Haunted Hearts: Lessons in Love & Loss from Ghost Stories of the Past

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Haunted Hearts: Lessons in Love & Loss from Ghost Stories of the Past

Illustration: Akshita Monga

 

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n cold nights as thick snow rests on the ground, the ghosts of a beautiful young woman and a little girl still haunt Furnivall Manor House. Soon, the sound of an organ fills the air, making it unbearable for the living who are forced to feel the pain of the dead, to witness the pain of a broken heart that never healed. There is a longing that they can’t understand — no one knows where that deep pain is coming from. Ghosts are not just apparitions floating through the walls; they also represent feelings of loss, unrequited love, heartbreak and intolerable pain that their death could not resolve. Their yearning continues even after they are gone.

Elizabeth Gaskell, like many Victorian writers, beautifully captured a rather unique facet of horror in “The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852). Her ghosts were never scary; they were rather humdrum and often pathetic figures. Only when the ghosts insisted that the living empathise with their pain, did they become agonising and invoke fear. There are two ghosts in the story. The young woman’s ghost still waits for her musician lover who never returned after secretly marrying her and fathering her child. The little girl, her daughter, who dies with her mother, simply follows her mother after death. They were thrown out of Furnivall Manor on a very cold night and freeze to death. Yet there is no hate in these ghosts, all they hope for is compassion.

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