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“Effy’s Passion for the Mother Who Had Not Loved her was the Supernatural Thing”: Haunting as an expression of attachment in May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor”

Leslie de Bont
p. 57-72


Cet article propose une généalogie de la hantise dans la nouvelle “The Intercessor” (1911) de May Sinclair et explore la manière dont le texte déplace le fantastique de la présence spectrale à l’absence de lien mère-enfant. En effet, l’enfant fantôme, Effy, semble hantée par un trouble irrésolu qui ne prend fin qu’à l’issue d’une scène de confrontation avec la mère négligente. Outre les hypotextes de Kipling, de Lewis et d’Emily Brontë qui viennent hanter le texte de la nouvelle, “The Intercessor” est aussi habitée par les questionnements que Sinclair développe dans ses essais sur la peur et la précognition, sur la mort et la sublimation, ou encore sur le rôle du langage tel que celui-ci est utilisé par les recherches psychologiques du tournant du siècle. C’est surtout dans la représentation de la maternité et dans son anticipation de la théorisation de l’attachement opérée par John Bowlby à partir des années 1950 que l’exploration sinclairienne des liens entre la hantise et la filiation au féminin se distingue.

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May Sinclair
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  • 1 May Sinclair wrote Libido with a capital L. In order to refer to see her understanding of the term (...)

1May Sinclair’s (1863-1946) seminal use of the psychological concept of the stream of consciousness in literary criticism should not overshadow the original way she used the liminal, mysticism, or psychoanalytical theory in her fiction. In the early 1910s, she was a fairly successful novelist, who was engaged in the Suffrage Movement (Raitt, May Sinclair 77; Boll, Miss May Sinclair 61-73), but she was also a psychology scholar. In 1913, she contributed to the foundation of the short-lived, yet ground-breaking Medico-Psychological Clinic in London, along with Dr Jessie Murray and Julia Turner, with whom she developed pioneering psychoanalytical research that included innovative reflections on art-therapy, early translations of Freud and Jung, and publications on the sublimation of the Libido1 (Boll, “Clinic” 312-17; Martindale 177-200; Raitt, “Psychoanalysis” 63-85). Interestingly, feminism and clinical psychology are actually two of the main structuring dynamics of “The Intercessor,” one of May Sinclair’s first ghost stories, which tells the tale of Garvin, “a hunter of old things” (114) who encounters a child ghost that returns to his bedroom several nights in a row. The ghost, named Effy Falshaw, was his lodgers’ first born; she was “left by herself night and day” (170) and had drowned three years before Garvin’s arrival. Full of signs, symbols and symptoms, Effy gradually becomes a spectrality, in the Derridean sense (see Derrida 121). As such, she conveys a new type of epistemology inspired by the case-based research initiated by Freud, which sets Garvin on a psychoanalytical quest. With Garvin, we realise that Effy’s haunting is caused by a strained relation with her neglecting mother. Indeed, the child ghost later revisits several of the key places of her difficult relationship with her mother (the bed, the staircase, and the tank in the garden). As a result, her haunting appears as a peculiar re-enactment of the failed mother-daughter link.

2This paper argues that the emphasis on the child ghost’s need for maternal recognition can be read as an anticipation of John Bowlby’s attachment theory (1958). Effy’s haunting is indeed represented as a logical abreaction, while her attachment to her unloving mother is deemed more problematic, as the text provides a thorough anamnesis of Sarah Falshaw’s personal story, in the manner of Freud’s case narratives. Through a displacement of the supernatural onto a child’s longing for her mother, haunting becomes a tool for a psychological exploration that incorporates the specificities of feminine psychoanalysis to a Gothic aesthetics. The story also triggers a reflection on language, on fear, and on being haunted as a peculiar form of intuitive and affective knowledge; it also sketches other experimentations with early modernist metafiction as the text itself seems haunted by several “hypotexts” (Genette 7-14, my translation), among which Kipling’s “They,” Matthew Gregory Lewis’ The Monk, and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

Haunting Hypotexts and Spectral Intertextuality

  • 2 May Sinclair, The Three Brontës. London: Hutchinson, 1912. Sinclair also wrote introductions to the (...)

