Ghostly Images of the Beloved Dead

The Invisible Girl  by Mary Shelley (1832)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   October 15, 2013       Women In Horror Month


October’s Women in Horror wouldn’t be complete without spotlighting Mary Shelley. Today I bring Mary to you as a ghost writer … and something more: a reflection. She wrote over twenty short stories, most of which are forgotten now beneath her Frankenstein fame.



In The Invisible Girl, she writes a story of forbidden love (is there no greater love?). Here you will discover a ruined tower on the bleak seaside between Wales and Ireland. From this tower flows a light. Local stories claim she is the ghost of a maiden who lost her sweetheart and lives within the tower, shining her light over the sea. She is known as the Invisible Girl.


In 1824 Mary Shelley wrote an essay On Ghosts, which are her reflections on the reality versus the unreality of ghosts and is a perfect coordinate reading for this short story. She writes “There is something beyond us of which we are ignorant. The sun drawing up the vaporous air makes a void, and the wind rushes in to fill it—thus beyond our soul’s ken there is an empty space; and our hopes and fears, in gentle gales or terrific whirlwinds, occupy the vacuum; and if it does no more, it bestows on the feeling heart a belief that influences do exist to watch and guard us, though they be impalpable to the coarser faculties.”

What thrilling prose! She asks in this essay, “What is the meaning of this feeling?” I think Mary exhibits the answer in her powerful but subtle ghost story. The Invisible Girl is by no means an ordinary story. The plot presents some questions but the theme is delightfully emblematic. I do so love when the supernatural is mixed with the driving human emotion of love and the psychological depths of grief.

Our protagonist is Henry Vernon, son of the baronet Sir Peter. Henry falls hopelessly I love with the young and sweet Rosina. Sir Peter forbids this marriage and poor Rosina is cursed, cruelly banished to wander the woods with no resources, and surely dies. With this image of his beloved dead, and driven by a frantic horror, Henry goes in search for her body, sailing the coastline to Wales. A threatening storm suddenly hits their small boat in the pitch black night. In the distance, Henry sees a mystic beacon of light shining from the shore assuring their safety. But is it a “fairy” light or is it real? Who burns this light in the deserted ruin by the sea? Is it the ghost of a maiden who lost her sweetheart?

What Henry experiences there in the shades of night, in the sequestered ruin, is the invisible girl.

And … on the feeling heart, a belief that influences do exist.


Invisib leGirlShelley90

On Ghosts is available at The Literary Gothic


Read The Invisible Girl at (5000 words, 30-minute read)



Listen to The Invisible Girl at Librivox


I sure would love to hear your thoughts about Mary’s The Invisible Girl.


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Filed under ghost stories, Ghosts, horror, literature, quiet horror, short stories, tales of terror, Women In Horror

9 responses to “Ghostly Images of the Beloved Dead

  1. Pingback: Our February Ghost, Mary Shelley | Paula Cappa

  2. Pingback: Mary Shelley, Queen of the Gothic Thriller (WIHM) | Paula Cappa

  3. Pingback: Deal Me In Lunar Extra ~ “The Invisible Girl” | The Writerly Reader

  4. Jay, I read Frankenstein so many years ago, but I recall how atmospheric it was and when reading The Invisible Girl, I got something of that same sense. The story really makes one stop and think and I read it several times to fully absorb. Hmmm, The Last Man? I’ve heard the title but not read it.


  5. Tom Jarus sr

    Am I the beloved dead, Paula?


  6. latasha

    I enjoyed this story although up til the end, I thought the girl had suffered a different fate!


  7. Jay

    Hi Paula,

    That really is a great quotation from Shelley. To me, it sounds like she’s advocating the “there are no haunted places, only haunted people” view on ghosts, but then she also leaves room for a true supernatural explanation with her “if it does no more” caveat.

    I’ve only read Shelley’s Frankenstein (multiple times, though), but would like to explore her ghost stories – thanks for providing the links! I also bought a copy of her novel “The Last Man” at a library sale a few years ago. I had never heard of it and it sounded intriguing, but it’s never quite bubbled to the top of my TBR pile. Have you read that one?



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