Horror Fiction in the 20th Century on sale now, and one of my favorite Victorian sequences #3: the ending of Westward Ho!

So! Big day, today. My book, Horror Fiction in the 20th Century, is now officially shipping from Amazon.com today!

Publisher’s description here:

Horror Fiction in the 20th Century encompasses the world of 20th-century horror literature and explores it in a critical but balanced fashion. Readers will be exposed to the world of horror literature, a truly global phenomenon during the 20th century.

Beginning with the modern genre’s roots in the 19th century, the book proceeds to cover 20th-century horror literature in all of its manifestations, whether in comics, pulps, paperbacks, hardcover novels, or mainstream magazines, and from every country that produced it. The major horror authors of the century receive their due, but the works of many authors who are less well-known or who have been forgotten are also described and analyzed. In addition to providing critical assessments and judgments of individual authors and works, the book describes the evolution of the genre and the major movements within it.

Horror Fiction in the 20th Century stands out from its competitors and will be of interest to its readers because of its informed critical analysis, its unprecedented coverage of female authors and writers of color, and its concise historical overview.

Amazon; Barnes and Noble; Powells.

But this blog isn’t just about self-promotion—it’s also about me maundering about some of my favorite things. Which, in terms of Victoriana, includes the ending of the Reverend Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!  (1855), a real page-turner and an influential book in its time.

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One of my favorite Victorian sequences, #2: the ending of Hereward the Wake.

Well. That was an eventful week. My book on twentieth century horror fiction is now available from my publisher. (Amazon’s publishing date is incorrect). I got to do a Big Idea piece for John Scalzi’s blog. And I got a whole lot of writing done on the game (second game in a row) that I’m writing on spec but have high hopes for.

But that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for me to tell you about the Real Cool Moment. In this case, it is the ending of Hereward the Wake. I’d hazard a guess that 99% of you haven’t read it, so let me tell you about it.

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One of my favorite Victorian sequences, #1: the true climax of Lorna Doone

Hi. So. This blog has gone for long periods with no new posts, for which I apologize, but the new year and new decade are here, and there’s a movement afoot to bring back blogs as a thing, and almost all of my work over the past…gosh, almost a year…has been for roleplaying games, which makes me feel like I’m out of practice writing anything other than material for games.

In other words, it’s time for me to start doing some actual writing again, even if it’s only in the form of a series of blog posts.

As it says on the tin, this is the first in a series of posts about some of my favorite moments of Victorian writing (with one additional moment of non-Victorian historical fiction set in the early nineteenth century, but I’ll get to that much later). As you may or may not know, back in the mid-Aughts I wrote a big encyclopedia of Victorian and nineteenth century genre fiction. And as you may or may not know, a sequel (updated and much-expanded) to that encyclopedia is coming Real Soon Now. (Mid-February? End of February? Sometime in there). I do like me some Victorian fiction, and a lot of it has at least one moment of—if not Awesomeness, then Real Cool-ness.

So I thought I’d write about some of them. Up first: the climax of Lorna Doone.

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An excerpt from my forthcoming book.

Happy New Year!

My new book, Horror Fiction in the 20th Century, is out on January 31st. (Amazon; Barnes and Noble; Powell’s). It turned out pretty well, I think, and even those of you who’ve read a lot of horror fiction should find some surprises within it, some authors you didn’t know about that you’ll want to search out, and in general that it’s a good read and a good guide to the horror literature of the twentieth century.

I hope to have some good news on the promotional front eventually (and will of course post the reviews of the book here), but to whet your appetites, I thought I’d post an excerpt from the book here.

The following is from Chapter Four, “Horror in the Mainstream,” in which I describe the horror fiction that was published in mainstream venues (rather than genre magazines) during the first four decades of the twentieth century.

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It’s Halloween: have some public domain horror stories!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve got a book coming out on January 31st: Horror Fiction in the 20th Century, a guide to horror fiction published around the world (i.e., both inside the US & UK and outside). It’s a combination of history and criticism and best-ofs, with me highlighting the best and most successful authors of the twentieth century and describing what they did best and why they were so good, as well as me laying out the broader history of horror fiction during the century and, when necessary, quarreling with other horror critics about their (wrong!) conclusions or (more often) their inexcusable omissions and inaccuracies.

Given that it’s Halloween, I thought it would be a good idea to bombard Twitter with a list of fourteen of the best stories from my favorite pre-1950s horror writers. Someone suggested that I put all the links to the stories in one place for ease of use. And so here we are!

Oliver Onions’ “The Beckoning Fair One.” A comparatively well-known (or at least oft-anthologized) classic, by a horror writer who never quite got (or gets) his due.

Margaret Irwin’s “The Book”.  In one of my novels (that I still have high hopes for getting published) I did an homage to this story, which is for the serious readers out there.

Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Demon Lover”. Neither Bowen nor this story get the praise they deserve–at least, not from horror critics. Which is a shame, because this story is really damn good.

Saki’s “Shredni Vashtar”. Has been anthologized a lot, but still retains its bite. (Heh). Horror critics like but don’t love Saki–some don’t even go that far–which mystifies me.

Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadow Third”. I have a private theory–don’t tell anyone, okay?–that Glasgow was a kind of influence on Lovecraft. But exploring that will have to wait for my “Lovecraft’s Women” article on why Lovecraft was so reluctant to give formal credit to the notable women horror writers of the time. (The answer–sexism!–will not surprise you).

Katherine Fullerton Gerould’s “The Wine of Violence”. Now forgotten and obscure, Gerould was of note during her heyday, and Lovecraft undoubtedly would have read her.

Violet Hunt’s “The Prayer”. A novella, but, well, just read it. I call Hunt a “proto-Joyce Carol Oates” in my book, and the superior of Henry James as a horror story writer.

A.E. Coppard’s “Adam and Eve and Pinch Me”. Once famous and widely anthologized, now just a footnote, like Coppard himself, which is a shame.

Walter De La Mare’s “Seaton’s Aunt”. Oh, this is the good old stuff.

Daphne Du Maurier’s “The Doll”. Written when she was only twenty. I mean, damn.

E.F. Benson’s “Mrs. Amworth”. Benson’s not forgotten about, at least by critics, but I think even the more committed and literate horror fans haven’t read much or anything by him, which is a shame.

A.M. Burrage’s “Smee”Technically a Christmas story.

W.F. Harvey’s “August Heat”. For full effect, should be read during the irons of summer.