3In the early twentieth century, May Sinclair was a renowned Brontë scholar. She was the author of nearly a dozen introductions to the Everyman’s reedition of the sisters’ novels and even published a full-length essay that revisits the three sisters’ lives and works.2 Such scholarly interest was quickly turned into an intertextual influence. In Sinclair’s “The Intercessor,” the Yorkshire setting and remote farmhouse, the arrival of a lodger who finds a date and the initials of the house’s founders, EF, carved above a wooden entrance door (116) and the child ghost are clearly reminiscent of Wuthering Heights, especially since the initials are also those of Effy Falshaw, the child ghost whose presence is anchored within the very walls of the house she haunts. From the outset, the ghost’s haunting is thus clearly related to family history, temporality and narration.

4Interestingly, Effy’s spectrality also has a distinctive spatial dimension as it is constantly associated to “the evil of the house” that “knew no sun, only degrees of twilight, dark and clear” (181-82). But Effy’s presence, as the reader realizes, is not the cause or root of evil and rather is the consequence. Sinclair’s depiction of places and locations is always very unsettling: a later novel, Far End, named after the idealised house that the protagonists shortly inhabit revolves around their affective relation to their dwelling place, which (in the characters’ minds and dreams) threatens to “haunt them for the rest of their lives” (94). The novel, by no means a ghost story, suggests a psychoanalytical rereading of E.M. Forster’s Howards End.

  • 3 There would be much to say about the Falshaw (“false-show”) and their social pretence.

5Intertextuality is omnipresent in Sinclair. The reference to Effy’s favourite tree in the nearby garden, the “ash-tree” will also come to play a central and haunting part in Sinclair’s 1917 war novel, The Tree of Heaven. The name Effy also haunts a later story by Sinclair, “If the Dead Knew” (1923), in which Wilfrid, the protagonist, has to speak to the ghost of his mother in order to be able to marry his fiancé, called Effie. In both stories, the name Effy incarnates, against the characters’ will, the impossibility of future; it also evokes the haunting defeat of language and the overwhelming return of darker forces. More generally, Effy’s presence never fails to transport the text into the realm of the spectral, in which everything (trees, spaces, language and even initials, names, and onomastics)3 becomes full of meaning, signs, symbols, and also symptoms. Sinclair’s text thus does not only explore haunting as a phenomenon; it also focuses on its hermeneutics.

6In “The Intercessor,” a constant play on presence and absence is also used to induce haunting as a spectral motif, with the particular play on the presence and absence of children being the most revealing example. Indeed, Garvin seeks to find peace and quiet in order to write the final version of his historical book on the region and thus specifically mentions that he wishes to have “no children in the house” (115 and 123). However, Mrs Falshaw is pregnant and gives birth to a stillborn baby at the end of Garvin’s stay. In addition, Garvin also cohabits with Onny, Mrs Falshaw’s young adolescent niece, whose undetermined age makes Garvin worry that she may have uttered these child-like cries of terrors. Mrs Falshaw’s pregnancy and Onny’s presence in the house point at the narration’s constant play on words, definitions and borders. Similarly, Effy’s haunting becomes a dense motif that helps uncover traces and infinite ramifications of her own story. As such, “The Intercessor” might also be read as a rewriting of Kipling’s “They,” with a shift from the anonymous plural in Kipling’s story to a detailed anamnesis and medical history in Sinclair’s text. In “The Intercessor,” the haunting child has a full name and a medical record and, despite being called a “it” by several secondary characters, she is referred to as a “she” by Garvin throughout the text, anchoring her existence within the same realm as the other characters. Similarly, all the important figures in her life, her parents, her cousin and even her doctor are asked about her past life so that Garvin can track down, if not restore, her life narrative. By contrast, “they” is the first word of Sinclair’s story, it is capitalized (at least in the first edition) and refers to the anonymous villagers who directed Garvin to the Falshaws.

7Unlike the anonymous crowd of dead children in Kipling’s story, Sinclair’s text seems to rely on the ghost’s materiality and individual difference, if not on its traces and différance (Derrida 95). In Sinclair’s story, Effy’s presence is first made manifest through sounds (130-32) heard from behind a locked door, but haunting is quickly turned into a visual appearance (137) that gradually initiates interaction (139), and eventually indicates hidden meaning. Like the ghost-children in Kipling’s “They,” Effy is not a scary ghost, at least for the protagonist and for the reader. On page 138, Effy is indeed more frightened than she is frightening, and details like “her little naked feet” (145), especially with the play on rhythm and consonants, rather convey childlike playfulness and vulnerability. Symbolically, the only white sheets we encounter are those used to cover, “shrouded like the dead, … a child’s little chair and a child’s cot” (149), thereby reinstating the white sheet symbolism as that of the physicality of death, rather than being reminiscent of the fantasies, fear, and spookiness associated to Victorian representations of ghosts (Davies 19-23). Haunting, without fear as a barrier, is thus constructed as a tell-tale sign that directly indicates that meaning should be uncovered.

