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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An absorbing read & a thorough history., 12 Nov 2009
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Gary Clarke "beeclarke2" (Ipswich, England) - See all my reviews
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The Introduction to this captivating and fascinating book proclaims "England has long had a reputation for being haunted". This reputation and our love affair with ghosts is primarily a result of cultural, social and religious change over the past 500 years and it is these aspects of ghosts that the author investigates.

Davies begins with a chapter entitled `Manifestation' where personal characteristics, times of haunting, the dress and lifespan of ghosts is discussed. There follows the geography of haunting and analysis of how social changes have affected ghost sightings in certain locations. For example, ghosts are rarely reported in churchyards today because fewer people go to church and hence fewer people find themselves in churchyards. Allied to this is the fact that public cemeteries are now located away from areas of housing. This is a far cry from the 19th century when churchyards were a much more important space, not just on a religious level, but also a social and recreational one.

Changing attitudes to religion has shaped the belief in ghosts and our reactions to them. For example, an early argument was that if you believe in God then almost by default you believe in ghosts because they are proof of an afterlife. However, after the Reformation ghost belief was viewed as Catholic `superstition' by Protestants and later a rejection of ghosts was seen as a useful foil to being accused of having Methodist sympathies.

Cases of `fraudulent' ghosts such as the Cock Lane Ghost could damage reputations. Hence Samuel Johnson's refusal to dismiss ghosts and the link the public made between Johnson and the Cock Lane Ghost damaged his reputation as a beacon of the Enlightenment. For this reason the expansion of the regional press in the late 18th/early 19th centuries saw a tendency for ghost belief being ridiculed as these publications defended "the provinces from condescending metropolitan assumptions regarding rural backwaters".

Reasons for ghost sightings such as melancholy and mental illness, dreams and nightmares are investigated with the inevitable mention of Freud and Jung. Davies then documents the history of ghost imitation through the use of magic lanterns, photography and cinema. Other subjects covered include witchcraft and magic, Mesmerism and folklore, and the influence of the Society of Psychical Research and the book has a section which discusses the portrayal of ghosts in plays, books and pamphlets.

Davies writes with academic authority but his writing never becomes dense or pretentious so his work is accessible to all levels of readers. One note of criticism - I'd be surprised if Palgrave employed a proof reader on this book. If they did they should get a new one! There are at least 20-30 errors and a few cross references that don't make sense.

It's difficult to describe the depth and breadth of "The Haunted" because Davies has managed to include so much interesting material. Anyone with an interest in the supernatural or esoteric, witchcraft or magic, religion and the afterlife, or simply the social mores and customs of our ancestors will be enthralled by this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both meticulous and exciting, 16 Nov 2011
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This review is from: The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (Paperback)
This is a serious academic account of ghost-lore in England, but Davies is also alive to the entertainment potential of the history of popular beliefs.

He knows his way around the existing sources, which allows him both to present the titillating and terrifying stories that haunted our forebears, but also to give the reader some idea of why records survive of particular hauntings, and what problems face the historian of popular culture when dealing with phenomena that were actively disapproved by religious and secular authorities.

This is both a highly informative survey (with a gentle argument about the continuing relevance of spirits in "modern" cultures) and a good read. There are some particularly engrossing tales of pranksters and bystanders mistaken for ghosts and killed... Chilling stuff.
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The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts
The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts by Owen Davies (Paperback - 1 Nov 2009)
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