The Spectre Girl

Death it is i who makes you serious let us embrace each other plate 20 1896 jpg HalfHD

Tim Prasil recently passed me a story called “The Spectre Girl” from the May 18, 1833 edition of The Dublin Weekly Journal; it had come to him because it was allegedly an occult detective story. It’s not, at all — but it is an interesting variation on the White Lady folktale.

The White Lady is a mysterious woman in white often spotted near roadways. She tends to be the ghost of a woman who died a tragic death, sometimes murder, sometimes suicide. Many white ladies (like this one) are also variations of the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend; though phantom hitchhikers in general aren’t always in white, or even always female. La Llorona, who drowned her children, then killed herself in remorse, is another white lady variation.

This particular white lady is unusual, in that she is a frequent (though not liked) customer of the regular stagecoach service:

“Here’s a young lady,” said the conductor, “who will not take up much room;” and a small figure in white appeared upon the steps. “She will not trouble you much, for she is deaf and dumb. I know her, and have already taken her to Lyons. The devil be with her!” said he, in an under tone; “she has always brought me bad luck…”

Though they behave as if she is an ordinary (that is, living) person, the locals have nicknamed this mysterious girl the “little dead woman,” and there are definite hints that she is indeed dead: her skeletal appearance, the unaccountable chill in the stagecoach after she enters. What’s she up to? Where is she going? The author never spells it out definitively, but the outcome is telegraphed quite strongly. Anyone who reads ghost stories can guess what’s going to happen.

But that’s the nature of a classic urban legend or campfire horror story, isn’t it? The tale is a translation of La Fille Spectre, originally published anonymously in the 1833 French collection Le Salmigondis: Contes De Toutes Les Couleurs, or Hodgepodge: Tales of All Colors. The term contes is often used to refer to fairy tales (contes de fées) or other folktales that were traditionally transmitted orally, but published in a more polished literary form.

A little digging around revealed the tale’s author: Agathe-Pauline Caylac de Ceylan, comtesse de Bradi (1782-1847), who was known for her historical novels, set in Corsica. She was an admirer of Walter Scott — hence her regional historical novels — so it’s not surprising that she would write a few folktale-influenced stories, too.

You can read “The Spectre Girl” at Google Books.

The image above is La Mort: C’est moi qui te rends sérieuse; enlaçons-nous (Death: It is I who makes you serious; let us embrace) by Odilon Redon, 1896. Sourced from WikiPaintings.

8 thoughts on “The Spectre Girl

  1. Since you mentioned “The Twilight Zone” in a recent post, you might want to view “The Hitch-hiker” episode of the series from about 1960. It fits in well with this essay.

    1. That’s the one about the woman who had the car accident, right? Yeah, that one’s almost a “reverse white lady” — but definitely fits the theme of hitchhikers who are bad luck to come across…

  2. Really enjoyed this spooky little tale. I liked the way the occupants of the diligence begin to feel skittish and uneasy at the arrival of ‘that cursed little dead woman.’ The way her presence signals a shift in atmosphere, subtle things like the air inside being cooler than the air outside. Her dreadful silent laughter, ‘She seemed like death laughing in our faces,’ is a pretty hair raising image!
    Also, like a lot of ghost stories it’s part cautionary tale isn’t it? Poor little Ursula finally getting revenge upon the man who was so careless with her heart..
    Cheers for another great post!!

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, she does change the mood in the diligence quite strongly (and apparently does, every time she rides it). Spooky, isn’t it, to think of her riding the stagecoach again and again, waiting for the man who did her wrong. Such patience….

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