This article examines John Henry Pepper’s spectacularly successful 1862 adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Christmas tale, "The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain", at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London. Beginning with an analysis of the ways in which Dickens’s tale encourages readers to interrogate the epistemological bases of memory and perception, I track Pepper’s translation of the text into a popular theatrical event designed to exploit the recollective powers of an increasingly visually literate mid-nineteenth-century audience. Dickens’s and Pepper’s shared preoccupation with memory and illusion, as well as with the psychological processes that were thought to induce spectral visions, resulted in a performance that challenged viewers’ notions of agency and consciousness. A seminal chapter in the archaeology of cinema, the creation of “Pepper’s Ghost” brought popular literature into conversation with Victorian discourses as diverse as psychology, the paranormal, optics, and drama.
- visual culture
- literary history