|Illustration by G. Dutriac in Dimanche Illustré (18 November 1928)
This episode, we return to a different incarnation of Goresthorpe Grange in ‘Selecting A Ghost’ from December 1883.
You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Selecting_a_Ghost
Or listen to the podcast below:
The episode will be released on our YouTube channel in the next
few hours, with closed captions shortly after.
After making his fortune in the grocery business, Argentine D’Odd
has developed a raft of social pretension and acquired property and ancestry to
match. He now lives in a moated Mediaeval castle, with his own coat of arms and
a carefully chosen gallery of instant ancestor portraits. All his new and venerable
home lacks is a resident ghost, and now his wife’s resourceful cousin, Jack
Brocket, has met a man in a pub who can remedy that defect…
Writing and publication history
|Charles Doyle illustration from
Friendly Hands and Kind Words
Hogg had also published illustrations by Conan Doyle’s father,
Charles Altamont Doyle, including that featured here, which is taken from Friendly
Hands and Kindly Words: Stories Illustrative of the Law of Kindness, the Power
of Perseverance, and the Advantages of Little Helps (1862).
Between 1880-1885, London Society printed eleven of Conan
Doyle’s stories, from ‘The American’s Tale’ to ‘The Parson of Jackman’s Gulch’.
In March 1882, Hogg described Conan Doyle as “one of the coming men in
‘Selecting a Ghost’ was written in Summer 1883, as is evidence by a
letter from Conan Doyle to his mother in which he described a disagreement with
Hogg over advanced payment for a short story about a three -eyed man which
appears never to have been completed.
The story was first published in London Society in December
1883, and in the New York Times in the USA that same month.
Conan Doyle and Hogg eventually fell out. After the story appeared
in Dreamlands and Ghostland (1887), it reappeared in Mysteries and
Adventures, an unendorsed collection of Conan Doyle’s early fiction for London
Society, edited by Hogg, in 1889. Conan Doyle was incensed and referred to
it as a “pirated edition.”
The story was published variously as ‘Selecting a Ghost: The
Ghosts of Goresthorpe Grange’, ‘The Ghosts of Goresthorpe Grange’, ‘The Secret
of Goresthorpe Grange’ and ‘The Secret of the Grange’ so tracing it can become
quite difficult at times. Conan Doyle never anthologised it.
|The reception hall at Undershaw
with crests in the window on the left
Conan Doyle’s mother was greatly interested in her family line, which
she traced to the Percy’s and the Plantagenets. Conan Doyle refers to this in Memories
and Adventures and mildly teases his mother in The Stark Munro Letters
(1895). In Memories and Adventures, Conan Doyle drew his family line
back to the D’Oils (similar formulation to D’Odd) and the Staffordshire Doyles,
rather than the Irish cadet branch.
Conan Doyle’s own crest featured the Doyle and the Foleys. He
included it in the large south-facing window in Undershaw, the purpose-built home
which the family occupied 1897-1907. It also appears on the Paget oil painting
of Conan Doyle, completed 1897-98, although the crest was affixed later.
On 10 December 1951, Adrian Conan Doyle was granted a coat of arms
by the Chief Herald of Ireland. It features the quartering of crests for Doyle,
Foley, Pack and Percy You can see the application and record online at the National
Library of Ireland. https://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000870728
(images 185 and 186).
Procuring a ghost
|The BBC's Rentaghost
D’Odd’s wife’s cousin, the shady and often inebriated Jack
Brocket, seeks a ghost-dealer in his capacious index of tradesmen, which is
somewhat reminiscent of that of Sherlock Holmes. The index reveals no-one
suitable, but he meets a man down the Lame Dog who can help. Mr Abrahams, the
cockney tradesman, is a Dickensian working-class caricature who talks in a
thick accent and puffs a Trichinopoly cigar.
The whole prospect of auditioning a ghost is reminiscent of the
BBC children’s series, Rentaghost (1976-84), in which the recently
deceased Fred Mumford opens up a talent agency for ghost offering bespoke
hauntings. Coincidentally, Mumford is originally from Southsea…
After Brocket discounts spiritualists as being the route to a
ghost, he sources Abrahams and it is here that Conan Doyle start’s mildly teasing
the rituals of contacting the dead. He points out ludicrous rules, such as when
a ghost can best be seen, and the private knowledge of those in touch with
The actual ritual is rather more akin to occultism that
spiritualism, with the use of the chalk circle, potions, and an unintelligible
invocation. The descriptions are rather more suggestive of the literature Conan
Doyle (and D’Odd) was familiar with than of any systematic knowledge of
Conan Doyle never anthologised ‘Selecting a Ghost’, perhaps
because of its rather less than favourable take on spiritualism. The story was
written before Conan Doyle had joined the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific
Society (November 1883) where he met Major A. W. Drayson who provided a more
structured schooling in theosophy and spiritualism.
The parade of ghosts
|From Scott's 'The Tapestried Chamber'
The first is a Bulwer-Lytton-inspired spirit, reminiscent of the
ghosts in ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ (1859) which we discussed in Episode
45. The “I kill dogs” is a specific reference to that story in which the
ghost-hunter’s dog is murdered.
The cackling old crone ghost is taken from Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The
Tapestried Chamber’ (1829). There are echoes in J. Sheridan LeFanu’s ‘Madam
Crowl’s Ghost’ (1870).
A generic cavalier follows. This popular form of ghost would
feature a year later in an article in the Journal of the Society for
Psychical Research (January 1885) by Frederick Myers.
The Dickens ghost is most likely taken from ‘To be Taken with a Grain
of Salt’ (1865). The hideous laughter is reminiscent of ‘A Madman’s Manuscript’
The pirate captain makes allusions to the legends of Captain Kidd
and Blackbeard which also influenced Conan Doyle’s Captain Sharkey tales (as
discussed in Episode
The most terrifying ghost is the “American blood-curdler”, which is
ascribed to Edgar Allan Poe. Poe did not write conventional ghost stories,
favouring spectral figures such as Lady Madeline in ‘The Fall of the House of
Usher’ or Ligeia in the story of the same name.
Comic ghost stories
|Sherlock Holmes as he appears in
The Pursuit of the House-boat when
serialised in Harper's Weekly (1897)
By the 1880s, the ghost story genre was well established and being
pastiched. Mark Twain’s ‘A Ghost Story’ (1875) is a notable example, although
there are numerous other stories that preceded it.
Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost (1887) would appear
four years after this story. It references the Society for Psychical Research, Myers
and Podmore and has a similarly anti-commercial slant.
J. Kendrick Bangs was famed for his comic takes on the genre, ‘The
Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall’ (1894) being a successful example. He wrote a
collection entitled The House-boat on the Sticks (1896) and a sequel, The
Pursuit of the House-boat (1897). The latter features the spirit of Sherlock
Conan Doyle’s friend Jerome K Jerome successfully pastiched the telling
of Christmas ghost stories in Told after Supper (1891), which is a delightful
We didn’t get to cover this in the podcast, but the story has been
Куплю Привидение (Buy a Ghost) is a Russian TV cartoon that aired
in 1992. It is essentially the same, but goes in quite a different direction
half-way through: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTeW2JnK0_Y
The Ghost Purchaser (2018), directed by Ross Foad, is a
short adaptation that is pretty faithful to the story. You can find it here,
alongside other adaptations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNrnCew1SCc.
‘Selecting a Ghost’ starts at 46:00.
Next time on Doings of Doyle
2023 was an eventful year for Conan Doyle scholarship. We take a
look at some of the highlights and look forward to 2024.
Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle
Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the
encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.
Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com).
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/