I avoid horror tales and rarely read the paranormal stories that are popular with many readers, but I do have a fondness for romances with a ghost as protagonist. I plan to celebrate Halloween by rereading my favorite ghostly love stories. Some of my favorites:
Tryst (1939) by Elswyth Thane
Sabrina Archer, an intelligent, bookish, innocent seventeen-year-old, moves with her self-absorbed father and conventional aunt to Nuns Farthing, a house they have rented in the English countryside. When Sabrina discovers a locked room at the top of the stairs, she is irresistibly drawn to it. Once she gains access to the room, her fascination grows as she reads the absent occupant’s books and wonders about him.
While on assignment in India for the Home Office, Hilary Shenstone is wounded. As he is being flown back for medical treatment, his plane is shot down. Hilary’s final thoughts are of England, particularly Nuns Farthing. His spirit, after some time in London, arrives at Nuns Farthing to find Professor Archer and his family in residence. The imaginative Sabrina is already half in love with Hilary based on what she has learned of him from exploring his room, and once she and the ghostly Hilary meet, she falls for him wholeheartedly. Hilary soon realizes that he should have lived to return home and meet Sabrina, his soul mate, but he doesn’t want Sabrina to waste her life. He persuades her that she must leave Nuns Farthing and him, but an unexpected twist provides the bittersweet HEA.
I first read Tryst when I was a teenager, after having read all of Thane’s Williamsburg books. As a twentieth-century-set novel, set in 1938, the world it described was as much history to me as Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice. Certainly neither I nor my friends were as unaware as Sabrina, who was only a few years older than we. Nevertheless, I found the love story delightful, and I wept buckets over Hilary. This is definitely a “sweet romance,” but its sweetness is part of its sorcery.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1945) by Josephine Leslie (R. A. Dick)
This story is most familiar to readers from the 1947 movie based on the novel, starring Gene Tierney as Lucy Muir, Rex Harrison as Captain Daniel Gregg, and a very young Natalie Wood as Lucy Muir’s daughter Anna. Mrs. Muir, a young widow, moves with Anna to Gull Cottage, a seaside home in Victorian England, that is haunted by the ghost of its former owner, an irascible sea captain. Captain Gregg tries to rid his cottage of the comely widow, but he is won over by her courage. When financial disaster threatens Mrs. Muir, the Captain dictates his memoirs to her. Blood and Swash becomes a bestseller, and the widow and the ghost fall in love. The differences in their levels of existence make a conventional conclusion to the love story impossible, but the lovers eventually are reunited.
I rarely see a movie before I read a book, but I fell in love with this movie when I saw it on television. Part of its appeal was sharing it with my mother, who allowed me to stay up way past my bedtime to watch it with her on the late show. (Are any of you old enough to remember how important those late movies were before cable, videos, and DVDs?) I didn’t read the book until I was in grad school and discovered the wonders of ILL (Interlibrary Loan). I love the book, but as a romance it is somewhat less satisfactory than the movie, largely because the captain appears to Lucy in dreams rather than as a physical manifestation. Nevertheless, he is the commanding, protective alpha male, perhaps more strongly so than in the movie, and the book has its own charms.
My Heart Stood Still (2001) by Lynn Kurland
In 14th-century Scotland, Iolanthe MacLeod is sold by her father and brother to an Englishman who murders her in a keep on the English moors because she refuses to reveal the secret of the keep. In twenty-first-century America, Thomas MacLeod McKinnon is finding life empty despite his staggering success (graduating from college at 20, compiling a multi-million dollar fortune, conquering Mt. Everest, building a house with his own hands). When Thomas decides to move to England to renovate the crumbling English castle he bought a year earlier, modern hero extraordinaire meets the ghostly Iolanthe, who has been haunting said castle for six hundred plus years, along with hoards of other Highland spirits. To appreciate this story, the reader must suspend disbelief to a high degree, but the payoff is worth it.
Enemies at first, Thomas and Iolanthe soon fall in love. Thomas returns to his own time to acquire the language and warrior skills he needs to succeed in a medieval setting and to use the time portals that are the secrets of the keep to save Iolanthe. When he brings her forward into his time, they must face new problems, not the least of which is that Iolanthe cannot remember him.
I’m not a big fan of time-travel romance, but Kurland handles this one with such a rare combination of humor, intensity, and magic that it is a favorite.
Are you a fan of ghost stories? Of ghostly lovers? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.