  • 4 Mentions of Effy’s “flesh” (for example, p. 139) as means to stress her physical presence are also (...)

8According to Garvin, Effy the ghost is almost a character of “flesh and blood” (146 and 160).4 Yet, her presence is mostly depicted through the emotions that she displays and that the other characters experience in her haunting presence. Indeed, Effy’s haunting first seems to depend on her own emotion and suffering:

There were degrees in the clearness of the primal manifestation; degrees which as he made it out, corresponded to the intensity of the emotion, the suffering behind it. The child’s form gathered and lost substance. At times it was of an extreme tenuity, suggesting nothing tangible. At times it had not only the colour, but the pressure of flesh and blood. (145-46)

9Then, very quickly, Garvin, who seeks to interact with the ghost, becomes aware of Effy’s reaction to his own feelings: The ghost “had parted with its horror from the moment when he perceived that it was responsive to pity and accessible to his succor” (144-45). Even more interestingly, affective interactions occur (e.g. crying [130 and 138] or cuddling [139]) with Garvin himself whose presence seems to comfort the frightened child ghost.

Fear, Language, and Precognition: Becoming the Intercessor

10For all the characters in “The Intercessor,” haunting as a motif is thus deeply rooted into both an individual and a social dimension. In the story, Garvin becomes the intercessor because “he [is] not afraid” of Effy (139 and 155), which has several interesting consequences on his relations with the other characters. He is indeed quickly accepted and considered as a man of value (143). Mrs Falshaw’s reluctance in having a lodger/intruder utterly vanishes, as she specifically calls on “Mr Garvin” and eventually sends for him on several occasions (157, 186, 193). Garvin’s supposed fearlessness is clearly associated to a form of intuitive knowledge. Haunted by his new lodging, and haunted by the ghost’s mystery (rather than by its presence), he has indeed a vision of new characters (169), a man and a woman. While he recognizes the man’s spectral appearance as Mr Falshaw, he only later discovers that the woman actually corresponds to Rhoda, Falshaw’s former mistress, and that he had had an intuitive precognition of the events.

  • 5 See for instance:

11This relation between fearlessness and precognitive knowledge is actually in keeping with several of Sinclair’s theories. In her 1917 philosophical essay, A Defence of Idealism (and in later novels), she describes the experience of WW1 soldiers as a sublimation of fear, an absolute experience that enabled them to reach ultimate consciousness,5 a perspective that is already at stake in her 1911 story:

Things showed solid and distinct. Something seemed to shift in Garvin’s brain with the sudden shifting of his body, and, as he stood there he was aware of something happening before him. He couldn’t say what it was that happened. He only knew that it was bound to happen; it had been foreshadowed by his fear. He knew what that sudden shifting in his brain meant. He had simply gone over the borderland of fear and was in the gripping centre. They were two there, a man and a woman … The terror they evoked surpassed all fear of the intangible … It was monstrous, unintelligible; it lay outside the order of his experience. He seemed, in this shifting of his brain, to have become a creature of vague memory, and appalling possibilities of fear. (162-63. Emphasis mine)

  • 6 Sinclair was also very interested in parapsychology. A friend of Evelyn Underhill and a member of t (...)

12Intense fear, experienced for the first time, works here as an indicator (“foreshadowed by his fear” / “possibilities of fear”) that needs to be overcome and explored. The term “borderland” is also interesting as it is the word that Sinclair uses in her 1917 essay whenever she wants to stress her hesitation regarding parapsychology as an alternative means to know and experience the world (Sinclair, Defence 250, 260, 267 or 287).6 With Garvin as an intercessor, borders between the familiar and the unknown can indeed be crossed so as to explore the issues and deconstruct the haunting process.

