Listening to Ghosts: Haunting in Toni Morrison’s 'Beloved', Sarah Waters’s 'The Little Stranger', And in my own writing practice

Vivien Graveson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Through a multi-disciplinary approach (specifically, literary criticism, psychology, sociology and psycho-geography), the discussion explores the functions of ghosts and haunting in certain modern novels (Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, and in my own writing practice). It examines the psychoanalytic underpinning of theories of haunting, including Freud, Abraham and Torok, and Derrida, explores alternative approaches to time and death, and examines theories of haunted spaces (in particular Edensor and Trigg). Finally, in a development of both Derrida’s and Avery Gordon’s claim that it is in some sense a ‘social figure’, the ghost is shown to be an essential ingredient to psychic health (Frosh) and the capacity of the present to acknowledge and attempt to come to terms with the past.

My novel, Sea-Roke, a ghost story set in Suffolk, where centuries before a city was destroyed by storms and covered by the sea, explores and reflects themes of denial, inherited guilt and shame, and the power of the forgotten past to make itself felt in the present. Told from the point of view of two women (who are themselves haunted in different ways) the narrative centres around Luke, a boy who, after the death of his baby sister moves to the village with his mother, Emily. Luke’s innocent willingness to ‘listen’ (in a Derridean sense) to the ghosts and his refusal to be intimidated by the hostility of the village means that the locals are forced to encounter their past.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Jones, Susanna, Supervisor
  • Jay, Betty, Supervisor
Award date1 Jan 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Haunted literature
  • Beloved
  • The Little Stranger
  • Transgenerational Haunting
  • Phylogenetic inheritance
  • Haunted Spaces
  • Freud
  • Abraham & Torok
  • Avery Gordon

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