Six of Classic Literature’s Uncanniest Moments


Happy Halloween! Classic literature is full of the shivers… it plays on our senses by combining the familiar and unfamiliar in uncanny moments that, in many instances, originated horror genre cliches. From Macbeth thinking the table is full because Banquo’s ghost is occupying his seat, or Denver looking into her reincarnated ghost sister Beloved’s eye and finding no expression, here are six of the creepiest, most chilling moments ever.

Beloved, Toni Morrison. A young woman named “Beloved” shows up on Sethe and her daughter Denver’s doorstep.

Denver felt her heart race. It wasn’t that she was looking at that face for the first time with no trace of sleep in it, or that the eyes were big and black. Nor was it that the whites of them were much too white — blue-white. It was that deep down in those big black eyes there was no expression at all.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte. Cathy’s ghost grabs Mr. Lockwood’s arm as he’s staying at Wuthering Heights.

…knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in—let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton)—‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. A mysterious woman grabs Jane’s bridal veil in the middle of the night.

“Presently she took my veil from its place; she held it up, gazed at it long, and then she threw it over her own head, and turned to the mirror. At that moment I saw the reflection of the visage and features quite distinctly in the dark oblong glass.” “And how were they?” “Fearful and ghastly to me—oh, sir, I never saw a face like it!

Dracula, Bram Stoker. A mysterious ship arrives in England with a dead man at the helm:

The searchlight followed her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on deck at all. A great awe came on all as they realised that the ship, as if by a miracle, had found the harbour, unsteered save by the hand of a dead man!

Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier. Mrs. Danvers tells the second Mrs. DeWinter to jump — and she almost does.

“Why don’t you go?” she said. “We none of us want you. He doesn’t want you, he never did. He can’t forget her. He wants to be alone in the house again, with her. It’s you that ought to be lying there in the church crypt, not her. It’s you who ought to be dead, not Mrs. de Winter.” She pushed me towards the open window. I could see the terrace below me gray and indistinct in the white wall of fog. “Look down there,” she said. “It’s easy, isn’t it? Why don’t you jump? It wouldn’t hurt, not to break your neck. It’s a quick, kind way. It’s not like drowning. Why don’t you try it? Why don’t you go?”

Macbeth, William Shakespeare. Banquo’s ghost sits at Macbeth’s seat at the table.

MACBETH The table’s full. LENNOX Here is a place reserved, sir. MACBETH Where? LENNOX Here, my good lord. What is’t that moves your highness? MACBETH Which of you have done this? Lords What, my good lord? MACBETH Thou canst not say I did it: never shake Thy gory locks at me. ROSS Gentlemen, rise: his highness is not well. LADY MACBETH Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus, And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat; The fit is momentary; upon a thought He will again be well: if much you note him, You shall offend him and extend his passion: Feed, and regard him not. Are you a man? MACBETH Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that Which might appal the devil.