A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal

by Daniel Defoe

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

This is an interesting work for a number of reasons. While it is generally understood that the pamphlet was written by Daniel Defoe, it was actually published anonymously, immediately giving the work an element of distance from its subject matter which is only made greater by the other layers of text within the pages. Anonymity is the only way, it seems, by which the tale of Mrs Bargrave can be told by anyone with any sense of confidence. The male justice of the peace of whom Mrs Bargrave was a "kinswoman" has committed the story, ostensibly, to paper, but has not given his name. Instead, the frame narrative of the pamphlet tells us that this man has posted his story to someone else in London, who will then pass it on to the wider public -- without his name attached. Why, we might ask, are there so many layers of distance involved in this story, while at the same time, every person involved continually stresses the trustworthiness of the lady in question? Why is the issue of the supernatural -- whether it exists, or does not exist -- almost secondary to the issue of what can induce society to believe a woman's story, and what sort of story people are willing to put their names to?

On the face of it, this pamphlet is a ghost story. Read more deeply, however, it is an analysis of the life of women at the time of writing. Both Mrs Bargrave and Mrs Veal have been abused by husbands and fathers; they cleave to each other as their only source of solace, and are separated from each other, by no fault of their own, through the movements of the men around them. Assuming that Mrs Veal does indeed die and return as an apparition, her first desire, nevertheless, is to remind her great friend of the love between them, assure her that she is bound for heaven, and beg for her help in distributing her worldly goods according to her needs. The suggestion is that Mrs Veal does not trust her brother to do this; accordingly, the brother then attempts to suppress Mrs Bargrave's story. For these two women, the only people they can trust is each other. The characters who do coax the story into the open air are willing to do so only under cover of darkness. A pamphlet this may be, but it is equally an interrogation of what it is to be believed and to be valid in society, and how this validity was denied to women, whatever the nature of their stories.

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