Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley


Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
5.26 X 7.88 X 0.86 inches | 0.81 pounds

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About the Author

Judith Richardson is Assistant Professor in the English Department at Stanford University.


Possessions is a rare and brilliant book that seamlessly combines history and literature--revealing how richly they can support one another. It is a great pleasure to read: both fluent and profound.--Alan Taylor, author of American Colonies and William Cooper's Town
This is a lively, well-written, and engaging interdisciplinary study. Richardson pursues two main goals: probing in considerable detail a body of early national folklore and its modern revivals and testing some more general notions about the uses to which such lore is put in the periods when it is recovered, reshaped, and reinvigorated. It is smart without being condescending, locally inflected without exhibiting the least bit of piety--and, I think, quite suggestive for scholars looking at other domains far beyond the Hudson Valley. She gives us a way of understanding how the 'local' has figured in the cultural construction of Americanness.--Wayne Franklin, author of Discoverers, Explorers, Settlers and The New World of James Fenimore Cooper
This book offers a cohesive interdisciplinary project that enhances our appreciation of regionalism, folklore, local history, and the transforming uses of cultural memory in response to demographic as well as industrial change... The texture of this book varies nicely because between the author's in-depth studies of Irving and Anderson there is a considerable amount of social history and analysis of less familiar writers and publications... Her research in primary and secondary sources could not be more thorough, and the writing is always clear, even memorable on occasion.--Michael Kammen "American Historical Review" (6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM)
Straddling history, literature, and folklore, [Richardson] excavates the layers, contradictions, and misty gaps in an archive of spectral traces where more is (hauntingly) lost than revealed. Possessions is an unsentimental and moving book about loss. It is also implicitly a reflection upon the loss of 'the local' itself under the pressures of economic development, even while it works against that story line, to reveal how past and present continue to meet (somewhere between memory and knowledge) in 'place.' With a kind of hard-edged pathos then, Possessions opens a door not only onto a regional New York archive but also onto what it might mean to be somewhere, to situate and to find oneself in one's own haunted place.--Laura Rigal "Common-place" (4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM)
[An] informative, cleanly written, and admirably documented book.--John McWilliams "Early American Literature"
This creatively argued and intelligent book examines the phenomenon of hauntings in a particular place over more than a century. The author's premise is that hauntings are a response to social and cultural developments, especially rapid change that destabilizes communities and creates social and economic divisions... Well-researched and gracefully written, Possessions is a sophisticated investigation of the history and uses of hauntings in the modern world.--David Schuyler "New York History"
The author traces changing versions of several ghostly tales that mutated over time to reflect local conditions and controversies as well as national political issues like abolitionism. Richardson shows that, thanks to the Hudson Valley's long history of settlement, the 'legendizing impetus' created by Washington Irving, and the area's established position as a tourist destination, it inspired at least three sometimes overlapping traditions of hauntings: the 'aboriginal' Dutch and Indian hauntings, the Revolutionary War hauntings, and industrial hauntings, which are traced in Maxwell Anderson's High Tor (1937) and T. Coraghessan Boyle's World's End (1987).--J. J. Benardete "Choice" (3/1/2004 12:00:00 AM)