Date of Completion

Spring 5-6-2012

Thesis Advisor(s)

Jonathan Hufstader

Honors Major



English Language and Literature


This thesis undertakes to examine Rudolf Otto's work on the rational understanding of God and authentic experience, referred to as the "numinous," as it applies to the authentic ghost experience as it exists in Gothic literature and its successors. We begin by establishing the scene in 19th century Europe, where the Enlightenment is the primary philosophical force and superstition is seen as a primitive concern of the past. The playful fascination with tales of ghosts and spectral forces begins here, with the publication of Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, an ultimately failed, farcical piece, which nonetheless serves as the starting point for the Gothic movement. Following an explanation of Otto's theories, we apply the per-requisites of authentic experience to exemplary Gothic works of writers Henry James and Arthur Machen. Following the discussion of the numinous in the Gothic setting, the paper turns to the "weird fiction" writers of the mid 1900s, specifically an examination of H.P. Lovecraft's short stories, as well as the development of the cultural opinion on supernatural fiction. Finally, the paper addresses two contemporary ghost tales, Beyond Black and The Conjugial Angel, both stories which, taken together, present the current state of superstition and supernatural fiction in the world, as well as discussing the present place of the numinous within such fiction.