Lucinda Elliot

Re-reading ‘A Phantom Lover’ (or ‘Oke of Okehurst’ by Vernon Lee



This is a striking image,but unfortunately, the artist has failed to give the male character sufficiently seventeenth century looking clothes.

This is actually the third time I’ve read this, which has to be a compliment to the author. A fellow writer mentioned it not long ago, and the whole concept of a woman being infatuated with a ghost, and that made me eager to re-read it.

I first read it in my early teens and then again as part of Angela Carter’s book of ‘Wayward Girls and Wicked Women’.

I couldn’t remember the title or the author when I recalled it as as an intriugingly pshychological take on a story of a ghost lover, but I did remember that the anthology where I re-read it had the name ‘Wicked Women’ in it, and I traced it via that and its contents, which lists it as ‘Oke of Okeurst’.

‘For Mrs. Oke, who seemed the most self-absorbed of creatures in all other matters, and utterly incapable of understanding or sympathizing with the feelings of other persons, entered completely and passionately into the feelings of this woman, this Alice, who, at some moments, seemed to be not another woman, but herself”.
I remembered that I disliked the self-obsessed, unfeeling heroine intensely the first time I read it, and disliked her ina more objective way the second time I read it.

This time, I still disliked her. In fact, I  was dismayed to find that this is the second book I have read recently where I sided with the man against the woman, breaking my usual pattern of taking the woman’s part, the other being ‘Frenchman’s Creek’. Intriguingly,the husband in both is a stereotypical English squire, fair, handsome and hearty, whom the heroine finds incapable of fulfilling her romantic dreams.

Of course, in this story, the insanely self centred nature of the heroine is a necessary component of the plot.

As before, I thought that the narrator should have acted far earlier to try and diffuse the situation rather than exacerbating it. His excuses ring hollow; perhaps the author intended that. His role in bringing about the final tragedy is presumably a part of the plot too, however.

The whole story can be interepreted as psychological take on a haunting, if it wasn’t for the last sentence. The strand of hair from Lovelock (appropriately named: some pun by the author, I suppose)found by the narrator in the locket at the end is presumably an apport.

Overall, I thought it was atmospheric and cleverly done and the writing was strong. It is particulalry clever the way that the author holds the reader’s interest, when in my opinion, there is only one vaguely sympathetic character in the story, the unfortunate, hearty, handsome, conventional husband.  As is so often the case with Victorian writers, I found the sentences a bit too long: some go on for a whole lengthy paragraph

.I suppose the part of Kent the author describes, flat and monotonous, must be another bit from the beautiful wooded part I travelled through when I visited Deal. 

I was taken aback to find a university site (I won’t say which, or which country, save it wasn’t the UK) which has an interesting article on this story, and of Vernon Lee’s influence, but  which actually speaks of Jane Austen’s late Georgian and Regency UK  as if the  social conditions were close to the late Victorian time in which this story is set.

Of course, Jane Austen wrote in the early nineteenth century, before the Industrial Revolution. Vernon Lee wrote during the late nineteenth century in a vastly changed world. The only resemblance is that they are both set in the strata of society which included the rural country squire.



Leave a Reply