Female Ghosts and Crime Fiction in American Literature

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
ALA Symposium Criminal America
contact email: 

The Female Ghost and Crime Fiction

Panel Proposal: ALA Symposium Criminal America March 2017

This panel seeks to explore the oft-ignored association between the supernatural and crime fiction in female authored ghost stories in American literature.  As we know, and as a general rule, crime fiction sets to solve a crime and punish behavior that is often perceived as unnatural or deviant. For women, the ghost story provided them an ideal forum in which to demonstrate their own susceptibility to “criminal activity” as seen in a very real male dominated society. For female authors, the ghost story provided a template for understanding and challenging how behaviors regarded as socially deviant may be perceived as unnatural, criminal even, – how the unusual is discursively transfigured into the supernatural, and how transformations of this kind consistently depend on who has power and authority to judge behaviors as normal or abnormal, and upon when and where this power is exercised.

In some instances, female authored ghost stories demonstrate how the rules and codifications that monitor human behavior are thrown out the widow and what we are left with is a spectral courtroom where the female ghost is judge and jury.  Only outside the materialistic world that prevent women from challenging expectation do the female ghosts award themselves a voice in the process of transgressing boundaries, those boundaries that were already crossed in the first place; the afterworld for male characters can indeed be quite frightening and only within the paradoxical fictional world of reality, can ghosts operate freely, and even with vengeance. In fact, female authored crime fiction influenced by spectral visitors extends the epistemological and ontological points completely, expanding the range of plausible theories and ideas, and granting women agency in a very rational world operated and controlled by the very unknown it wishes to punish.  The crime itself is even suspect.

The following questions are just a few that will be explored in this 4-person panel:

  • How can women achieve agency through a type of “spectral reality” that was often regarded as mere lunacy by much of society?
  • Can marriage be seen as a postcolonial entity where women have been colonized and thus the only way out is through the back door of spectral escape? Is marriage, then, a different kind of crime fiction? Would postcolonial literature reflect white colonist colonizing white woman? Does this make marriage an imperialistic endeavor?
  • How does the New Woman haunt the text? Is she, perhaps, a guardian “angel” against future crimes toward woman?
  • How is the role of women in female crime fiction established in a different kind of “spectral space”?
  • Does what was regarded as “pure lunacy” in crime fiction, now have a very real and supernatural presence? Does this change the outcome of the crime?
  • Is there a concurrent metatextual concern in crime fiction resonating with female ghosts that generic purity in females is unattainable; that the supposedly rational genre in which the supposedly rational detective or protagonist feels at home is everywhere contaminated by the supernatural? 
  • In what ways has the female ghost story helped expand the notion of what is meant by crime fiction?
  • How do we recognize punishment by the undead? What do we make of female psychic sleuths?
  • How are readers made to suspend disbelief as they are caught between two belief systems, one rational and the other irrational suspended somewhere between pragmatic understanding and spiritual acknowledgment?
  • How do we redefine crime fiction when the ghosts seem to lead the investigation?