Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Jeffrey Smitten


Jeffrey Smitten


Brian McCuskey


Jeanie Thomas


For thousands of years, many people have retained a belief in the existence of those supernatural entities known as ghosts, and the question of their existence has been vital to the political, religious, and personal ideologies of many interested parties. This thesis will not join that discussion because the question of the ghostly existence cannot be answered in a manner satisfactory to all sides. It merely acknowledges that such a debate continues and that the conflict between belief and empiricist logic can expect no real resolution any time soon. The issue at the heart of this project, however, actually involves what ghosts can tell us about individual identity and development. An all-encompassing response to that issue would require an enormous survey of canonical and non-canonical literature from diverse periods of writing and philosophy, so my project focuses primarily on a single novel, Samuel Richardson's 1747-48 Clarissa, and the way in which Richardson employs literal and figurative references to ghosts in order to discover and interpret the formation and true essence of human identity.

The first chapter of this project, after the introduction, presents a historical context of ghosts in periodicals and poetry around the time Richardson wrote Clarissa, as he was surely aware of their existence—he, being a master printer, even published works from Edward Young and James Hervey that dealt with the subject of ghosts—and they seem to have influenced his writing. The second and third chapters delve into the text of Clarissa itself, as they explore the symbolism, folklore, even the theoretical implications of Richardson's ghostly imagery and metaphors. The ghosts in these scenes provide a glance into the constructed sense of self that Clarissa possesses because of her affiliation with certain institutions, namely religion and family, and the vulnerable nature of that constructed identity because it exists externally to the individual rather than within it.

The fourth chapter deals with Richardson's literary allusions to other texts that have ghosts as a central and "telling" figure and how those texts influence our understanding of Clarissa. The allusions examined in this chapter appear in a paper called "Paper X" that Clarissa writes after Lovelace rapes her and steals the final shard of Clarissa's constructed identity. The ghost image becomes a method of understanding this traumatic period as an intermediary state for Clarissa in which she must gather herself and construct herself anew. The final chapter of this project examines the way in which Clarissa goes from a woman without a sense of who she is as an individual to a more transcendent and permanent personality. Her post-mortem appearance visit to the rakish Lovelace on his deathbed becomes a symbol of a spiritual reality beyond the constructed material essence that has been subject to persecution and violation; Clarissa has achieved a state of selfhood beyond the reach of both individual and institution to destroy, and she lives on as a spirit or "ghost" permanently as a triumphant example of the human will.