The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
"Eveline's Visitant: A Ghost Story" (1862)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“Eveline’s Visitant: A Ghost Story” was written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and first appeared in Ralph the Bailiff and Other Stories (1862). Braddon (1835-1915) was a successful commercial writer who is best-known for her sensation novels. “Eveline’s Visitant” is a story of cruel revenge, and if it is not a conte cruel (see: “The Torture of Hope”) it is still unkind.
In the time of Philip of Orleans, Hector, the narrator of “Eveline’s Visitant,” is a rough soldier of poor attainments who is beguiled by a woman, one of many “beautiful vipers in those days,”1 into quarreling with his first cousin André de Brissac. André is a handsome man, “the favourite of Fortune, the favourite of women,”2 but he has done Hector a wrong, and during the argument Hector strikes him, scarring his “fair womanish face.”3 This leads to a fight in which Hector mortally wounds André. Before André dies, however, he lays a curse on Hector, that “I will come to you when your life seems brightest. I will come to you and all that you hold fairest and dearest. My ghostly hand shall drop a poison in your cup of joy...it is my will to haunt you when I am dead.”4 André’s death makes Hector a rich man, and he goes to live in his newly acquired château at Puy Verdun. But all the peasants of the local village avoid him, and he lives a dour, unhappy life alone. Eventually he decides to return to Paris, and it is there that he meets Eveline Duchalet, a sweet young innocent who falls in love with him. He reciprocates, and they marry and return to Puy Verdun. They are happy for three months, until she begins seeing, during her daily walks around the park and woods of the estate, a man looking at her. He is handsome and dressed in an old-fashioned manner, and he has a scar on his face. He visits Eveline every day, and she begins to waste away, physically and then emotionally. Hector never sees the man, but Eveline always does, and the man appears to her even in Switzerland, where Hector brings her to escape. Eventually Eveline dies, though not before confessing to Hector that the man’s visits changed her, took away the joys that she felt until she felt “no pleasure save in the sight of that pale face with the red brand upon it.”5 When she dies, “at the very last she told me, sobbing and affrighted, that he was by her side.”6
“Eveline’s Visitant” is not frightening, but it was likely not meant to be. It works, and works quite well, as a straightforward ghostly revenge story. Braddon’s style, with its plausible emotions, ordinary narration enlightened by some nice visual images, and lack of histrionics, works well in making the story memorable, even unsettling. But there is the question of moral balance. Eveline was innocent, and André victimized her far more than he did Hector. Of course, this moral imbalance is not only a part of the conte cruel, it is a recurring theme in a certain type of Victorian ghost story, as in “Man-Size in Marble.”
Print: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, The Cold Embrace and Other Ghost Stories. Ashcroft, BC: Ash-Tree Press, 2012.
1 M.E. Braddon, “Eveline’s Visitant: A Ghost Story,” Ralph the Bailiff and Other Stories (London: S. Blackett, 1890), 308.
2 Braddon, “Eveline’s Visitant,” 309.
3 Braddon, “Eveline’s Visitant,” 308.
4 Braddon, “Eveline’s Visitant,” 309.
5 Braddon, “Eveline’s Visitant,” 316.
6 Braddon, “Eveline’s Visitant,” 316.