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My forthcoming book

 I have a new book coming out this January. Entitled Horror Fiction in the 20th Century: Exploring Literature’s Most Chilling Genre, and will be published by Praeger. The book runs 258 pages and will list for $50.00.

To quote from Praeger’s web page for the book:

Horror Fiction in the 20th Century encompasses the world of 20th century horror literature and explores and describes it in a critical but balanced fashion. Readers will be exposed the world of horror literature, a truly global phenomenon during the 20th century.

Beginning with the modern genre’s roots in the 19th century, the book proceeds to cover 20th century horror literature in all of its manifestations, whether in comics, pulps, paperbacks, hardcover novels, or mainstream magazines, and from every country that produced it. The major horror authors of the century receive their due, but the works of many authors who are less well-known or who have been forgotten are also described and analyzed. In addition to providing critical assessments and judgments of individual authors and works, the book describes the evolution of the genre and the major movements within it.

Horror Fiction in the 20th Century stands out from its competitors and will be of interest to its readers because of its informed critical analysis, its unprecedented coverage of female authors and writers of color, and its concise historical overview.


  • Covers both the best-known authors of horror literature and a large number of lesser-known or forgotten authors whose work would reward searching out by modern readers
  • Is unprecedented in its coverage of international horror literature and includes dozens of authors whose horror fiction has never before been translated into English
  • Covers the major 20th century developments and movements within horror literature in one volume, in a linear and chronological manner
  • Is a corrective to decades of sexist, racist, colonialist, and provincial horror criticism

If you’re interested, the Table of Contents for the book is up here.

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A teaser for the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, Second Edition

I see I haven’t announced this here yet.

A second edition to my Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana is forthcoming. The second edition will have a number of new entries and a huge amount of new material added to the entries from the first edition. In fact, there’s so much new material that the page count for the second edition is over twice that of the first edition–the page count is over 2,200 pages (a little over 796,000 words). Obviously that’s too many pages to fit in one book, so this edition (let’s just call it EFV2e to save space) is going to be ebook only. The cover is being worked on as I type this, and I hope to have the ebook for sale by the time Readercon rolls around. (I’ll plug the release date of EFV2e widely, never fear!)

To whet your appetite, and remind you of what I’m talking about, here’s the title list for EFV2e and here’s a sample entry. Enjoy!

(I’ll be posting more teasers here in the run-up to publication)


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For International Women’s Day 2019…

…some female horror writers from around the world whose work is worth searching out.

(The following are excerpts from my Horror Needs No Passport, a guide to international horror fiction from the 20th century).

Jorge Luis Borges was the head of an influential circle of writers in Buenos Aires. His best friend was Adolfo Bioy Casares, who like Borges became internationally known for his fantastika. Much less known internationally, although she always had a high reputation in Argentina, was Bioy Casares’ wife Silvina Ocampo, who was acclaimed for both her poetry and short stories, although only the latter has seen widespread publication outside of Latin America. Ocampo began writing in 1937 and continued almost to her death in 1993. Her two collections in 1959 and 1961 made her reputation, with collections in 1987 and 1988 broadening her fame. She began by telling relatively conventional stories, with the more uniquely Ocampo-esque stories appearing later, but even in her early work the distinctive Ocampo strangeness is present. Initially her work is influenced by nineteenth century horror; later she goes through a period of formal inventiveness; and during her mature period she perfects the type of story she made uniquely her own: disturbing, fantastical, where everyone’s motives are obscured, where mundane suburban reality is overwhelmed by the intrusion of inexplicable and disturbing events, and where the final lesson for the living is that life is cruel. Ocampo’s stories are stylized, very imaginative, cryptic, and extremely cruel, though in an innocent and oblique fashion. Her earlier work is full of malicious violence, while her later work is more subdued in its use of violence.

The distorted, estranged world to which she gives life is dominated by an interest in magical transformations; doubles or other shattered personalities; play with time and space; dreams or nightmares; mad or obsessed characters; the mixture of plant, animal, and human elements; the mixture of animate and inanimate qualities as in machines and automatons, puppets, dolls, and masks; and also what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the lower bodily processes of eating, defecation, and sexual life.[1]

A technique for which she became known was the lack of closure in her stories, something which undercut readers’ expectations and added to the disquiet and even horror felt by her readers. Her narrative tone is reminiscent of fairy tales in their calm narration of the most gory horrors, and the occasional moment of humor casts the horrors into relief.

In Cuba, the relative scarcity of novels of the first three decades of the twentieth century gave way to a slowly increasing number, and then a boom in the 1940s and 1950s, when social realism combined with magic realism. This culminated in the great year of 1966, when a number of classics of Cuban literature were published. Esther Díaz Llanillo’s El Castigo (The penalty) is not counted among them. However, El Castigo was the first book of Díaz Llanillo’s long and distinguished career as a writer, librarian, and essayist. The stories in El Castigo are typical of Díaz Llanillo’s later work. She writes about God, the relationship between God and humanity, justice, aloneness, and death, in fantasies and stories about protagonists with psychological problems. A general template of Díaz Llanillo’s work is a protagonist in a mundane setting, such as a home, a kitchen, or conference room, being exposed to the intrusion of the unexpected and the threatening. The atmosphere of many of these stories is anguish-filled and desperate, much like the haunted, hallucinatory, and menacing atmosphere in Kafka’s work (one of Díaz Llanillo’s primary influences). The plots are influenced by Poe, and possessed of plot twist and a marked black humor. The major influence on Díaz Llanillo, however, was Borges. In her own words, Díaz Llanillo was influenced by Borges’ “style, his predilection for nuanced adjectives, in his contradictory lists, in his search for perfection, and in the intellectualism that I have imbued in some of my short stories.”[2] The horror in Díaz Llanillo’s work comes not from supernatural elements but from dismaying occurrences happening to the protagonist which usually disrupt their daily routine, and from the dark edge of magic realism, in which reality gives way to the dangerous surreal and irreal.

