The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

"Self-Haunted" (1900)   

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

Self-Haunted” was written by E.E. Kellett and first appeared in A Corner in Sleep and Other Impossibilities (1900). Kellett (1860-1933) was a British schoolmaster and author. "Self-Haunted” is a flawed but interesting horror story.

The nameless main character has spent the day bicycling two hundred miles, across the length of Holland. He is exhausted and is looking forward to a good night’s sleep in the inn he has chosen. But earlier in the day he had allowed evil thoughts to enter his soul while resting beneath a tree: “for the first time in my life I deliberately resolved upon a course of sin.”1 He forgot about that resolution within twenty miles, but evil had made its home in his soul. So when he enters his room, the bed seems frightening to him. He can’t describe what is so frightening about it, but he does not like the look of it. He finds nothing frightening about the room, but when he closes the door to the room he hears an evil laughter which seems to come from the bed itself. And then the narrator sees that an invisible something is lying in the bed. The creature shifts in the bed, blows out the candle, then snuggles beneath the sheets, and goes back to sleep. The narrator is frozen with fear and stays in the room for hours. Slowly the room fills with a “devilish brightness” and the invisible creature becomes visible, and it is awful: “if the invisible had been awful, the visible was more dreadful a thousand times. Every vile passion—lust, murder, revenge, cruelty, hate—was stamped upon that face in unmistakable characters¼.”2 

The creature’s face is that of the narrator. But “¼in that face there lived not only myself, but something else.”3 The narrator’s evil double begins to exert an unholy force on the narrator, and he is forced to get into bed with it and embrace it. After touching him, the being laughs and then vanishes. The narrator is briefly happy, but then realizes that it is in the bed behind him. It begins touching him, and then tries to take possession of his body and drag his soul to Hell. The narrator is on the point of giving up when he cries out to God for help, and immediately the evil creature disappears.

“Self-Haunted” reads like a much older story than it is. It is told in the stiff, over-written style of the mid-nineteenth century. Kellett ruins the frightening effects of his horror moments with too much narration, too many narratorial asides, and too many “little did I know” statements. It has none of the streamlining and economic narrative of the better commercial horror stories of the late 1890s. The didactic religiosity of the story is off-putting, and the appeal to God, which vanquishes the evil spirit, is a particularly annoying cop-out.

It is a shame Kellett told the story in this way, because “Self-Haunted” has some wonderfully creepy moments and effects. While the evil doppelgänger is not itself frightening, the way in which it haunts the narrator is. The description of the invisible something shifting in the bed, moving the sheets, and blowing out the candle are nicely creepy, and the moment in which the invisible creature’s hands crawl over the narrator’s face pleasantly raises goose bumps. 

Unfortunately, what should have been a story to earn comparisons with Fitz-James O’Brien’s “What Was It?” is ruined by bad stylistic and authorial choices.

Recommended Edition

Print: Ernest Edward Kellett, A Corner in Sleep. Nashville, TN: Theclassics US, 2013.



1 E.E. Kellett, “Self-Haunted,” in A Corner in Sleep and Other Impossibilities (London: Jarrold & Sons, 1900), 44.

[2] Kellett, “Self-Haunted,” 48.

[3] Kellett, “Self-Haunted,” 50.