13We can thus rephrase one of the opening remarks of the text that introduces Garvin as a hunter, or rather a haunter of old things (114). In the opening scene, Garvin, a historian, is referred to as a skilful hunter of old stories, which he consciously and intuitively tracks down; yet, in the story he does more than publicising old tales and habits: by contrast with the other characters’ uneasy silence and lack of words, he is determined to try and grasp Effy’s story, by relentlessly putting his own words upon it, analysing and trying to understand both the chain of events and its implications. Effy’s haunting presence, along with Garvin’s haunting of Effy’s story, is reminiscent of the importance and power of language and of self-narration, as Garvin even gives words to other characters whose haunting is, by contrast, “vague and imperfect, discovering nothing” (161).

  • 7 Several critics have highlighted the literary quality of Freud’s texts. See Peter Brooks, “Freud’s (...)

14Such emphasis on Garvin’s linguistic abilities does not solely work as a metafictional reminder or as a mere illustration of Sinclair’s interest in the occult. It also harks back to her keen interest in psychoanalysis and in the talking cure, namely in the role played by the patient’s own words and narration in his or her path towards self-analysis, and in the importance of the therapist’s ability to guide, with words, the patient towards breakthroughs and discoveries. Garvin’s fearlessness, his linguistic abilities and his peculiar access to knowledge secure his position as the intercessor between mother and child, between the characters and their experience, and of course between characters and readers in a way that is reminiscent of Freud’s own position in his most famous case histories.7 Indeed, Garvin’s linguistic finesse and persistence are coupled with a peculiar form of empathy, as “he had been made the vehicle of that spirit; he had been possessed, divinely coerced by Effy.” As a result, he has “no doubt that he had shared to some extent the child’s malady” (183). It is thus precisely because Garvin accepts to be haunted by the child, to approach the child’s experience with a form of sublimated fear, that he is capable of haunting her story and of eventually becoming the intercessor.

  • 8 We can note that the adjective primal is used twice (144 and 145) by Sinclair who, given her sound (...)

15In Kipling’s “They,” the narrator’s interest in the children is not precisely worded until the last part of the story. By contrast, Effy’s character is precisely striking because her ghost condition is known and accepted almost right from the start. In addition, Garvin, like Freud with his patients, actively seeks, and eventually manages, to solve the mystery behind what he sees and hears (in his words: to “construct the child’s history” [147]). The supernatural, as the story tells us, lies not so much in Effy’s actual presence as in the characters’ behaviour: “Effy’s passion for the mother who had not loved her was the Supernatural thing” (183). Other examples of “Supernatural thing[s]” could be found in Garvin’s peculiar abilities, but also in the Falshaws’ “evil consciences” (181), which, as the reader gradually understands, also come to designate a whole series of attitudes and events that are condemned by the text (Mrs Falshaw’s selfishness, hypocrisy and neglect, and Mr Falshaw’s powerlessness and cowardice, among others). On one occasion, Effy also witnessed Mr Falshaw’s encounter with his mistress, which Luke Thurston analyses as a Freudian traumatic “primal scene”8 (121). Interestingly, the child ghost thus appears as the victim of her parents’ misdoings and is haunted by their behaviour.

16With Effy as a patient, Garvin’s attempt to help her reconstruct her life-story follows some of the principles of a psychoanalytical cure. One of the central tenets of psychoanalysis, laid out by Freud and Breuer’s in their 1895 Study on Hysteria, is the necessary identification of the event or chain of events that caused the disorder. Garvin’s role as an intercessor thus articulates functions that both belong to priesthood—spiritual guidance, reassurance—and to psychoanalytical therapy (to the extent that he helps Effy put words on taboos and helps Mrs Falshaw face her contradictions and unconscious fears). As a consequence, Effy’s haunting appears as a quest for a constructed narrative in itself. Her return as a ghost is explained by her dependence, inherent to childhood and infancy, and by an unsolved issue related to the events that preceded her death (which the Falshaws tried to silence). What is at stake is the ghost’s trauma and pain, as much as the surviving relatives’ need for an intercessor to help them come to terms with the events. Like Garvin, Effy haunts and is being haunted.