An unjustly forgotten Mexican horror writer is Guadalupe Dueñas, who in her time was a well-respected and widely enjoyed novelist, short story writer, and essayist. The current state of neglect for Dueñas is curious—sexism may be at the root of it, although other women horror writers, like Amparo Dávila, are still remembered and read. Perhaps it is as simple as the relative infrequency of her stories; although she had collections published in 1954, 1976, and 1991, she did not write the dozens of horror stories that other Mexican horror writers did. Whatever the cause, Dueñas is, again, unjustly forgotten, for her stories are on par with any of the other writers’ in this chapter. Her career would not have been possible without Juan José Arreola and Juan Rulfo publishing their horror stories, but when her first collection was published it was clear she was staking out new territory and calling it her own—something her later collections would affirm. Her stories are marked by strong characterization, love of detail, and general originality. Dueñas’ stories usually begin with portrayals of everyday life, and then through the use of time and perceptual distortions creates an atmosphere of subjectivity, estrangement, dread, and nightmarish horror. Dueñas’ stories are death-obsessed, but not without a comic/humorous side, and the macabre is less emphasized (unusually for Mexican horror literature) than psychological acuity and visceral terror. Dueñas was influenced by Poe and especially by Horacio Quiroga, and like them shows an affection for the physical and mental tormenting of her characters. Her stories tend to be concise, evocative, unconventional in her use of the causes of her protagonists’ terror, and bizarre and enigmatic, verging on the sublime.

Amparo Dávila has the fame that Guadalupe Dueñas does not. In Dávila’s favor is her increased output—story collections in 1959, 1964, and 1977—and a greater overall readability. However, that readability is a trap, for Dávila conceals her horror in gaps that the unwary fall into. Dueñas’ horrors were physical and visceral; Dávila’s are ambiguous, living in-between words rather than in them. As Alberto Chimal writes, “her texts…tend to treat what is not seen and what is not said, the imprecise–and unsettling–which is just beyond language and experience.”[3] The terror of these things is what drives Dávila’s stories, more than the immediate cause of unease or fear. One can almost say that Dávila is resistant, that she deploys her text to distract and hinder the reader.

Her stories have a dark and gloomy atmosphere and blend reality and the imaginary to the point of, and often verging into, psychological horror. She claimed Kafka and D.H. Lawrence as her main influences rather than Poe or Borges. Never one to overtly refer to Mexican politics or Mexico itself, or to draw on Latin American authors for inspiration, she avoids magic realism entirely: “The stories of Dávila pass from the criticism of the provincial estanco to the fantastic rupture without stopping in the elaboration of the marvelous real.”[4] Stylistically, an apt comparison is to Shirley Jackson, although on a technical level Jackson is Dávila’s superior. But both deal with mundane existences whose facades of normality are suddenly shattered by the intrusion of something horrible. Both writers portray female characters, violence, madness, and death. Dávila’s common themes are entrapment and escape, isolation, immobility and insanity. Narratively, her stories are precisely, finely told, often with a sharp twist at their end.

Despite the existence and work of Horacio Quiroga and Felisberto Hernandez, the nineteenth century tradition of descriptive realism and linear narration continued to be the dominant mode of Uruguayan narrative in the mid-century decades of the twentieth century. One writer who challenged this mode and helped pave the way for more writers of experimental fiction and fantastika was Armonía Somers, who wrote into the mid-1990s but the majority of whose work was published from 1950-1969. Chronologically Somers is a member of the “Generación del 45,” the group of influential Uruguayan writers whose careers began between 1945 and 1950, but Somers’ concerns and approaches to her fiction place her more firmly in the successive “Generación del Crisis.” A feminist novelist and short story writer, Somers wrote deeply transgressive work which discomforts and unnerves the writer through its postmodernist elements, its male-female role reversals, its obsession with death and sexual violence, and its transformation of the every day into the alien and the uncanny. “What sets Armonía Somers apart is that she combines the charm of the fantastic mode with a more brutal (and implicitly more critical) focus on the cruel–sexual violation, the indifference of god, the visceral reality of human experience. She effects this combination in unapologetically direct language within dense narrative structures.”[5] Somers’ protagonists are often marginalized or maladjusted individuals trying to make their way through a hostile and uncaring universe; “these characters, both human and animal, provide a sordid, nightmarish view of the world.”[6] Her themes of desire escape, rebelliousness, transgression and freedom from the world-system of oppressive norms are deployed in stories thick with macabre atmosphere, violence, and eroticism. In her stories “everything is uncanny, alien, disconcerting, repulsive and yet incredibly fascinating.”[7]

The first great horror writer of Japan’s post-Occupation era was Fumiko Enchi, generally regarded by critics as one of Japan’s most important women writers. She became famous for her novels and short stories, almost all of which explored sexuality and female psychology and the conflicts between the old ways and new in post-war, post-Occupation Japan, usually to subversive effect. She used subtle symbolism and a precise use of language along with a thorough knowledge of classical Japanese literature to create allegorical and feminist works which conflated reality and fantasy to varying effects, from comforting to unnerving. Fumiko was primarily concerned with women and focused on them, their psychology, and their concerns in her works, and so horror was not the primum mobile of her work. But the effects of horror, the arousal of dread and fright through her stories and novels, were important to the stories she wanted to tell, and in several works she uses the supernatural, specifically spirit possession and posthumous vengeance, to scare the reader. She wrote in a sensual style that some critics described as “Gothic;” she found this style useful in creating the otherworldly atmosphere of her stories. A recurring plot in Fumiko’s novels and short stories is of an older woman who seeks vengeance for the wasted lifetime and unfulfilled sexuality that her husband (and conservative, repressive Japanese society more generally) inflicted on her. The older woman, either personally or, more often, with the help of a shamaness, summons up a spirit to help her complete her vengeance.

Enchi takes the image of the shamaness (miko), and appropriates it for the purpose of critique by forging an unconventional link between the shamaness and the traditional image of the woman possessed by vindictiveness and jealousy. By bringing to consciousness the link between spirit possession and possession by powerful emotions, showing how the latter are inscribed in women’s bodies as cultural codes, Enchi harnesses hidden energies and affirms the continuity of women’s history.[8]

The effect of the presence of the shamaness and the possession by spirits, combined with Fumiko’s prose style, is to insert the frightening supernatural into a well-portrayed everyday and mundane scene. For Japanese readers especially, the scenes in which the older women, who should (according to traditional Japanese mores) be submissive and loving to their husbands, instead take chilling revenge on them, would be both frightening and transgressive.

The foremost woman writer of l’ecole belge de l’etrange is Anne Richter, whose debut story collection, written when she was only fifteen, appeared in 1954. She went on to become a prominent Belgian author, editor, and critic and scholar of fantastika, publishing both short story collections and important critical anthologies and histories. Her style (predictably) changed as she grew older; her younger work has a more assured, even precocious narrative voice, while her older work “is far more hesitant, the structures and conclusions more conventional. If middle age visits upon us all a dark wood, then these stories are written from the gloom.”[9] But throughout all the stories the traits of Richter persist: the swift and smooth entry into the supernatural, the sensitive observation, the perceptive characterization, the discomfiting intelligence, and the portrayal of the world as callous and full of sudden misfortune and death.

