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Gaskell“Even in the stillness of that dead-cold weather, I had heard no sound of little battering hands upon the window-glass, although the phantom child had seemed to put forth all its force; and, although I had seen it wail and cry, no faintest touch of sound had fallen upon my ears.

Furnivall Manor House in Northumberland was haunted. Spirits were found lurking around the ancestral hall and hillside. Reactions varied among tenants of the House who had witnessed the catastrophe befallen on the tormented years ago. It’s only for the unsettled nurse-maid to find out the incident behind those tragic lives thereby soothing her soul in quietude.

Written in 1852, this is a classic Gothic tale not only furnished with 19th-century ghostly elements and clever techniques (playing of organ, beautiful portraits, blazing fireplace…) but also didactic and moralistic approaches universally found in Victorian literature. It is a story filled with close observations of mankind attributes which are ubiquitously seen in domestic and workplaces, such as scorn, haughtiness, pride and jealousy with studies of physiognomy and sycophants. In this case, these features are what I usually enjoy when reading the ghost stories written around that time  – writers not merely conjured up with poltergeists and the dead to scare readers and revenge the living but to recount trodden tragedies amidst the era of mortal degeneracy – contemporary readers would surely have lots of thoughts reflected back into reality.

“Alas! alas! what is done in youth can never be undone in age! what is done in youth can never be undone in age!”

Perhaps I’m spoiling others’ fun when perusing The Old Nurse’s Story, but it’s a great prelude to reading Ruth (1853), another work and, I believe, a masterpiece by Elizabeth Gaskell, about a concatenation of misfortunes incurred by a fallen woman and an illegitimate child, which I definitely will be reading in future.

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