17Coping with loss is a recurring theme in Sinclair’s fiction: mourning work often induces a radical change in the characters, as it is often represented as a supernatural event or ability, especially in her shorter fiction. Johnson underlines that in The Tree of Heaven (1917), “Veronica develops a psychic, telepathic power both taking on the suffering of others … and telepathically healing others” (Johnson, “Mourning” 92), which Garvin may have prefigured. Effy’s spectral presence can thus also be read as both a sign of her mother’s “unresolved mourning” (Johnson, “Mourning” 83) and as an anticipation of Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” (1915), with the mother and the child combining, or rather challenging, both sides of Freud’s distinction.

Haunting Maternity

18The question of who is haunting who in “The Intercessor” is not an easy one. Indeed, Mrs Falshaw is not only haunted by her dead child; she is herself represented, first metaphorically, as a haunting figure not only for Effy, but also for her husband and for Garvin who observes that:

portions of her face and body thus appeared superficially illuminated, while the bulk of her became part of the darkness. Garvin was deeply aware of her face and of her eyes, which were fixed on him with an intolerable hunger. (157)

19As a nearly dislocating pregnant body, she appears as a very ambiguous character whose strangeness might also be perceived as a means of expression or as a mode of being. This is also what the parallel uses of the word “impulse” might suggest: on page 121, the term first describes her tendency to hide in the shade (“the impulse of the pregnant woman to hide herself”), while on page 150, it refers to Garvin’s tendency to make people talk and to research information, suggesting a key difference in character or habit between them. Her “intolerable hunger” for Garvin and for his interceding abilities, as well as for his access to knowledge, clearly associates her to the physical, the immediate and the infra-verbal. It thus stands in sharp contrast with the intercessor’s linguistic, empathetic and precognitive powers.

20Unlike other maternal figures in Sinclair (see Philips and de Bont, “Être femme” 10), Mrs Falshaw’s pregnancy seems a rather debilitating, if not threatening perspective as she is constantly haunted by the possible death of her foetus. This terrifying event eventually happens as the narrator states, rather ambiguously, that “Mrs Falshaw was delivered of a dead child” (191), with the passive voice that tells a bit more than childbirth. The stillborn baby seems to induce extreme maternal behaviour in Sarah Falshaw: she refuses to let it be buried and stays in bed with the corpse (the text says “it” [194] while interestingly Sarah refers to the new baby as “Effy”). In a rather horrifying scene that might echo Agnes’s inability to breastfeed in Lewis’s The Monk, Sarah Falshaw tries to breastfeed her dead child and worries that it “does not want to suck” (195). This short passage contrasts with several earlier and later scenes of breastfeeding in Sinclair. Indeed, even though Sinclair constantly challenges the iconicity of the Madonna and child, The Tysons (78) and Mary Olivier (3-4) clearly represent the physicality and the sensual pleasure induced by breastfeeding in either the infant or the mother.

  • 9 Victorian psychologies do not study attachment, as Jenny Bourne Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth’s Emb (...)

21Through such focus, the story also anticipates John Bowlby’s attachment theory, which was developed in the 1950s. While Freud referred to the “tender current” of the sexual drive (which might have opened the way for Bowlby’s investigations), neither psychoanalysis nor Victorian and pre-Freudian psychologies mention attachment at all.9 Freud’s “object-cathexis” (Freud, “Mourning” 245 and 259) was perhaps slightly closer to contemporary attachment theories, but Bowlby’s focus on the child-caregiver interactions at early ages aimed to depart from psychoanalytical approaches. Instead, Bowlby defined attachment as a crucial and formative bond that serves biological and evolutionary purposes:

The child’s tie to his mother [can be] discussed without any reference to sexual or any other sort of social behaviour. Instead, attachment is presented as a system of behaviour having its own form of internal organisation and serving its own function. (Bowlby, Attachment 229)

22Bowlby added that attachment is characterized by specific behaviours, such as the child’s seeking proximity with the attachment figures when upset or threatened. He also showed that attachment behaviour in adults towards the child includes responding sensitively and appropriately to the child’s needs. In Sinclair’s story, the emphasis on the complex mother-daughter link, through the recurring use of adjectives such as “cruel,” qualifying the mother’s neglect of her child (178-79), clearly suggests that this is where we should search for the reasons of Effy’s haunting. Effy is indeed first seen crying in front of her mother’s closed bedroom door as Garvin observes that “her suffering was somehow connected with the closing of Mrs Falshaw’s door” (147). Haunting is represented as a form of longing for maternal proximity—and then, true to Bowlby’s later theories, for any form of proximity (with other caretaking figures, first Rhoda, and then Garvin). This haunting for contact is presented from the young child’s point of view:

