Lost borders : haunting in and of American women’s ghost stories

Wise, Katherine (2019) Lost borders : haunting in and of American women’s ghost stories. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis explicates the trope of haunting in turn-of-the-twentieth-century American women’s short stories of the ‘Wild West’. It demonstrates haunting’s implications for the understanding of space and Otherness in the context of the literary, ontological, and epistemic changes of the time. Delineating a specific sense of time and place through an equation of Transcendentalist vision and Realist writing, the conventional account of the Wild West elides questions of gender, class and race. Understood as a discourse, however, the writing and imagination of the Wild West as an empty space viewed from the perspective of totalising and unified gaze is interrogated as a constructed position allied to a white, male occupation of space and history that elides the presence of other genders, races and cultures in the narrative of frontier settlement. Haunting, as it disturbs conventional patterns of temporal and spatial ordering, opens up singular Transcendental and Realist perspectives to heterotopic disruptions that contest distinctions between real and imagined spaces and the exclusions that these distinctions enable. As a contested, resistant mode, haunting stories alter and warp the equation of vision with thought that occurs in the literature of Transcendentalism and Realism. Haunting stories do not simply acknowledge or represent the exclusion of women who have moved outside the bounds of domesticity and the confines of New Womanhood in writing about the frontier: they are exemplary and complex texts that warp and defuse the discursive solidity of the Wild West by disclosing structural and thematic fissures in the optical unities and power of Transcendental vision and literary Realism. This thesis will consider three works in detail, Elia Peattie’s ‘The House That Was Not’, Mary Hunter Austin’s ‘The Pocket-Hunter’s Story’, and Emma Frances Dawson’s ‘An Itinerant House’. The approach taken to these stories–examining the works as points of intersection and positioning in discourse and episteme–allows for both a detailed reading of what is being represented in the work, and a complex tracing of the systems that form and inform such representation.

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