Review of “The Phantom Coach” (1864)


Amelia B. Edwards (writer).

Read in 2017.

A fine example of a stale use of the confessional first-person perspective, to the point of cynicism:

The circumstances I am about to relate to you have truth to recommend them. They happened to myself, and my recollection of them is as vivid as if they had taken place only yesterday. Twenty years, however, have gone by since that night. During those twenty years I have told the story to but one other person. I tell it now with a reluctance which I find it difficult to overcome. All I entreat, meanwhile, is that you will abstain from forcing your own conclusions upon me. I want nothing explained away. I desire no arguments. My mind on this subject is quite made up, and, having the testimony of my own senses to rely upon, I prefer to abide by it.

Though social standing is implied as a reason for this reluctance, no reason is ever presented for why the narrator has overcome it. The ghostly incident is neatly contained, and incidentally well written. In that opening, Edwards seems to be borrowing from the epistolary mode of earlier stories like Frankenstein (1818) with a nominal assurance that the confession is genuine. It’s like reality TV: pitching the story as if it were non-fiction is a cheap metafictional device meant to ignite a sense of relevance in the gullible. This example of the device is especially interesting because the narrator uses the language and last resort of real-world ghost hunters and other true believers up front, in the false claim that the subjective impression cannot be contradicted by evidence, for instance of how the human mind works. Within the story, Edwards adds a ridiculous argument from authority in the form of an extremely well-read and brilliant recluse who sets up the general premiss.

References here: “A Ghostly Manifestation” (1884).

text fiction