Ghosts on Dee Street: Scaring the crap out of the short story
In this paper I would like to explore how introducing an element of the urban myth into anthologies of the New Zealand short story can add a vital layer of place that is unable to be replicated by social or psychological realism.
In Owen Marshall’s Essential New Zealand Short Stories (2009) the editor observes that the short story ‘form[s] a resilient genre with its own idiosyncratic pulse of literary energy.’ (9) Yet if we were to review the nature of his selection we would discover that there is not a hint of the supernatural, the urban myth or the gothic – whatever those expressions may mean – between its pages.
The literary short story is the kind that Marshall’s (and indeed, Dan Davin’s) tradition favours. Beginning with a piece of local architecture – the old Invercargill maternity hospital on Dee Street – I will investigate some of the popular rumours that surrounded this building. Drawing on the conventional trope of the hospital as a haunted site, I will argue that locating short fiction in the zone of the popular may increase rather than close down the short story’s prestige at the same time as redefining the scope of the literary.
Although the paper is analytical, I intend to accompany the above with a haunted story of my own. Ultimately I hope that both texts – the imagined and the academic – will contribute to this weekend discussion on the New Zealand short story.
Anna Smith teaches children’s and teenage fiction and gothic and supernatural writing in the English department at the University of Canterbury. She has published work on New Zealand women artists and writers; and earlier, on psychoanalysis and literary theory.