A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal

by Daniel Defoe
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

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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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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

Defoe is the father of realistic fiction in English. In Robinson Crusoe (1719), A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Moll Flanders (1722), Defoe writes fictional pieces that are grounded in history and contemporary reality. Defoe’s meticulous attention to detail includes dates, dialogue, place-names, and a journalistic format. In “A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal,” Defoe’s narrator offers Mrs. Bargrave’s neighbor’s report as an authentic document. The tone of each of the narrators is insistent, as if the truth about an occurrence could be established by the force behind the spoken word. Setting also is intended to reinforce belief. A ghost story might be doubted, but one cannot be as doubtful if the ghost appears in a woman’s private home, in her private seating area, with her familiar elbow chair serving as the seat for the ghost. The home is in Canterbury, a place all readers can identify. The home is part of a neighborhood whose closeness to the marketplace makes the home part of everyday, ordinary life.

In comparison with other short stories, “A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal” does not emerge as a typical story. The events of the story do not constitute a plot. The narrator of the preface is not clearly identified, and then suddenly events are related by Mrs. Bargrave’s neighbor. No return to the original point of view occurs. The work is fiction but has the appearance of a journalistic report.