Written By Rachael Heffner
Society has an obsession with being scared. We constantly look for scary movies that are playing at the theatre or a haunted house to go to in the middle of October, desperate for that next scare. In E.J. Clery’s book, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, she explores the correlation between the supernatural and consumerism. In her study, Clery concludes that when it comes to consumerism, the upper class sets the standard. The upper class is known for having a higher education, too; therefore, middle and working class members may conclude that whatever the upper class is known to believe or study must be true.
The basis of Economics 101 is “Supply and Demand.” If the upper class wants stories about ghosts and witches, then they’re going to get it, and the working and middle classes will consume those stories as well. Not only did the upper class love to read stories about themselves and the supernatural, but some stories also ensured the lower class could be satisfied with the notion that the upper class were to be knocked down. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, no?
An example of both these consumer desires can be found in M.E. Braddon’s “The Shadow in the Corner.” The story is about a Master and his servants living in a haunted house. The house is haunted because, according to the story, his uncle committed suicide in the attic. In the story a housemaid, Maria, is troubled with her room, which so happens to be the “haunted” attic.
After days of insistence, the Master, Michael Bascom, finally tells Maria that he will stay the night in her room in order to reassure her that it isn’t haunted. Throughout the night, Bascom is unable to sleep and believes he sees a shadowy figure in the corner of the room, but in the morning, after only a mere three hours of sleep, when confronted by Maria about the room, he denies there being evidence of a haunting. Because of Bascom’s denial, no one believes Maria, and she is forced to continue to stay in the bedroom. When Maria asks her superior, Mr. Skegg, about how Bascom’s night was in her room, he repeats Bascom’s claim that he experienced no haunting:
“Never slept better in his life. Now don’t you begin to feel ashamed of yourself?”
“Yes,” she answered meekly; “I am ashamed of being so full of fancies.”
Maria returns to the haunted room, and the following night, she hangs herself in the corner. She never had a chance. Maria has no alternative but to accept Bascom’s version of events and to declare herself “full of fancies” as a result. Maria was a servant girl and Bascom was the Master of the house, firstly, and secondly, he was a scholar. Because of his upper class and intelligence, anyone would believe Bascom over Maria.
In addition, Mr. Skegg is the one to tell Maria and not Bascom, which allows him to suppress the fact that Bascom suggested Maria could move to another room in the house, something Skegg and his wife didn’t want her to do. Throughout the short story, we are given hints that Skegg is a bit jealous of Maria himself. Maria had a higher education than Skegg or his wife and became a servant only after her father’s untimely death. Unlike Skegg, who is anxious that she learn her “proper place” in the household, Michael goes out of his way to make sure that the young servant is happy with her boarding. This behavior must have really made Skegg feel threatened. The idea that a young female servant could “outrank” Skegg and his wife or potentially warm the heart of the Master worries Skegg to the point of jealousy. He uses his years of experience at the Manor and his gender to manipulate Maria’s thoughts about what really happened (Bascom tells Skegg that Maria could switch rooms). From that, the violation of boundaries is evident causing Skegg to fear of rebellion throughout the class systems in the Estate.
In “The Shadow in the Corner,” Braddon uses a ghost story as a way to address what really frightens her readers, but the story’s conclusion puts the “rightful” order back to the Estate. The true source of terror in this story is not a ghost or spirit haunting, but the suggestion that the servants might start controlling the Estate (or least start marrying men of the upper class), which threatens to bring chaos to the upper class. The “shadow in the corner,” then, is really the threat of class conflict. “The more [the ghost story] hides, the more it gives the illusion of revealing,” explains Clery (9). The more Braddon hides the true fear, the true haunting at the Bascom Estate, the more it becomes illuminated.
Braddon, M.E. . “The Shadow in the Corner.” Google Scholar. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Web. 12 Dec 2013.
Clery, EJ. The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762-1800. University of Cambridge, 1995. 1-10. Print.