Henry James, “The Altar of the Dead”

Mhairi Catriona Pooler (University of Aberdeen)
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“The Altar of the Dead” is a tale about a man who lives more with what he calls “his Dead” than he does with the living. Published in the collection


in 1895, the tale anticipates the themes of obsession, the double and self-haunting in Henry James’s two later masterpieces “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903) and “The Jolly Corner” (1908). While “The Altar of the Dead” can be read as one of James’s multitude of “quasi-supernatural” tales in which an unseen reality has precedence over the material world, as Clifton Fadiman has noted “the tale is crowded, not with terror, but with love” (259).

Having lost his fiancé, Mary Antrim, before they could be wed, George Stransom faithfully remembers the anniversary of her death every year. One day Stransom

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Citation: Pooler, Mhairi Catriona. "“The Altar of the Dead”". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 05 February 2009 [https://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=1615, accessed 17 April 2024.]

1615 “The Altar of the Dead” 3 Historical context notes are intended to give basic and preliminary information on a topic. In some cases they will be expanded into longer entries as the Literary Encyclopedia evolves.

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