Haunted Beauty: Aesthetics and Mindfulness in the Traditional Ghost Story by Tim Weldon is a brief but insightful book. Published in 2015, Haunted Beauty examines the literary tradition of the ghost story. Weldon, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, succinctly explains what makes ghost stories so popular. Though its academic tone is sometimes challenging, all readers will delight in the insights offered by this book, which includes examples from both modern and classic ghost stories.
In his introduction, Tim Weldon points out that ghosts are one of the only supernatural beings whose existence is continually in question. “As a subject, ghosts stand apart from the too far-fetched (no one asks if you believe in zombies),” he writes. In ghosts, we hold out hope for our own immortality. More than that, however, ghosts offer an intimate connection with the past. Ghost stories also offer us a pleasurable feeling of thrill, fright, and “the fun of the shudder.” Finally, Weldon argues that a great ghost story is great literature. One of the most beloved stories of all time, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, is a ghost story.
Haunted Beauty is divided into two parts. The first, “The All that Lingers,” is an exploration of sense and setting, time, and place in ghost stories. Part Two, “Thoughts Haunted,” is about why ghost stories are so psychologically appealing.
In “The All that Lingers,” Tim Weldon deconstructs the three essential elements of the ghost story: sense and setting, time, and place. Ghost stories are all about evoking ambiance–rich descriptions and details designed to provoke strong feelings in the reader. Ghost stories appeal to the non-rational, or pre-rational, imagination. In time, ghost stories are intimately connected with history. “Past meets the present in the ghost story as the physical presence of the ghost,” the author explains. He calls this “temporal fusion,” or the understanding of an ever-present past. Finally, in place, the author argues that setting is important to the ghost story, particularly the old house or manor. Ghosts thrive in old, confined places.
In “Thoughts Haunted,” Weldon argues that nostalgia is central to the ghost story. Every haunting is a re-encountering of something from the past, usually a departed person. So hauntings are intimately tied to memory. “To be haunted is to be reminded, at interval, of what is meaningful in our lives and also of the traumatic,” he writes. Ghost stories present the past as not some distant unreachable place, but as living in the present. They appeal to our deep psychological need for connectedness to those who have passed. “Haunting is ultimately memento mori, the acknowledgement of past and impending death, of others, of myself.”
We all enjoy a good ghostly tale, but if you want to have a deeper understanding of what makes ghost stories so appealing, as well as their significance in Western literature and culture, Haunted Beauty is an excellent place to start. In this age of pseudoscience and reality TV, it is more important than ever before to reconnect with the literary roots of ghosts and ghost stories. This book brings a much needed scholarly perspective to the table.