Posted by: Sally Ingraham | September 27, 2011


by Vernon Lee

rip viGenuine ghosts – the type that stir our spirits and shiver our spines (and not the type that are glimpses of Aunt Maud, who is as boring in death as she was in life) – genuine ghosts, according to Vernon Lee, are ‘things of the imagination, born there, bred there, sprung from the strange confused heaps, half-rubbish, half-treasure, which lie in our fancy, heaps of half-faded recollections, of fragmentary vivid impressions, litter of multi-colored tatters, and faded herbs and flowers, whence arises that odor (we all know it), musty and damp, but penetratingly sweet and intoxicatingly heady, which hangs in the air when the ghost has swept through the unopened door, and the flickering flames of candle and fire start up once more after waning.

A few days ago after reading only the first story in this collection of four, I complained that there wasn’t as much mystery as Lee had led me to believe there would be in her work. I was either not in the proper mood for ghost stories, or I just hadn’t really caught on to Lee’s purpose at the time.

After all, the stories found in this little book are exactly what they claim to be – not ghost stories exactly, but hauntings. Lee explores obsession and possession, delving into the experience of the ghost. A Polish scholar is consumed by his research into the life and death of a 300 year old Italian woman, who was beautiful and deadly while alive and seems to have carried these traits with her into the afterlife. An old Doctor watches in confusion and despair as the orphan girl he rescued wields seemingly supernatural powers upon the folk of his village. A composer is harassed by the song of a long-dead singer who seems bent upon supplanting all of the musician’s own creative and artistic talents.

My favorite story was Oke of Okehurst; or The Phantom Lover. In this one an artist hired to paint portraits of Mr and Mrs Oke observes how the mania of Alice Oke for an ancestor and her obsession with the murdered poet and lover of the 1626 Alice wreaks havoc on her household and husband. This story is wonderfully atmospheric, and full of the psychological complexities that I find so gripping. Mr Oke is sketched in so simply, yet I really felt for him as his wife’s obsession became an absolute torment to him. And the figure of Alice Oke both past and present was dazzling (if a bit cobwebby).

In this story, as in the others to a lesser degree, I felt that the actual ghost was something open to interpretation. Mr Oke’s jealousy drove him to distraction, and Alice Oke’s boredom with the present drove her into the past and caused her unending morbid teasing of her husband. The narrator himself never saw the ghost of the murdered poet, although he might have felt the shiver of its passing. So was there really a ghost? Or was it a purely psychological haunting?

Whichever it may be, I was completely seduced in the end by Lee’s tales of the femme fatale and the whispering past, and her ‘spurious ghosts…of whom I can affirm only one thing, that they haunted certain brains, and have haunted, among others, my own.


short storyI read this for the R.I.P. VI challenge – I am counting it for Peril the First as well as Peril of the Short Story.

PumpkinedPumple DrumkinBats 'n beer

As for the perilous imbibing end of things, I have been enjoying old favorites and a few newcomers to my autumnal beer list. Shipyard Brewing Co.’s Pumpkinhead is decent as usual, and on tap a bit earlier in my area which was exciting. I’ve had quite a few “pumpkin beers” like Shipyard’s, which are spicy and tasty, but not necessarily brewing with actual pumpkin. Dogfish Head’s Punkin still wins in that area with a consistently delicious beer brewed with real pumpkin. I was totally psyched to find Southern Tier’s Pumking back on the shelves although I’m saving it for a special occasion – or book! The Pumple Drumkin by Cisco Brewers supposedly has real pumpkin in it, although the flavor wasn’t very intense, but overall it was a nice smooth ale with a spicy pie aroma, and one of the cutest labels I’ve seen this year.

pumpkin cheesecakeWhile we’re on the topic of seasonal things, have you tried the limited release Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s? It is very delicious – combining a good pumpkin flavor with a real cheesecakiness. I’m a little obsessed with it lately – ack, “obsessed” is a spooky word to use after my recent reading. Hopefully I won’t be haunted by an ice cream, especially this one – that could make for a very long year between the seasonal releases…!

I hope you’re all enjoying apple picking and pumpkin carving and shivery reading and autumnal brews. Carry on RIPers, and the rest of you spooks.