Jehanne Jean-Charles began publishing horror stories in the late 1950s, but it was her two story collections in 1962 and 1964 which brought her fame; although she continued writing into the 1980s, her early 1960s stories were the stories most often read and remembered. A gleefully malicious writer of barbed and twisted short stories, Jean-Charles’ narratives depict a universe in which bad things happen to good people, often inexplicably but always stylishly told:

if influence or affinity her style betrays, it’s with the silken menace of Saki, though readers have claimed for her kinship with Matheson, Bradbury, and Dahl…though her sense of mischief approaches John Collier’s, her prose isn’t quite as fancy. The forthrightness of Jehanne’s style and her choice of theme owe much more to Anglophone traditions of the fantastic than to the Surrealism that tainted many of her French contemporaries, although in sensibility she descends from the conte cruel, in which conventional morality is subverted and puffery punished.[10]

Carmen Laforet was an important Spanish author. Best known for her first novel, Nada (1945), Laforet wrote a number of other novels which were, for the time period and culture, relatively open about feminism and the mystical variety of Catholicism while also expressing the author’s existentialism. Nada was a critical sensation when it first appeared and has since become a part of the Spanish canon, being called Spain’s answer to Catcher in the Rye. Nada is also a kind of Spanish Gothic, emphasizing a grim atmosphere in a sprawling house. The house has gloomy halls and rooms which go beyond gloom into insanity and perhaps the supernatural:

It looked like a witch house, that bathroom. The soiled walls retained the imprint of hooked hands, of cries of despair. Everywhere, chipped open, their toothless mouths, moisture oozing. On the mirror, because it could not fit anywhere else, they had placed a macabre still life of pale breams and onions on a black background. The madness smiled in the twisted taps.[11]

Additionally, the house is said to have “devilish” furniture and to whisper and grunt to itself, and those who live in it seem ghostly and half-real. Nada also has a Gothic cathedral, an infernal-seeming Chinatown, a street foul with rotten odors, a young, pure and innocent woman as protagonist, a tyrant (unusually, a woman), night journeys, and a general element of fear.

Mercè Rodoreda is the very definition of a canonical author in Spain. Her novel La plaça del diamant (1962) is generally acknowledged to be the most critically acclaimed novel in Catalan of all time, and Rodoreda is seen as the most important Catalan novelist of the postwar years. A skilled writer of enchanting prose who combined a keen observational eye with humor and emotion, Rodoreda was seen as important enough in her lifetime to have a literary prize named after her. Less noticed than her novels are her short stories, which were gathered together in four collections. Two of them, in 1967 and 1979, contain substantial horror work. The horror is not limited to her short stories, of course; her La mort I la primavera (Death and spring, 1986) presents a town with weird and sinister customs, and her Del que hom no pot fugir (What One Cannot Flee, 1934) portrays the female protagonist’s descent into madness in ways similar to Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” But it is in Rodoreda’s short stories that she most makes use of horror. Drawing inspiration from writers such as Poe and Lovecraft as well as Borges and Cortázar, Rodoreda used horror both to terrorize the reader and to allegorically refer to the horrors of how men treat women and the horrors of war, especially the horrors suffered by civilians during the Spanish Civil War. Rodoreda sometimes told magic realist horror stories, sometimes more traditional horror stories about spookily possessed animals, sometimes Gothics, and sometimes psychological horror. In all her stories she uses her knack for observation to create realistic emotions, character psychologies, and believable settings before introducing the horror elements.

Luisa Valenzuela was a journalist, short story writer, and novelist best known for her experimental style and the feminist themes in her work. Another recurring theme in her work is fear, specifically the “subtle transition from individual fear (forged from archetypal childhood fears, vacillating, ambiguously, between fear and cowardice) to collective terror, lived out like a nightmare.”[12] This transition, which is always expressed in disquieting and unsettling terms, is a leitmotif throughout much of Valenzuela’s work. El gato eficaz (The effective cat, 1972), in which the female narrator, Pandora-like, allows all the evils of the world, in the form of “black cats of death,” to escape from confinement, while she expresses a strong protest against the waste and corruption of the male-center world. In narratives like “Aqui pasan cosas raras” (“Weird things happen here,” 1975) and Realidad nacional desde la cama (National reality from the bed, 1990) fear, and the “dark forces of violence,” are constant companions to the narrators in Buenos Aires and New York City. In Cola de lagartija (The lizard’s tail, 1983), “a kind of double allegory on the obsessive, egocentric empire of Jose López Rega, the influential welfare minister of Isabel Peron’s government,”[13] the protagonist Sorcerer becomes psychopathic in the wielding of his power, just like López Rega did, with the resulting devastation of the people, expressed in surrealistic terms.

Lya Luft is a writer, translator, and academic, and from the 1980s forward was seen by critics as one of Brazil’s most important contemporary writers. Most of her work is in the Gothic vein—her narratives often have an “atmosphere of sexual fear and uncertainty surrounding her protagonists, whose dramas unfold in the claustrophobic space of the patriarchal home.”[14] Her narratives have restrictive spaces and time frames, and her protagonists are usually haunted by an “other” presence, whether a ghost, a grandmother in the attic, or a dwarf gnome. Luft’s narratives have multiple levels of reality, open-ending and ambiguous or circular endings which lack resolution and do not answer the questions the story prompts from the readers. As Giovanni Pontiero, translator of Luft’s The Red House, puts it, in a statement that applies to most of Luft’s work, “Morbid realities and humiliating discoveries are expressed with disarming honesty and vigor. Lya Luft’s perceptions about existence and its traumas are articulated with chilling frankness.”[15] When the supernatural arises in her novels, it is dealt with in a casual and offhand way, allowing Luft to foreground her female protagonists’ struggle for self-definition.

A writer who was often compared with Luft was Lygia Fagundes Telles, a novelist and short story writer who began publishing in the 1950s but reached her maturity as a writer in the 1970s.

