This research will work to a PhD thesis examining the Christian theological preoccupations of late-Victorian supernatural horror fiction, concentrating on the ghost-story genre. While theological approaches to gothic fiction are well developed, the ghost-story genre is generally seen to be a response to a blanket secularisation, offering, at least, a suspension of disbelief to a materialist readership, or, at most, a critique of scientific ethics. This research will work on the hypothesis that both this perceived secularisation and the suspension of disbelief are an over-simplification, and that the explosion in the horror fiction genre in the last decades of the nineteenth century in fact contained complex responses to the dramatic theological and philosophical developments preceding it.
The social/scientific dynamic of this supernatural fiction has been much discussed, and themes such as Darwinism, and man’s knowledge of and power over the natural world, are certainly theologically important. However, there are also important theological themes involving personal religious experience, a super-rational God, and the journey of the soul after death which have not yet been considered in great depth within the context of supernatural fiction.
This research hopes extend the well-established work which attempts a theological account of modern gothic fiction, and to challenge the received wisdom that the late-Victorian ghost story is simply a response to a general secularisation. In Britain and America at least, the application of theological study to literature continues to increase in scholarly debate, and this thesis seeks to contribute to that debate by highlighting an area of writing which has thus far been seldom examined from a theological perspective. This research will hopefully encourage consideration of the ghost story as a valid expression of theological themes, for both literary theorists and theologians.