During the nineteenth century there was a strong belief in ghosts and the spiritual world. A good ghost story should contain mystery and should have emphasis on the senses. The atmosphere should be dark, lonely and creepy. If there is a ghost, it should inspire fear in its appearance or intention. However, a ghost story is not a tale of horror or terror; it is not about monsters or Martians, terrifying though these may be. The spirit is usually seen and often recognised, but it may be heard, sensed or even smelt. Another major difference between a 'real' ghost and a fictional one is that the ghost in the story has to have a purpose, whereas few 'true' ghosts do. The ghost may be seeking revenge or retribution for what happened to it in life and the presumption is that, once this is obtained, the haunting will cease. Some ghosts want to alert the living to a secret, point to the real perpetrator of some ghastly crime, or even bring comfort and consolation. The point is that ghost in a story must have a reason for it's haunting, otherwise a ghost story has no real purpose or climax. The ending should leave us slightly puzzled and trying to work out what happened.
Three short stories that contain these elements are 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens, 'The Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy and 'Napoleon And The Spectre' by Charlotte Brontë.
'The Signalman' was written around 1866, when trains were a relatively new form of transport and train crashes may have been more of a common occurrence than they are today. Also, the train would have been the fastest means of transport at that time and it may have seemed very uncontrollable and dangerous to the Victorians. Trains were transforming a society which was moving from the rural to the urban. The theme of the story may have been influenced by Dickens's own involvement in the Staplehurst rail crash on the 9th of June 1865. While passing over a viaduct in Kent, the train on which he was traveling jumped a gap in the line, causing the central and rear carriages to fall onto the riverbed below. Dickens was in the only first-class carriage to survive. The first accident, in the story of 'The Signalman' involves an awful collision between two trains in the tunnel, most likely to be based on The Clayton Tunnel Crash, in 1861, five years before Dickens wrote the story. 'The Signalman' is not a typical ghost story because it is set mainly in the daytime, although it it still effective. Many ghost stories were, and still are set in the past to create a sense of the unknown
Charlotte Brontë's 'Napoleon and the spectre' was written in 1833, when Bronte would only have been seventeen. Bronte had an interest in the Emperor of France who at that time was a leading figure in society, a symbol and trademark of France's important position in the world. Napoleon was a gallant and valiant soldier and he supposedly murdered General Pichegru, who is mentioned in the story.
'The Withered Arm' was written in a time where rural superstition was common. This story has a lot of emphasis on...