my own novel, The Shell, I aim to show that, despite its capacity to disturb and disrupt, the ghost can act as a positive force for change. The thesis begins with an examination of the nature of the Uncanny through Jenstch and Freud, and moves on to explore the latter’s theory of Phylogenetic Inheritance, as well as Jung’s claims about the power of the Collective Unconscious. I will show that an even more useful approach to the novels listed is the theory of Trans-generational Haunting proposed by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, in which a shameful secret (phantom) can be unconsciously ‘inherited’ from a previous generation and expressed in disorders of behavior and language. Derrida’s Hauntology is an illuminating development of this theory. With Derrida’s insights in mind and via a discussion of a) the inability of a trauma victim to freely express their experience in language, and b) the distortion and multi-layering of time that often accompanies trauma, I will show that claims that a ghost/phantom is the lying protector of its own stolen space can be rejected in favour of a view that it is an active force for change and regeneration. I shall also show how (pace Avery Gordon) the ghost in literature can be seen as a social figure allowing that which is ‘seemingly not there’ to be made known, and for transformation to be possible.
Effective start/end date7/09/1330/07/16