The Lovely Ladies of Supernatural Horror in Literature

frankenstein book cover original

In honor of Women in Horror month, let’s celebrate the pioneers of weird fiction and Gothic horror! Many of these early works are in the public domain and can be read for free. I have provided links when available.

I was rereading Supernatural Horror in Literature, and I was surprised by the amount of female authors that HP Lovecraft listed.  The recognition of female authors’ contribution to the horror genre was refreshing, and it is something that has been overlooked at times. I was surprised to see that there were so many female authors in the 1700 and 1800’s, a time when women traditionally had less of a voice.  I’m hoping to read and further review the authors and stories listed below. The only book I have read from this selection is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which Lovecraft heavily borrowed from in his tale Herbert West-Reanimator. Early Gothic horror

Anna Lætitia Aikin Barbauld

Anna Lætitia Aikin Barbauld

“…The celebrated Mrs. Barbauld, then Miss Aikin, who is 1773 published an unfinished fragment called “Sir Bertrand,” in which the strings of genuine terror were truly touched with no clumsy hand.”

Clara Reeve

Clara Reeve

The Old English Baron, by Clara Reeve, published in 1777. Truly enough, this tale lacks the real vibration to the note of outer darkness and mystery which distinguishes Mrs. Barbauld’s fragment, and though less crude than Wampole’s novel, and more artistically economical of horror in its possession of only one spectral figure, it is nevertheless too definitely insipid for greatness.” Sophia_Lee_The Recess, written in 1785 by Mrs. Sophia Lee, has the historic element, revolving round the twin daughters of Mary, Queen of Scots; and though devoid of the supernatural, employs the Wampole scenery and mechanism with great dexterity.”

Ann Radcliffe

Ann Radcliffe

“Five years later, and all existing lamps are paled by the rising of a fresh luminary of a wholly superior order-Mrs. Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), whose famous novels made terror and suspense a fashion, and who set new and higher standards in the domain of macabre and fear-inspiring atmosphere despite a provoking custom of destroying her own phantoms at the last through labored mechanical explanations...[The Mysteries of] Uldolpho is by far the most famous, and may be taken as a type of the early Gothic tale at its best….Mysterious sounds, opened doors, frightful legends, and a nameless horror in a niche behind a black veil all operate in quick succession to unnerve the heroine and her faithful attendant Annette:”

The aftermath of Gothic fiction

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley “…one of the horror-classics of all time. Composed in competition with her husband, Lord Byron, and Dr. John William Polidori in an effort to prove supremacy in horror-making, Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein was the only one of the rival narratives to be brought to an elaborate completion; and criticism has failed to prove that the best parts are due to Shelley rather than to her…. It has the true touch of cosmic fear,”

Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë

Quite alone both as a novel and as a piece of terror-literature stands the famous Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë, with its mad vista of bleak, windswept Yorkshire moors and the violent, distorted lives they foster. Though primarily a tale of life, and of human passions in agony and conflict, its epically cosmic setting affords room for horror of the most spiritual sort….Miss Brontë’s eerie terror is no mere Gothic echo, but a tense expression of man’s shuddering reaction to the unknown. In this respect, Wuthering Heights becomes the symbol of a literary transition, and marks the growth of a new and sounder school.”

The weird tradition in America

Mary-E.-Wilkins

Mary-E.-Wilkins

“Horror material of authentic force may be found in the work of the New England realist Mary E. Wilkins; whose volumes of short tales, The Wind in the Rosebush, contains a number of noteworthy achievements. In “The Shadows on the Wall” we are shewn with consummate skill the response of a staid New England household to uncanny tragedy; and the sourceless shadow of the poisoned brother well prepares us for the climactic moment when the shadow of the secret murderer, who has killed himself in a neighboring city, suddenly appears beside it.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins “Gilman, in “The Yellow Wall Paper,” rises to a classic level in subtly delineating the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered room where a madwoman was once confined.”

British Isles

“Mrs. H.D. Everett, though adhering to very old and conventional models, occasionally reaches singular heights of spiritual terror in her collection of short stories [The Death Mask and Other Ghosts].”

May Sinclair

May Sinclair

“May Sinclair’s Uncanny Stories contains more of traditional occultism than of that creative treatment of fear which marks mastery in this field, and are inclined to lay more stress on human emotions and psychological delving than upon the stark phenomena of a cosmos utterly unreal. “

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Post navigation

7 thoughts on “The Lovely Ladies of Supernatural Horror in Literature

  1. I am constantly amazed how many text book write “wife of Percy Shelley” and nothing else for Mary. If anything, they should have just “husband of Mary” for him. (I like old Percy but Ozymandias is nowhere as well known as Frankenstein. )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very good point. I wonder if it’s due to the fact that the horror genre is generally less respectable than poetry in literary circles. In any case, Frankenstein is wonderful! Thanks for checking out my blog!

      Like

  2. I love this post! I have met some new female characters in horror that I’d never heard of before, so thank you for the enlightenment 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark Hein

    This made for a pleasant Valentine … thanks! I’d no idea Lovecraft labored to lift up the female voice in horror fiction …

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: