The History of the Ghost Story: from Homer to Susan Hill

From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us! Tales of one who has seen the dead have been part of storytelling from the time of Homer and Plautus, as “true stories” as well as the fine craft of literary manipulation, brimming with the terror of suspense and the horror of shock. Join us for dark tales from ancient times to the Golden Age of the Ghost Story of Poe, Dickens, Le Fanu and M. R. James, and on to the 20th century when terror never sleeps… if you dare.

This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom. Enrolling students need to ensure they have an email, a reliable internet connection, microphone/speakers and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.


  • The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving
  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  • The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
  • The Upper Berth, Francis Marion Crawford
  • In a Glass Darkly, Sheridan Le Fanu
  • The Canterville Ghost, Oscar Wilde
  • Ghosts and Marvels, M. R. James
  • The Lost Ghost, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
  • The Empty House, Algernon Blackwood
  • Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Lafcadio Hearn
  • The Ghost and Mrs Muir, R. A. Dick
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  • The Woman in Black, Susan Hill


  • Early versions: Ancient, Beliefs and manipulation, Renaissance theatre, Border ballads, Gothic and Romantic: the early 19th century, European inspirations: French, German, Sub genres: types of ghost story
  • Golden Age of the Ghost Story (1830s – 1914):
    • American – Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Henry James, Other 19th century ghost story classics
    • English – Charles Dickens, Sheridan Le Fanu, Other Victorian ghost story classics, M. R. James
    • Australian
  • 20th century: Edwardian, Japanese Kwaidan, Post war ghost stories

By the end of this talk students should be able to:

  1. Outline the evolution of the ghost story as a literary genre.
  2. Distinguish between different types of ghost stories
  3. Discuss the effectiveness of various techniques and tropes in ghost stories
  4. Describe the significance of major ghost story writers
  5. Discuss the distinguishing characteristics of ghost stories from different cultures and times.
  6. Assess the literary quality of various ghost stories.
  7. Seek out some significant ghost stories to read for pleasure.

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