  1. Why did you have to go and post about Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream just when I’m really getting serious about trying to lose some weight? Not fair!

    • *groan* Isn’t that always what happens? I’ve actually lost 10 lbs over the summer, and as though to spite me my body has been craving ice cream like it never has before… Not fair indeed! But delicious. 🙂

  2. Hopefully I won’t be haunted by an ice cream, especially this one

    I don’t know, at least this one has an un-embarrassing name. It would be even worse to be haunted by, like, “Cherry Garcia” or “Chunky Monkey.”

    The Lee sounds like a good, subtle ghosty fix!

    • I LOVE Chunky Monkey. It’s been my go-to ice cream this summer. Do you find many of the weirder Ben $ Jerry’s ice creams on the west coast? I have a friend in WV who is always crying about missing out on fun flavors. Actually, you may have only had B&J’s on your trips to New England now that I think about it…?

  3. That “Oke of Okehurst” story sounds good, Sarah. So does that Ben & Jerry ice cream flavor which I have somehow not tried yet (maybe it could become the third part of the trifecta alongside Brownie Batter and Cookie Dough, the two standbys). Have tried some new pumpkin beers/ales this year, but my fave is still the Southern Tier 22 oz. Imperial Pumking. Need to stock up on those now so I can have at least one a month till next year when they go out of season again. So, so good!

    • I agree – the Pumking IS the king of pumpkin beers. I cleaned out my local beer store when I first saw them on the shelves this year and I intend to go back for more. They’re supposed to age well, although I have yet to test the theory since I usually drink them in the first few months!

  4. I’ve totally forgotten about Vernon Lee. I read Oke of Okehurst years ago in an anthology and liked it so much, I thought I should read some of her other stuff. Completely forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me.
    I’m not sure I can get pumkin beer here but there is a huge shop not far from where I live that sells beer from around the world… Who knows… I’ll have a look.

    • Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen a lot of (any?) pumpkin beers in the overseas scene. Seems to be a new-fangled American thing. I’ll have to look into this. I imagine I would go weak in the knees if I ever visited this “huge shop” of yours – I’m like the classic kid in a candy store when I’m around a beer selection.

      Glad you are inspired to return to Vernon Lee. She really is a treat.

  5. One of these days when I find out how to get photos on my blog, I’ll show you what that looks like. It’s HUGE.
    Melville House Press will do a beer thingy during Lizzy’s and my German Literature Month. I guess German beer is among the best in the world. They have started to celebrate Halloween in Germany, so who knows, maybe some German pumpkin beer… hmmm.
    The Vernon Lee story is in an anthology by Angela Carter Wayward Girls and Wicked Women. I think it is one of the best short story collections I have.

    • Gosh, I’ve always imagined that Halloween was celebrated in some form or other across Europe – perhaps not that whacky way that people go at it in the US, but it seems like such an ancient holiday… Must research. Hopefully some pumpkin beers will come your way, somehow though!

      I’m jotting down the title of that short story collection – sounds like a book for me. 🙂

      What is this German Lit Month of which you speak? Coming up? Did I miss a blog post about it, or haven’t you announced it yet…? Given my terrible track record with reading commitments this year I shouldn’t even be asking – but it sounds interesting. 🙂

  6. I did announce it last Sunday, I’m suprised you didnt see it. It’s the post just after the last one, you will find it easily and I’m sure you would enjoy parts of it loads because we are giving away more than 30 books from publishers like Melville House, One World Classics, Bitter Lemon Press… and they are open internationally (with some UK exceptions). We have a programme but you are free to review anything at any time…. There are readalongs too. Effi Briest…. Temptation? And you wanted to read Goethe! Shameless self-promotion… But there are gifts, so I’m allowed, right?

    • I’m so scatterbrained these days…of course you posted about it! Sounds very fun. I could either be totally free in November, or on my way to Antarctica so that’s awkward…! No commitment at the moment but I can always jump in closer to the start date or even afterward I imagine. I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on you all. And I do want to read Goethe!

  7. […] as in Vernon Lee’s Hauntings which I read earlier this autumn, the connection between creativity and madness is explored: the point where the […]

  8. […] Carl V.’s R.I.P. VI was fiendish once again (dang, no wrap-up post. *sigh* Book reviews are here, here, here, and […]

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