In both Telles’s and Luft’s fiction the reader often finds a gap between the expected, common logic and the characters’ actual lives, and feels, along with the characters, the ambiguity caused by the merging of two worlds–‘that of the real and that of the fantastic’ (Todorov 26) Their novelistic works are characterized by a probing into the lives of middle-class women, constituting a study of the female subject in her relations with the Other within the context of Brazilian society–a society that continues to be inherently patriarchal, in spite of some relative freedoms that women from the upper classes have achieved…a recurrent theme in Telles’s and in Luft’s novels is precisely the decadence of the bourgeois order and, within it, the decadence of the family institutions. It is the conflict between the characters’ desires and aspirations, on one hand, and the demands and obstacles still imposed by the social order, on the other hand, that originates the ambiguity and absurdity highlighted by the use of the fantastic and the gothic, or metaphorized through the use of the grotesque. The fantastic, the gothic and the grotesque constitute thus strategies of estrangement which will lead to the revelation, in the lives of these otherwise ordinary women, the ruling of a different logic, or the lack of any logic altogether. In this respect, their novels can be seen as Kafkaesque narratives, in that the everyday, ordinary middle-class lives of the protagonists are revealed to obey an absurd order.[16]

Telles is primarily a writer of psychological stories, emphasizing the personalities of her female protagonists and their relationships with their families. Her characters are usually alone, and experience misunderstanding, conflict, disillusionment, deceit, fear, death, and fantasy, with conflicts not being happily resolved and the narrative tension not being relieved. It is in her short stories that she most makes use of the supernatural and the surreal, with shifting realities being a norm. Occasionally she uses surreal elements as an allegory against the oppressive Brazilian government. Often the atmosphere of her short stories is dreamlike, nightmarish, or hallucinatory.

Daina Chaviano is a writer of both fantastika and mainstream literature. Before 1991, the great majority of her work was science fiction and fantasy. As a science fiction writer she established herself as one of the three most important female science fiction writers in all of the Spanish-speaking countries of the Americas. However, after 1991, when she emigrated to the United States, she began writing mainstream literature. In 1998 and 1999, though, she wrote a tetralogy, La Habana oculta (The occult side of Havana), in which Havana serves as the point of departure for trips into other dimensions. The second novel in the series, Casa de Juegos (House of Games, 1998), is about a young woman, Gaia, who is led by a mysterious woman into a mansion where everything, matter and energy, is in a state of constant movement and change.

Feeling that she must embrace this frightening environment as a path to self-knowledge, she returns again and again to this world of bewildering rituals where gods appear in human form and humans assume temporarily the guise of deities. The fantastic, supernatural element in this book is provided by the orishas, the spirits of the Afro-Cuban practice of Santería. With its underlying foundation of fantasy and imagery drawn from virtual reality scenarios, the House of Games functions as a post-modernist version of the archetypal narrative of the search for the self.[17]

In the description of the house the influence of Poe and Lovecraft—two of Chaviano’s favorite authors—can be seen.

Esther Díaz Llanillo was a writer, essayist, and librarian, most of whose work deals with the fantastic in one form or another. Her Cuentos antes y después del sueño (Tales before and after sleep, 1999) was a collection of short stories which, in the style of M.R. James, creates normal environments and routines for the stories’ protagonists, only to have the uncanny and sinister intrude on those environments and routines, changing them utterly. Her stories can be Kafkaesque or contes cruel, and often emphasize environment over plot, but they are psychologically acute, filled with gallows humor and cruelty and strong symbolism.

Although born in England, artist and novelist Leonora Carrington spent most of her adult life in Mexico, a country she loved, and is generally considered as a Mexican creator. Best known for her Surrealist art and sculpture, Carrington also wrote a number of novels and short story collections. Although she began writing in the late 1930s, it is in her mature work in the 1970s and 1980s that her substantial talent as a writer is best displayed. Always a writer of fierce intelligence and a vivid imagination, Carrington’s best novels, Le Cornet acoustique (The hearing trumpet, 1974) and La Porte de pierre (The stone door, 1976), bring together the alienated sensibility and fabulous monsters of her early stories and novels and add to them black humor, romantic fantasy, surreal worlds, and a potent combination of terror and wonder. Le Cornet acoustique, set in a sinister nursing home, has occult secrets, mythical identities, a feminist uprising, poisonings, and a quest for the Holy Grail, all in a text filled with (but not over-filled with) meaningful symbols. La Porte de pierre, generally seen by critics as not quite reaching the heights of Le Cornet acoustique, is a blackly humorous fantasy romance involving the zodiac, Qabalah, Transylvania, and the Stone Door of Kecske. In both novels, Carrington grounds the frightening and the marvelous in a dry and witty style, and smoothly portrays the triumph of the feminine principle over the male principle.

Inés Arredondo was a writer, critic, and academic who is best known for her short stories. She published three collections: La señal (The signal, 1965), Río subterráneo (The underground river, 1979), and Los Espejos (The mirrors, 1988). In them she tells stories of the female spirit and female fears, addressing subjects that the male-dominated world Mexican literature hadn’t taken on before, subjects like women’s lust, rape, and the death of babies. Arredondo’s approach to doing so was to focus on the subjectivity of women and other marginalized characters, including adolescents and gay men, and to place her protagonists in strange and often grotesque families in her native Sinaloa, thus creating the “Sinaloa Gothic.” (Arredondo was among the first Mexican women of her era to write Gothic stories; previously the Mexican Gothic had been the province of men). Critics have compared Arredondo’s work to that of Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor; like theirs, Arredondo’s stories are dark and disturbing, full of sexual and moral predators and victimized innocents. She makes skillful use of Gothic elements—the confinement of women, wicked clergy, symbolic incest, abhuman monsters, monstrous father figures, transgressive relationships, violent and grotesque sexuality, castle-like mansions, and so on—to create a modern version of the traditional Gothic, one which utilizes the Gothic aesthetic and creates a Gothic atmosphere while still emphasizing modern psychology. “In Arredondo’s writings, horror is not of supernatural but of (all too) human origin, and it is narrated in a prose where the exquisite and the uncanny meet in shuddering complicity.”[18]

Arguably foremost among the Puerto Rican women writers of the 1970s and 1980s was Rosario Ferré, whose first book, in 1976, is seen by critics as beginning the feminist movement in Puerto Rico. Ferré became one of the most important feminist writers in Spanish America over the next twenty-four years, influencing and inspiring many Puerto Rican women to become authors and to write their own realities. Ferré is the leader among what critics call the “magic feminists.” “By combining classical mythology with indigenous folktales that usurp the traditional actions of female characters, Ferré has interpreted, translated, and rewritten a more active and satisfying myth of Puerto Rican women.”[19] One of Ferré’s chosen genres in which to write is horror, although Ferré’s horror is almost always feminist and/or full of political allegories. Ferré’s horror fiction, much of which is in the myth or fairy tale genres, makes use of hyperbole, subjective viewpoints, and fantastic, grotesque, and allegorical elements to violate traditional norms of realism. What takes their place is a tense, phantasmagoric, and often nightmarish atmosphere in which time is dislocated and disjoined, personalities become multiplied and schizophrenic, and points of view shift without warning. Occasionally Ferré’s work is more folkloric than fabular; in these stories Gothic atmospheres and elements become pronounced, and the narratives’ climaxes become inevitable rather than predictable. Ferré is an intelligent and thoughtful writer who deploys horror tropes and motifs and plot twists in a skilled manner, simultaneously evoking fear in her readers as well as an understanding of the oppression of women and the poor delivered through Ferré’s allegories. Even in her most horrific of stories there are still moments of lyricism to be found, and a strong poetic strain is evident in most of her writing.

