Victorian Ghosts for Christmas

Why Ghost Stories at Christmas?

by Arlene Young

 December 2nd, 1:30pm

$15 | $12 Members | Event page

The three spirits that visited Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ famous story are not the only Christmas ghosts of the Victorian period. Victorians gathered to tell stories of the supernatural as part of their Christmas traditions. What fostered the Victorian fascination with ghosts and with exchanging ghost stories around the Christmas tree?



The ghosts of this presentation are not all disembodied Christmas spirits, but include memories, customs, and traces of the past—our personal pasts, our cultural pasts, and our historical pasts, all of which fuse to form the traditions that mean Christmas to each of us. Where do all our holiday customs come from? What is the special contribution of Victorian traditions to the way we celebrate and think about Christmas and the Christmas spirit? How did Charles Dickens celebrate Christmas? How did the highly intellectual George Eliot celebrate? And what about cranky Jane and Thomas Carlyle? Join us to explore answers to some and perhaps all of these questions.

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Mad Scientists - October 28th, 1:30pm

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200

and the Immortal Undead Legacy of Mad Science

by Dr. Kathryn Ready


From award-winning film and literature to news headlines, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and breakfast cereal, the mad scientist and mad science are everywhere. While Mary Shelley is generally credited with the invention of this popular character type, the subtitle of her famous novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) gestures immediately to ancient sources of inspiration. Behind the tragic tale of Victor Frankenstein and his monster are in fact many old and familiar stories beyond that of the legendary Titan who stole fire from heaven on behalf of humanity. We find the stories of Satan, Adam, and Eve. Of powerful magicians such as Merlin and Prospero. Of notorious alchemists such as Faust, who reportedly traded his soul away to Mephistopheles in exchange for power and forbidden knowledge. The recognition of these ancient sources of inspiration has helped to fuel ongoing debate concerning the cultural significance of Victor Frankenstein and his many descendants. Is the story of mad science about anything new? Or is its appeal as a modernized retelling of old, familiar stories? As a modern rewriting of ancient warnings against human curiosity and pride? Or did the story of the mad scientist capture the imagination in speaking to the impact of modern science? To a world being newly transformed by science and technology? If so, does the story of mad science offer more than a broad and straightforward warning against the dangers of science? How much did Shelley know about science? What might she be saying about scientific debates in her own day? About the culture of science? What about her own literary descendants?

This lecture is part of our Exploring Victorians series. Admission is $15 or $12 for members. Reserve your spot at or call 204-943-2835


Dracula Unearthed! Revamped October 11-28th

This October, Dracula returns with some new additions to this Halloween experience. Here to tell us about what’s so Victorian about Dracula is creator and director Kevin Klassen (Echo Theatre)

“Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, among many other things, a thoroughly Victorian novel: galvanized by the tension between the staid traditions and puritanical moral code of the era and its popular obsession with the lurid, and fascination with the technologically new. First published in 1897, it is very specifically of its time, with the inclusion of such recent inventions as the Kodak camera, the portable typewriter, and the recording phonograph. Built in 1895, Dalnavert is precisely the type of late Victorian mansion in which Dracula’s (largely affluent) characters would have resided. The venue is perfectly suited to the subject matter.”

To get your tickets and find out more, head to the event page for Dracula Unearthed! Revamped. Be there, or beware!

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Memento Mori - October 14th 1:30pm

Come and hear about all of the weird stuff surrounding death that the Victorians invented or made extremely popular. They really were obsessed with the macabre, but maybe they’d think our obsession with denying our own mortality is weird!

Here’s a little teaser of the first in our October lectures. Sunday October 14th at 1:30pm, we’ll make the coffee.


by Vanessa Warne

Executed criminals; famous authors and artists; celebrated political leaders; beloved children: though made for different reasons, the death masks of a very wide range of people were created by Victorians who used plaster to preserve the faces of the recently dead. The morning after Charles Dickens died, a sketch was made of him on his death bed and, soon after, his face was covered with plaster that captured what his daughter Katey described in a letter as “the beauty and pathos of his dear face as it lay on that little bed in the dining-room.” The death masks that Victorians made and valued might be understood as morbid objects, but there were treasured objects and were often placed on display in homes, copies sometimes being produced and shared with absent relatives. This talk explores the making of death masks and asks how a pure white plaster cast of a deceased person’s face, cold to the touch, could comfort Victorians and retain the power to fascinate us a century after its creation.

William Wordsworth’s death mask

William Wordsworth’s death mask