Phantasmal cities: the construction and function of haunted landscapes in Victorian English cities

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter explores how a haunted landscape was articulated and experienced in Victorian English cities. The ubiquitous nature of Victorian urban ghosts tacitly undermines contemporary hegemonic narratives about the materialistic, progressive, spectacular but disenchanted nature of the modernising nineteenth-century city. Firstly, the chapter considers how the urban environment differed from the rural in the ways it influenced the imagination of its inhabitants. It will suggest that the nature of the urban environment informed the type of supernatural entities which came to haunt it. In doing so it examines how the construction of haunted urban geographies arose from the unsettling nature of city life, experiences that generated both genuine unease and the fantasised titillation of urban gothic imaginings. Secondly, it builds upon these distinctions to consider differing ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’ perceptions of fantasised urban space. Informed by theorists such as Michel De Certeau, it draws distinctions between the conceptualised city and the lived city. Thirdly, the chapter offers a brief exploration of some of the cultural and communal functions of haunted geographies in the developing Victorian city. In particular, it will focus on the importance of ghosts and hauntings in mapping invisible, collective, although far from consensual geographies of local memory and imagination. Through considering the spatial, temporal, and psychical dimensions of these urban supernatural geographies it will be suggested that ghosts helped articulate an altered and perhaps alternative localised understanding of urban spaces and places. This chapter reiterates the importance of thinking with ghosts from historical, geographical, and sociological perspectives, thereby countering a tendency towards their theorised abstraction in hauntological approaches. Ultimately it seeks to suggest various ways in which we can comprehend the enchanted but unseen supernatural landscapes of Victorian cities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHaunted landscapes
Subtitle of host publicationsuper-nature and the environment
EditorsRuth Heholt, Niamh Downing
PublisherRowman & Littlefield
ISBN (Electronic)978-1783488834
ISBN (Print)978-1783488810
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016

Publication series

NamePlace, Memory, Affect
PublisherRowman and Littlefield


  • supernatural
  • urban history
  • imagined geographies
  • ghosts
  • folklore
  • Victorian


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