Mayra Montero is arguably the most innovative of the Puerto Rican writers who came of age in the late 1980s and 1990s. Montero ranges widely in her stories and novels, bringing in elements of Caribbean folklore, such as Afro-Caribbean cults and zombies, as well as Gothic conventions, in stories that work both as horror and as allegories about the nature of romance and marriage, Caribbean history, feminism, imperialism/colonialism, and contemporary politics. “Montero is, of all contemporary Caribbean writers, the most indebted to the Euro-American Gothic tradition, which she has made her own, transforming the familiar conventions through her deep knowledge of Caribbean magico-religious traditions and her concerns for social justice.”[20] In one novel Montero applies the Gothic genre to the Duvalier regime of Haiti, portraying Vodou priests as heroes in the armed struggle against agents and militia of the Duvaliers. In another novel the Gothic features as a backdrop to the struggle between the leaders of two rival Vodou societies; allegorically the novel depicts the vicious and corrupt politics of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In a third novel an American herpetologist in search of a nearly-extinct frog ventures into a supernatural “heart of darkness” on a vast mountain in Haiti. Montero writes in a beautifully poetic style, which renders the violence, terror, and shocking events of her narratives all the more jarring to the reader.

One of the High Art Horror writers of the 1970s was Kanai Mieko, a prize-winning poet, postmodern fiction author, and eminent critic. Kanai’s horror narratives have been compared by critics to the work of Borges (one of her admitted influences) and Kafka; she writes complex, experimental novels and short stories which confound and sometimes shock readers. Her strength is her poetic orientation; her short stories are lyrical but at the same time dreamlike and often nightmarish, with bizarre occurrences and an often deadpan delivery. These contribute to a disquieting and eerie atmosphere where the characters discover that little is as it seems. Her early work was quick, intense, and “full of scenes of blood, cannibalism, dismemberment, incest,”[21] while her longer later work, focusing on the metafictional theme of writing, did away with the graphic violence of her earlier stories in favor of the transgression of narrative, plot, and readerly comfort. “We find boxed structures made up of internal and external narratives, and stories whose metafictional qualities are heightened by nameless, allegorical characters and settings, by wordplay, and by rich allusions to fables and children’s stories,”[22] but the cumulative effect on the reader is not respect for the skill Kanai displayed in crafting the story, but rather a deep unease as mundane logic and the safety of realism are entirely done away with.

A High Art Horror author of the 1971-2000 time period—although she began writing in the 1960s—was Kurahashi Yumiko. Kurahashi is best known for her sexually transgressive fiction, which uses themes like incest, sex with aliens and robots, wife- and husband-swapping, and sexually active homicidal women to challenge Japanese ideas about women, sexuality, and moral and social norms. But Kurahashi also wrote a substantial amount of supernatural fiction. These stories were erotic, as is much of Kurahashi’s work, but also emphasized the grotesque and were cruel and violent. Too, Kurahashi’s use of irruptive evil and monsters violated reader expectations of her fantasies being playful and benign. Much of her supernatural fiction is a revisionist reworking of traditional Japanese fairy tales and folk tales. “Kurahashi’s fairy tales are…based on reason rather than emotion; they are cruel, she wrote, because they are governed by standards of retributive justice and didactic morals; and for adults because their erotic nature might be considered too poisonous for children.”[23]

Although ?ba Minako was best known for as a mainstream writer, in which guise she was one of the most well-known women writers of the 1971-2000 time period, in the 1970s and 1980s she wrote a number of stories inspired by traditional Japanese folklore and legends. These stories, which usually have female protagonists and contain feminist themes, are disquieting more conceptually than narratively. In “Yamanba no bisho” (“Yamanba’s popularity,” 1976) a stereotypical housewife, self-sacrificing and meek, is revealed to have an interior life akin to the titular, terrifying mountain witch (a character type who often appears in ?ba’s work). In Urashimaso (1977), a novel similar to the Japanese folktale about Urashima Tar?, who visits the undersea palace of the Dragon King and on returning home finds that three hundred years have passed, the protagonist discovers that her ten years in America have wrought radical changes on both her family and Japanese society. “Awakening to the realities of her native country, Yukie is forced to confront a troubling mix of horror, memory, and family trauma resulting both from the war and from the binding of women to an uncompromising patriarchal system.”[24] While ?ba’s female characters are usually sympathetic figures of resistance to Japanese patriarchy—even ?ba’s mountain witch and demon women characters—their resistance can become a vengeance terrifying in its excessiveness.

Takahashi Takako was known for her novels, which were primarily psychological in focus, and for her short fantasies, many of which had substantial erotic content in them. A number of these stories, however, were horror or horror-adjacent. Like a number of other women authors of the 1970s and 1980s, Takahashi used Gothic motifs and conventions, surrealist techniques, and dark themes to challenge Japanese social ideals of motherhood, femininity, and women’s writing. A recurring dynamic in her stories is the female protagonist preoccupied with delusions and personal fantasies of sado-masochism, murder of husbands and children, and dismemberment. The frightening aspect of her stories comes not so much from the Gothic or surrealist elements as the continuing revelation that women’s interior lives are so full of subversive, violent, and terrifying qualities. As well, she “makes effective use of both fantasy and the fantastic to unsettle distinctions maintained by ordinary modes of cognition and standards of behavior. Her fiction deploys boundary transgression on thematic and textual levels as a trope for social defiance and personal transformation.”[25]

Mariko Koike’s career as a novelist of mystery/horror stories was short, less than a decade, beginning in 1985 and ending in the mid-1990s, after which she transitioned to writing romances in the style of Yukio Mishima. But during those years she produced a series of very popular horror narratives, both at novel-length and in shorter work. In Koike’s stories there are psychological as well as supernatural causes for terror, even in works that are ostensibly romantic or poignant. Haunted apartments and vengeful ghosts, told in Koike’s engaging and suspenseful style, chill even when the latter are welcome by the living and the former is inhabited by unlikable protagonists.

