Ghosts in Catherine Lim's The Bondmaid

Ghosts, who appear in dreams, provide the material for stories throughout the novel, usually in ways that reinforce Lim's portrait of a society in which the wealthiest and poorest alike try to use the dead for their own material advantage. Whether the wealthy Wu family's lavish provision for The Feast of the Hungry Ghosts, or poor hoping to receive winning lottery numbers from the ghost of a "servant boy, imbecile and mute," people in The Bondmaid generally hope the dead can help them -- as some claim the deified Han has done after her death.

In contrast, the novel includes one ghost tale that, by contrast, seems heartwarming in its romantic innocence:

Ghost lovers joined by death in Heaven or Hell but pining for much-loved spots of special remembrance on Earth were allowed back and thus met in tremulous joy on ground hallowed by a last presence or final covenant. Han loved best of all the story she had heard as a girl of a pair of young lovers who, forbidden by their parents to marry, committed suicide by wading into a deep pond, wrists tied tightly together, thereafter claiming the spot as their own and seen there by people not yet born when they died. . . .

A woman whose daughter had died in infancy had a dream, sixteen years later, of the girl, now a beautiful ghost woman who told her mother she was lonely and in need of a lover. The woman immediately went on a search on her behalf and found someone whose infant son had died at about the same time and; would now be about nineteen or twenty years old. In a rare instance where the living played matchmakers for the dead, the two happy mothers got together and arranged a marriage by effigy for their offspring: two large paper figures, together with a generous stack of gift ghost money, were ceremonially burned Every year just before dawn on the anniversary of the marriage, the ghost couple appeared on the very spot of consummation, to signal their joy and gratitude to their respective parents. [108]

Does the novelist include this passage chiefly as a means of characterizing Han's romantic tendencies, or does it appear because it furnishes a powerful prefiguration and contrast to her own experience of "much-loved spots of special remembrance."


Lim, Catherine. The Bondmaid. [1995] London: Oriel, 1997.

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