It [Effy] advanced, solicitous, adventurous. It put out its hand and, with a touch that must have fallen light as thistle-down, it stroked its mother’s face. Mrs Falshaw shrank slightly and put up her hands to ward it off, and the child slid back again. Garvin cried out. “Don’t send her away—don’t, for God’s sake, send her away.” (190)

23The adjective “solicitous” as well as the threatening hand, which evokes the hand of a killer, are actually used to introduce her need for cuddling and stroking and not for being cuddled or stroked. Here, Effy appears to actively engage in the contact, as if she were simultaneously the reassuring mother and the child needing reassurance. The child ghost is no longer haunted by her mother’s neglect and the following paragraph lifts the ambiguity:

Garvin saw the child approach again fearlessly. It smiled, as with an unearthly pity and comprehension … The look was superhuman. Urged by the persistence of its passion, the child hovered for a moment, divinely coercing, divinely caressing; its touch fell on its mother’s hair, now on her cheeks, now on her lips, and lingered there. And then the woman writhed and flung herself backwards in her chair away from it. Her face was convulsed with a hideous agony of fear. … That night Mrs Falshaw was delivered of a dead child. (190-91)

24Effy’s vengeful presence is made perceptible through her gestures and through the term “coercing.” In addition, her power (“superhuman”), and, more importantly, her effect on her mother (“writhed, convulsed with agony” etc.) and on the possible death of her sibling are rather horrific.

  • 10 Bowlby notes that “both Sigmund and Anna Freud employ the term ‘attachment’” (Bowlby, Attachment 22 (...)
  • 11 See for instance Sinclair’s “The Way of Sublimation” (1915), “Clinical Lecture on Symbolism and Sub (...)
  • 12 Laurel Forster uses the expressions “psychic fiction” and “science fiction of the mind” to explain (...)

25Like the psychologists and psychoanalysts of her time,10 May Sinclair hardly ever used the term “attachment” (Johnson, “Unresolved Mourning” 86). However, she published rather extensively on C. G. Jung’s theory of individuation through one’s appropriation of the symbolic forces at stake in the fantasy of a return to the mother.11 In her psychoanalytical papers, she described the conflict between child and mother that arises from the child’s need to construct an independent relation to his/her mother. And in “The Way of Sublimation” (1915), she claimed that “the child must win this conflict or remain forever immature” (39). The story offers an interesting variation as Effy must return from the tank she drowned in so as to confront her mother and reach (post-mortem) individuation, namely to find peace and disappear. Because many of the dynamics of the attachment process are sketched in “The Intercessor,” Sinclair appears not as a science-fiction writer, but, as Laurel Forster argues, as a psychic-fiction novelist12 who anticipated and prolonged the psychological research of her time through supernatural scenarios based on her own projections. Effy’s return to the mother also suggests something of the specificity of the mother-daughter relation that also echoes another of C. G. Jung’s theory, first described in his 1912 Psychology of the Unconscious—the Elektra complex, a female version of Oedipus and a secondary concept in Sinclair’s time as well as ours (Jung, “Unconscious” 69-70; Jung, Theory 240 and Freud, On Sexuality 375). The haunting return of the little girl looking for her mother is a typically feminine situation, whose careful depictions are some of the main driving forces in Sinclair’s fiction.

- - - - -

26“The Intercessor” clearly adopts the point of view of Garvin and, perhaps less clearly, that of Effy; however, it remains a particularly dense and ambiguous text that fully explores the polysemy of the word “haunting,” which becomes a motif and a vehicle for further explorations into the spatial, the linguistic, the unconscious and the affective. In the story, haunting contains infinite ramifications and thus calls for interceding powers that help deconstructing and reconstructing the child ghost’s story. Such reconstruction relies on a careful reconsideration of both the maternal experience and the mother-daughter relation. The emphasis on a child’s point of view, made manifest through the sensuality of breastfeeding or through the difficulty of being separated from the mother’s body, sheds light on central issues in many of Sinclair’s longer texts—issues that will not be examined by psychology until at least a decade following their publication. Sinclair uses horror and the supernatural, and haunting in particular, as an aesthetic and exploratory tool that enables her to raise the unexplored and specific questions of motherhood and of the female experience.