A common mode of Malaysian horror in the 1971-2000 time period was the Gothic:

Fantasy and the supernatural are everyday expressions of the imaginative experiences of Malaysian and Singaporean women writers who use the Gothic to explore and expose the contradictions within their societies, constraints upon people’s lives, and most specifically, women’s roles…through the gaps and fissures of colonial homes and those of grand Chinese or Malay families leak tales of repression and silencing legitimated by cultural, economic and gendered differences. The repressed return, as they do in all good Gothic tales, to bring cultural and personal discrepancies to the notice of the living.[26]

One such female writer is Shirley Lim, who though an expatriate in America for forty years was still considered by critics to be a Malaysian writer. Lim was better known for her scholarly work, but she wrote a number of short stories that fit more or less neatly into the category of the postcolonial Gothic. Of the two types of Gothic, “male” and “female”—male Gothics having a male protagonist and being about a quest to regain patriarchy, and female Gothics having a female protagonist and being about a challenge to patriarchy and its cultural assumptions—Lim’s work falls into the female Gothic category. Of one of Lim’s stories, “Haunting,” Andrew Hock-Soon Ng writes that

despite foregrounding domestic issues and centering on a female protagonist, [it] cannot be comfortably read as a female Gothic plot. Instead, the story works on a powerful level of irony which invites contrasting interpretations. Rehearsing certain patriarchal assumptions about the family and femininity, “Haunting” seems to reinforce them by demonstrating women’s collusion with them. In the story, a woman is haunted not by some revenant but by the house itself. This suggests a metonymical implication of the domestic ideology that entraps, in the form of housing, the female victim. Yet, it is not clear if the story, in the vein of the male Gothic plot, is implying women’s acceptance of their fate, or if it is a female Gothic story that reveals the terrible interpellative power of patriarchy in entrapping women without their being aware.[27]

“Haunting” in particular is comparable to Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in its treatment of the way that the haunted woman eventually embraces her hauntedness:

Like “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Lim’s story palpably suggests that the domestic ideology haunts women with the shadow self of patriarchal femininity. Women who are interpellated by such an ideology cannot consider a differentiated vantage point because they are thoroughly immersed in their construction. Any inclination for escape is quickly arrested, leaving the woman with merely a vestige of the subject that she can possibly become, but will never attain. That the narrative ends with such a “comforting” scene only belies its deeply menacing ideology. Not only has the house successfully domesticated another potentially dissenting woman, it has even appointed her as the next guardian of patriarchal tradition, thus disguising her entrapment as privilege.[28]

If not as outright terrifying as “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Haunting,” and other Gothic stories by Lim, remain menacing and frightening for the way in which the female protagonists are eventually broken by the spirits that haunt them.

One of the most widely read Singaporean authors of the time was Catherine Lim, who gained renown as the author of social realist short stories in the 1970s and feminist novels in the 1980s. But Lim also wrote horror, beginning with her 1980 short story collection Or Else the Lightning God and Other Stories. Although later horror writers do not cite Lim as an influence, she prepared the way for them, and is critically considered to be the mother of Singaporean horror. Lim’s horror is primarily about the influence of the Chinese spiritual and supernatural world on the psyches of modern Singaporeans; in her work, creatures and evil magic from Chinese folklore and myth irrupt into the world of modern Singapore. “This helped to lay the groundwork for the rebirth of our horror culture, and its transformation from a specifically Malay milieu to a multiethnic one.”[29] Lim’s horror novels, written in the 1980s and 1990s, shift to the Gothic mode, focusing on the physical changes in Singapore that eradicate evidence of the past. “Singaporean Gothic tropes…reflect local preoccupations with development-projects, with submerged or newly conceptualised heritage, and most pointedly, with suppressed aspects of turbulent histories, both on a national and an individual level,”[30] and Lim makes full use of these tropes, including the ghosts of Singaporeans killed by the Japanese during World War Two.

One of the most skilled German practitioners of horror in the mid- and late-1990s was Monika “Eddie” Angerhuber, who took her male nickname from Edgar Allan Poe, who Angerhuber is a fan of. Little-known in Germany, and that only as a translator and proponent of the work of Thomas Ligotti, Angerhuber is a writer of sophisticated horror stories, subtly-told and narratively rich. “Never condescending to cheap formulaic writing, most of her stories are experiments in language, style and mood derived from a highly developed aestheticism that nevertheless does not neglect questions of character and plot.”[31] Her stories tend toward darkness and sadness, leaving the reader by turns horrified and melancholy, emotions aided by her writing style, which can be either oneiric or nightmarish depending on her purposes in a story. Prominent themes in her work are loneliness, death, decay, and the dehumanization of humanity because of increased industrialization and mechanization of society.

Another skilled German female horror writer who debuted 1996 was Christiane Neudecker. Better known as a director of performing arts, Neudecker’s short stories range from the weird dark to the overtly horrific. Neudecker is equally skilled at portraying psychological disturbances, delusions, and mind-born fears, and at telling stories in which original plots, tropes, motifs, and creatures (haunted pianos, living shadows, a demonic boxer, a game of chess with the dead) are deployed. Neudecker, whose influences include E.T.A. Hoffmann and Daphne Du Maurier, is strong at evoking an ominous atmosphere and mounting tension, at linguistic innovation, and at frightening readers conceptually and viscerally.

Anna Maria Ortese was an Italian author of novels, stories, poetry, and travel narratives. Although she is best-known for her “Romantic fable” L’Iguana (1965) and her realistic depictions of Naples, in her stories and novels of the 1980s and 1990s she struck distinctly horrific tones. In those stories Ortese’s usual well-honed poetic style is put to use in describing a sort of psychopathological dark magic realism, hallucinatory and featuring altered states of mind or psychologically disturbed protagonists.

