The Paris Review

Ghost Club: Yeats’s and Dickens’s Secret Society of Spirits

Still from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse (1922).

When it comes to ghosts, belief and outright disbelief are not the only options—or at least they weren’t in nineteenth-century Britain. The Victorians didn’t stick to simple arguments about the existence of ghosts; they also argued about how, when, and why they might exist. Spiritualists attacked spiritualists over whether the supernatural should be classed as natural. Scientists discussed whether psychological or physiological factors were at play. Inventors, politicians, journalists, and madmen joined in, too. Indeed, it was such a popular, multidisciplinary pursuit that its practitioners needed new places to meet, outside of their existing societies, and various organizations were established to debate the boundaries of the immaterial.

One of these exploratory committees was the Ghost Club. It was founded in 1862 and lasted about a decade, although its history stretches back to a group of Cambridge academics in the 1850s, and

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