A Phantom Lover
is a Gothic novella written by British writer Vernon Lee and first published in 1886. The story is a haunting tale of love, mystery, and the supernatural. Set in the late 19th century, the novella follows the story of a young woman named Mrs. Anstruther, who is haunted by the ghost of her late lover, a man named Herbert.
The story begins with Mrs. Anstruther, a young widow, traveling to a remote and dilapidated Italian villa for a summer holiday. She is accompanied by her young daughter and her cousin, Miss Caroline Braxton. The villa, which has been abandoned for years, is believed to be haunted, and the locals refuse to go near it.
Despite the rumors, Mrs. Anstruther becomes fascinated with the villa and begins to explore its secret passages and hidden rooms. She soon discovers a portrait of a young man, Herbert, and becomes obsessed with learning more about him. As she delves deeper into Herbert’s life, she discovers that he was a former resident of the villa and that he had died there under mysterious circumstances.
As Mrs. Anstruther becomes more and more obsessed with Herbert’s story, she begins to experience strange and unexplained phenomena, such as hearing his voice and feeling his touch. She becomes convinced that his ghost is haunting her, and she is unable to escape his presence.
The novella explores themes of obsession, loss, and the supernatural. It also touches on the idea of the “doppelganger” or double, a common theme in Gothic literature. Lee creates a chilling and eerie atmosphere, weaving together elements of horror and suspense to create a truly haunting tale.
One of the key themes of “A Phantom Lover” is the power of the past to haunt the present. The novella explores the idea that past events and actions can have a profound impact on the present, and that the past can be difficult to escape. Mrs. Anstruther is unable to let go of her love for Herbert, even though he is dead, and this obsession leads her to become haunted by his ghost.
The novella also explores the idea of the supernatural and the power of the human imagination. Mrs. Anstruther’s belief in the ghost of Herbert is so strong that it becomes a reality for her, and she is unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Lee creates a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, leaving the reader to question whether the haunting is real or a figment of Mrs. Anstruther’s imagination.
Another theme of the novella is the idea of the uncanny or the eerie. The abandoned villa and its hidden passages create a sense of unease and mystery, while the supernatural elements of the story add to the sense of the uncanny. The use of the doppelganger also adds to the sense of unease, as Mrs. Anstruther becomes increasingly unsure of her own identity.
Overall, “A Phantom Lover” is a haunting and atmospheric novella, exploring themes of obsession, loss, and the supernatural. Lee’s masterful writing creates a sense of unease and mystery, transporting the reader to a remote Italian villa and immersing them in a world of Gothic horror. The novella is a classic of the genre, and its exploration of the power of the past and the supernatural continues to captivate readers to this day