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“In the clothes of dead people”: Vernon Lee and Ancestral Memory


This essay considers how Vernon Lee’s ancestral ghost story “Oke of Okehurst” (1886) drew upon speculative theories of late Victorian psychology and psychical research. Examining works ranging from Thomas Laycock’s and Samuel Butler’s writings on organic and ancestral memory to Joseph Rodes Buchanan’s attempts to read the psychological traces or “mental fossils” left on personal possessions, it argues that efforts to locate emanations from the past in human bodies, minds, and objects offered an imaginative model for Lee to investigate the permeable boundaries of memory and consciousness and the erotic interplay between past and present selves.

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