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  You are in: Home > Literary Criticism > Bewilderments of Vision  

Bewilderments of Vision
Hallucination and Literature, 1880–1914

Oliver Tearle

Oliver Tearle is Lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of T. E. Hulme and Modernism and the co-editor (with John Schad) of Crrritic! He has also written articles for numerous journals, including Clues, The Explicator, Interdisciplinary Humanities, and Notes and Queries.


Hallucination was always the ghost story’s elephant in the room. Even before the vogue for psychical research and spiritualism began to influence writers at the end of the nineteenth century, tales of horror and the supernatural, of ghosts and demons, had been haunted by the possibility of some grand deception by the senses. But what is certainly true is that, during the nineteenth century, hallucination took on a new force and significance not just in ghost stories and horror fiction, but in other forms of writing. Authors began to encourage their readers to assess whether the ghostly had its origins in some supernatural phenomenon from beyond the grave, or from some deception within our own minds. This wide-ranging book explores the many factors which contributed to this rise in the interest in hallucination and visionary experience, during the nineteenth century and beyond. Through a series of close and often unusual readings of numerous writers including Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James, and Arthur Machen, this original study explores what happened when hallucination appeared in fiction, and – even more importantly – why it happened at all.


Introduction: Previsions

1. Fields of Vision
The Fantastic
‘...true ghost story...’
Pink Toads

2. Handconscience: Strange Case of Robert Louis Stevenson
The Tell-Tale Text
Strange Cases

3. Figmentary: Vernon Lee’s Wicked Voice
‘...genuine ghosts...’
‘...strangest of maladies...’

4. Aftersense: Henry James’s Psychical Cases
The Third Person

5. Insectial: Arthur Machen’s Phantasmagoria
‘...wild domed hills...’
‘...rare drugs...’
Green Tea
Vast Questions

6. Re-reflections: Oliver Onions
Ghostly Credos
A Haunted House
Aural Sex




“Spectral fiction has long known the blurred line between dream and waking, the subjective and the objective. In this book Tearle offers an exploration of these themes and shows how psychical research had an impact on the writers of the era. It may well be the final word on the topic that should be included in classrooms as essential reading.” Gary William Crawford, editor of Le Fanu Studies and the Gothic Press

“This study offers a strong starting place for anyone interested in researching the development of the ghost story, the popularity of psychic research, or late-Victorian Gothic trends.” English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920; reviewed by ELT Press

At Johns Hopkins University Press’s Project MUSE

“Oliver Tearle’s book is based on close readings of the texts, and makes abundant references to contemporary thinkers and novelists, and to the criticism on Gothic fiction. It gives a good idea of what Gothic writing strategies are.” Cercles: Revue Pluridisciplinaire du Monde Anglophone

Review at the website of the Society for Psychical Research:

‘Bewilderments of Vision is a lively and useful guide to engaging in new ways with some well-known stories’ – John Howard, Wormwood 23 (2014)



Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
Hardback, November 2012; Paperback, September 2014
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $74.50
Paperback Price:
£22.50 / $34.95

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