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Kunka, Andrew and Michele Troy, eds. May Sinclair: Moving Towards the Modern. Farnham: Ashgate, 2006. Print.

Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. 1796. London: Penguin Classics, 2012. Print.

Marcus, Steven. “Freud and Dora: Story, History, Case History.” Representations. New York: Random House, 1975. Print.

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1 May Sinclair wrote Libido with a capital L. In order to refer to see her understanding of the term and make a clear distinction with Freud’s and Jung’s concepts, her own typography is used here.

2 May Sinclair, The Three Brontës. London: Hutchinson, 1912. Sinclair also wrote introductions to the reeditions of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Shirley, Villette, The Professor, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

3 There would be much to say about the Falshaw (“false-show”) and their social pretence.

4 Mentions of Effy’s “flesh” (for example, p. 139) as means to stress her physical presence are also scattered throughout the text.

5 See for instance:

Heroes know them: ... moments when things that we have seen all our lives without truly seeing them, the flowers in the garden, the trees in the field ... change to us in an instant of time, and show the secret and imperishable life they harbour; moments of danger that are sure and perfect happiness, because then the adorable Reality gives itself to our very sight and touch. (379)

6 Sinclair was also very interested in parapsychology. A friend of Evelyn Underhill and a member of the Society for Psychical Research, she wrote a lot about telepathy, post-mortem communication, and pre-cognition in both her essays and her fiction.

7 Several critics have highlighted the literary quality of Freud’s texts. See Peter Brooks, “Freud’s Masterplot” and “Fictions of the Wolf Man,” Reading for the Plot (1984); Michel de Certeau, “The Freudian Novel: History and Literature” (1981) and Histoire et psychanalyse : entre science et fiction (1987); Dorrit Cohn, The Distinction of Fiction (2000); Steven Marcus, “Freud and Dora: Story, History, Case History,” Representations (1975). Sinclair’s interest in Freudian figures and methodology has also been documented, see for instance de Bont.

8 We can note that the adjective primal is used twice (144 and 145) by Sinclair who, given her sound background in psychoanalysis and her specific focus on Freud’s case narratives, was probably familiar with Freud’s concepts of the Urszene (primal scene) and Nachträgligkeit (afterwardness), according to which: “a memory is repressed which has only become a trauma after the event [nachträglich]” (Freud, “Project” 435).

9 Victorian psychologies do not study attachment, as Jenny Bourne Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth’s Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts (1830-1890) shows. If Bowlby’s formulation is clearly indebted to Freud, his approach is innovative in that it does not refer to psychoanalytical concepts: “my object appeared a limited one, namely, to discuss the theoretical implications of some observations of how young children respond to temporary loss of mother … My furrows had been started from a corner diametrically opposite to the one at which Freud had entered” (Bowlby, Attachment xxvi). Bowlby’s work thus paved the way for the elaboration of developmental psychology as an independent sub-discipline that focuses on the earliest stages of individual life.

10 Bowlby notes that “both Sigmund and Anna Freud employ the term ‘attachment’” (Bowlby, Attachment 228) but that their understanding of the term is deeply influenced by their Freudian psychoanalytical approach and thus refers to a different concept.

11 See for instance Sinclair’s “The Way of Sublimation” (1915), “Clinical Lecture on Symbolism and Sublimation I and II” (1916) and “Psychological Types.”

12 Laurel Forster uses the expressions “psychic fiction” and “science fiction of the mind” to explain Sinclair’s exploratory interest into psychical research (186).

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Leslie de Bont, « “Effy’s Passion for the Mother Who Had Not Loved her was the Supernatural Thing”: Haunting as an expression of attachment in May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor” »Journal of the Short Story in English, 70 | 2018, 57-72.

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Leslie de Bont, « “Effy’s Passion for the Mother Who Had Not Loved her was the Supernatural Thing”: Haunting as an expression of attachment in May Sinclair’s “The Intercessor” »Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 70 | Spring 2018, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2020, consulté le 23 janvier 2021. URL :

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Leslie de Bont

Leslie de Bont is a professeure agrégée who teaches English at the faculty of psychology in the University of Nantes, France. Her PhD thesis investigated May Sinclair’s dialogic approach to fiction and non-fiction through an examination of the influence of Freud’s case narratives on Sinclair’s novels. She has given talks and published articles about May Sinclair and is a member of the May Sinclair Society.

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