Spectral Spectacles: 3 Tales of Ghostly Glasses

Spectral Spectacles: 3 Tales of Ghostly Glasses
[The image above is part of the British Optical Association Museum‘s postcard collection]


In honour of Halloween, here’s a quick post on eerie eyeglasses in literature…

All glasses are, in a sense, haunted. Glasses bear the ghostly traces of their wearers: finger prints on the lenses; make-up residues on the bridge and nose pads; scratches, dents, and breaks from various accidents; softly-bent ear pieces and arms, perfectly moulded – over time – to the unique curves of the wear’s skull. Through peering through a pair of specs., and establishing their prescription, we can gain an insight into way the wearer saw the world – were they short sighted or long-sighted, a squinter? Glasses, like ghosts, manifest the spirit or vestige of their deceased (or living) wearer.

Given their spectral qualities, glasses have provided a source of inspiration for writers of sinister stories. Below is a list of three short stories featuring otherworldly lenses.

  1. The Devil’s Spectacles (1879), Wilkie Collins

This short story tells the tale of Alfred, a young man who is bequeathed, by an old sailor, a pair of spectacles which once belonged to the Devil himself. The satanic specs. allow the wearer to perceive the inner feelings and thoughts of those around him. Collins was, himself, a glasses-wearer; optometrist Andrew Gasson has written about the writer’s eye problems here.

  1. A View from a Hill (1925), M. R. James

This short story features a pair of field-glasses (binoculars) which enable to user to perceive the past, to view long-gone objects and sinister scenes. A 2005 film adaptation of this story will air on BBC 4 this evening.

  1. The Blue Lenses (1959), Daphne du Maurier

The eponymous blue lenses are implanted into the eyes of Marda West in an attempt to restore her sight. The operation is a success – she can see. But there are some rather disturbing side effects. You can listen to this story on BBC Radio 4 Extra On Demand.

Can you think of any more creepy tales featuring eerie eyewear?

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