Research into ‘ghost children’ at Oxford Brookes

Monday, 30 October 2017

Ghostly scene

As Halloween falls tomorrow (Tuesday 31 October), it would be appropriate to share some of the “ghostly” research that is being carried out at Oxford Brookes.

Dr Tatiana Kontou, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Modern Languages has been conducting research into fascinations with death and the figure of ghost children in literature. 

The presentation of ghost children in novels, short stories, poems and film has been considered a dramatic and haunting symbol of the loss of childhood, innocence and future potential.

Dr Kontou’s research explores how writers of the Victorian era and early 20th century often tended not to portray the death of a child as final. Instead, spirit children hover between the distinction of life and death, depicting lost children as elusive and ever present. Children being connected to earth after death is relayed through apparitions or often through cherished possessions such as photographs, clothes, locks of hair or toys, that has has particular emotions or memories spiritually attached to them.

Her research focuses on the ghost children of Victorian short stories, spirit children at the end of the 19th century and the imagined child of childless couples in modernist fiction, where Dr Kontou will study authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Henry James and James Joyce amongst others.

Dr Kontou has previously explored the culture of death in the 19th century and the importance of spirit and post-mortem photographs in relation to Lewis Carroll’s photographs of sleeping children which was delivered as a keynote at the University of Sussex’s ‘Sights and Frights’ conference in 2014.

Dr Kontou is one of the recipients of the Research Excellence Award 2017/18, part of Oxford Brookes’ commitment to supporting research-active academics and in supporting the aims of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-2020. She is using the funding to help achieve the publication of a major study entitled 'The Lost and Returned Child: 1850-1940'.

REA 2017