See caption
Title page of the first edition
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A True Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal (the Next Day After Her Death) to Mrs. Bargrave is an account of a ghostly visitation said to have occurred in Canterbury in 1705. A “rudimentary” ghost story and arguably a precursor to the Graveyard School of poetry, it was published anonymously in a pamphlet dated 1706, although it is generally considered to have been written by Daniel Defoe.

Stories of revenantsA revenant is the spirit of a dead person returned to visit the living, the common conception of a ghost – the spirit of a dead person come back to visit the living – have existed for thousands of years, but Defoe was writing in a time of some moral crisis. The materialistic philosophies of the time sought to banish the belief in any kind of afterlife, so the account of Mrs Veal’s apparition may have been a form of theological propaganda.

Alternatively, Sir Walter Scott, among others, has suggested that the pamphlet may have been intended to promote the sale of Charles Drelincourt’s The Christian’s Defence Against the Fears of Death (1651), which is recommended reading in the pamphlet;[1] Defoe was at the time a bookseller in London.

Synopsis


The pamphlet tells the story of a Canterbury resident, Mrs Bargrave, who is visited by Mrs Veal, an old friend and former neighbour, who says that she would like to catch up before departing for a journey. Mrs Bargrave’s kiss of greeting is declined by Mrs Veal, who explains that she is unwell. The pair discuss books on death and friendship, before Mrs Veal asks her friend to write a letter to her brother concerning a number of gifts she would like him to make. She also discloses that her locked cabinet contains a purse filled with gold. Mrs Bargrave admires the dress worn by Mrs Veal and steps out to call her daughter, but on her return she finds that Mrs Veal has left the house and is standing in the street ready to leave. Mrs Veal says that she must be going and walks away, watched by Mrs Bargrave until she is out of sight. She subsequently looks for Mrs Veal, but is told by one of her friend’s relatives that she had died the day before her visit to Mrs Bargrave’s house.

Genre


Written in the style of the literary Gothic, The Apparition of Mrs Veal anticipates in its structure many of the devices used to create an illusion of documentary authenticity in the later Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories by writers such as Algernon Blackwood.[2] According to the preface, the story is relayed to the publisher via “a gentleman, a justice of peace, at Maidstone, in Kent, and a very intelligent person, to his friend in London, as it is here worded; which discourse is attested by a very sober and understanding gentlewoman, a kinswoman of the said gentleman’s, who lives in Canterbury, within a few doors of the house in which the within-named Mrs Bargrave lives”.[3]

Themes


The story of Mrs Balgrave’s visitation can be seen as representative of its time, and like other “apparation narratives” a response to the crisis in religious belief that had been provoked by the emergence of modern materialist philosophies. The authors of such apparition narratives sought to convince sceptics of the existence of the afterlife and divine providence through accounts of spiritual visitations. As such, they can be seen as works of “theological propaganda”, an outlook which later ghost stories, written purely for the purposes of entertainment, lacked.[4]

Citations



Bibliography


Clery, E., & Miles, R. (2000). Gothic Documents: A Sourcebook 1700–1820. Manchester University Press.
Hughes, W. (2012). Apparition of Mrs. Veal, The. In Historical Dictionary of Gothic Literature. Scarecrow Press.
Poovey, M. (2008). Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain. University of Chicago Press.