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Possessions
     

Possessions

by Judith RICHARDSON
 

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The cultural landscape of the Hudson River Valley is crowded with ghosts--the ghosts of Native Americans and Dutch colonists, of Revolutionary War soldiers and spies, of presidents, slaves, priests, and laborers. Possessions asks why this region just outside New York City became the locus for so many ghostly tales, and shows how these hauntings came to

Overview

The cultural landscape of the Hudson River Valley is crowded with ghosts--the ghosts of Native Americans and Dutch colonists, of Revolutionary War soldiers and spies, of presidents, slaves, priests, and laborers. Possessions asks why this region just outside New York City became the locus for so many ghostly tales, and shows how these hauntings came to operate as a peculiar type of social memory whereby things lost, forgotten, or marginalized returned to claim possession of imaginations and territories. Reading Washington Irving's stories along with a diverse array of narratives from local folklore and regional writings, Judith Richardson explores the causes and consequences of Hudson Valley hauntings to reveal how ghosts both evolve from specific historical contexts and are conjured to serve the present needs of those they haunt. These tales of haunting, Richardson argues, are no mere echoes of the past but function in an ongoing, contentious politics of place. Through its tight geographical focus, Possessions illuminates problems of belonging and possessing that haunt the nation as a whole.



Table of Contents:

Introduction

1. "How Comes theHudson to this Unique Heritage?"
2. Irving's Web
3. The Colorful Career of a Ghost from Leeds
4. Local Characters
5. Possessing High Tor Mountain

Epilogue: Hauntings without End

Notes
Index



Reviews of this book:
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

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

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Why is the Hudson Valley haunted?” Judith Richardson asks in Possessions, a study of “the history and uses of haunting” upstate. Richardson reviews the area’s bloody rebellions and wandering ghost sailors, drawing on county archives, travelogues, letters, and the usual literary sources. She finds that the valley’s ghostly legacy derives, in part, from a fraught history of land ownership, the influence of Dutch and German folklore, and a naturally ominous landscape—as well as from entrepreneurs in the tourism industry. Richardson herself seems a little susceptible to the atmosphere that spooked Ichabod Crane. The “mountains loom and brood,” she writes, and she seeks to explain “how hauntings intersect with cultural history, public memory, economics, and land issues.”

The teen-age ghosts in Stewart O’Nan’s new novel, The Night Country, also profit from native superstition. “This is still a new England, garden-green, veined with black rivers and massacres,” one of them says. The narrators were killed in a Halloween car accident, and, a year later, skittish townspeople are easy marks for their amusement. The dead are bent on revenge, which they get, of course, in an apotheosis of middle-of-the-night adolescent car rides through dark landscapes.

In Sara Gran’s Come Closer, the haunting starts in the office of a young architect, Amanda, who ignores early signs of otherworldly intervention, such as a mysterious tapping in her apartment and the delivery of a book, “Demon Possession Past and Present.” But soon she is witnessing old murders and, alas, committing new ones. Amanda’s detached and witty narration helps us believe, as she says, that “what we think is impossible happens all the time.” -- (Lauren Porcaro)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674042704
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
856 KB

Meet the Author

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

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