Her entire oeuvre, indeed, can be considered one extended variation on the theme of the uncanny, the “strange” lying as it does at the center of her world vision in its most diverse forms: dreams and visions…along with angels, linnets, sprites, and spirits, imaginary fathers, sons, and lovers, lost brothers and other “memories of the unreal life,” beasts, monsters, and all manner of strange creatures.[32]

Cristina Fernández Cubas was a lawyer and journalist, but her first love was fiction. She began publishing her short stories–her primary mode of fiction–in 1980, and from the beginning she updated the Gothic tradition, and in large part was responsible for introducing the native Gothic to the modern Spanish audience. Her stories focused on unreliable narrators whose psychologies were often disturbed or warped in stories which were either traditional ghostly or haunted house narratives or deconstructive metafiction. Fernández Cubas’ work continued to reinvent the Gothic through the end of the century and beyond. Her work

abounds in ambiguity, abnormal and alcoholic characters, mirror symbols and incomprehensible passages (others must be read through a mirror). Time…is fluid, unreal, and many perceptions seem inside out or backwards. The title tale creates unresolvable doubt as to the main characters’ sanity, and many others raise similar questions….oneiric atmosphere, the interweaving of marvelous and fantastic elements with the normal or realistic, and the problems of communication and perception.[33]

Pilar Pedraza, a writer and academic, began publishing novels and short story collections in 1984 and quickly become “la dama del gotico español,” the best-known female writer of the contemporary Spanish Gothic. Pedraza’s fiction displays a thorough familiarity with the American and European Gothic traditions, and falls into the “female Gothic” category, “not because Pedraza is a woman…but because her fiction shows a thorough engagement with the position of women in society and their desires, either rewriting Gothic myths or developing a modern Spanish version of them.”[34] Her work is a veritable catalogue of Gothic devices: among the other Gothic tropes and motifs and creatures appearing in her work are Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, the undead, werewolves, ruins and cemeteries, haunted houses, sanctuaries and places of religious adoration, Hell in various iterations, evil women (especially witches), animal hybrids, and mad scientists. Too, Pedraza, like Angela Carter, “championed erotic-sadistic models of femininity that…often challenge tradition and patriarchy.”[35]

Adelaida García Morales was a Spanish writer who achieved fame in 1985 with the publication of her novel El sur seguido de Bene (The south followed by Bene). El sur, like her succeeding novels, was a Gothic, the mode in which García Morales was most comfortable with. As with the traditional Gothic, the past returns to haunt the present in García Morales’ work. In fact, García Morales’ narratives are a catalogue of Gothic devices: ghosts, physical and moral decay, the sublime, vampires, ghosts, haunted buildings, fear of the Other in the person of women, and guilty secrets hidden, sought-for, and discovered. The supernatural intrudes upon the present in her stories, and the lines and limits between reality and fantasy blur.


[1]Patricia Nisbet Klingenberg, Fantasies of the Feminine: The Short Stories of Silvina Ocampo (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1999), 40.

[2]Esther Díaz Llanillo, “Interview with Esther Díaz Llanillo,” interview by Sara E. Cooper, Cubanabooks, April 2015, http://www.csuchico.edu/cubanabooks/authors/Interview_Diaz_Llanillo.shtml.

[3]Alberto Chimal, “El huésped,” Las Historias, accessed June 19, 2018,  http://www.lashistorias.com.mx/index.php/archivo/el-huesped/.

[4]Christopher Domínguez Michael, “Amparo Dávila,” Diccionario crítico de la literatura mexicana (1955-2011) (Mexico City, Mexico: FCE – Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2012), 94.

[5]Rebecca E. Biron, “Armonia Somers’ ‘El Despojo’: Masculine Subjectivity and Fantasies of Domination,” Latin American Literary Review 21, no. 42 (Jul-Dec 1993): 7.

[6]Nora Erro-Orthmann, “Armonía Somers,” in Spanish American Women Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Source Book, ed. Diane E. Marting (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1990), 498.

[7]Angel Rama, “La fascinación del horror. La insólita literatura de Somers,” Marcha 1188 (Dec. 27, 1963), 30.

[8]Wayne Pounds, “Enchi Fumiko and the Hidden Energy of the Supernatural,” The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 24, no. 2 (Nov. 1990): 167.

[9]Edward Gauvin, “Two by Anne Richter,” Weird Fiction Review, last modified Sept. 3, 2012, http://weirdfictionreview.com/2012/09/two-by-anne-richter/.

[10]Edward Gauvin, “Jehanne Jean-Charles,” Weird Fiction Review, last modified Oct. 1, 2012, http://weirdfictionreview.com/2012/10/jehanne-jean-charles/.

[11]Carmen Laforet, Nada (Barcelona: Destino, 1995), 19.

[12]Fernando Ainsa and Djelal Kadir, “Journey to Luisa Valenzuela’s Land of Fear,” World Literature Today, 69, no. 4 (Autumn, 1995): 683.

[13]Ainsa and Kadir, “Journey to Luisa Valenzuela’s Land of Fear,” 686.

[14]Darlene J. Sadlier, “Lya Luft,” in One Hundred Years After Tomorrow: Brazilian Women’s Fiction of the 20th Century, ed. Darlene J. Sadlier (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), 215.

[15]Giovanni Pontiero, “Translator’s Note,” in The Red House (Manchester, UK: Carcanet Publishing, 1994), iv.

[16]Cristina Ferreira-Pinto, “The Fantastic, the Gothic, and the Grotesque in Contemporary Brazilian Women’s Novels,” Chasqui 25, no. 2 (1996): 72-73

[17]Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, “Unchained Tales: Women Prose Writers from the Hispanic Caribbean in the 1990s,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 22, no. 4 (Oct. 2003): 449.

[18]Aurora Piñeiro, “‘No vengas al país de los ríos’: la escritura de Inés Arredondo y la estética de la oscuridad,” Badebec 3, no. 6 (Mar. 2014): 254.

[19]Carmen S. Rivera, “Rosario Ferré (28 July 1942-),” Modern Latin-American Fiction Writers: Second Series 145 (1994): 130-131.

[20]Paravisini-Gebert, “Unchained Tales,” 459.

[21]Sharalyn Orbaugh, “Arguing with the Real: Kanai Mieko,” in ?e and Beyond : Fiction in Contemporary Japan, eds. Stephen Snyder and Philip Gabriel (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1999), 246.

[22]Mary A. Knighton, “Kanai Mieko,” in The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asia Literature, ed. Joshua S. Mostow (New York: Columbia University, 2003), 243.

[23]Marc Sebastian-Jones, “Kurahashi Yumiko (1935-2005),” in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales, ed. Donald Haase (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), 549.

[24]Janice Brown, “?ba Minako,” in The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature, ed. Joshua Mostow (New York: Columbia University, 2003), 232.

[25]Maryellen Toman Mori, “The Subversive Role of Fantasy in the Fiction of Takahashi Takako,” Journal of the Association of the Teachers of Japanese 28, no. 1 (Apr. 1994): 30.

[26]Gina Wisker, “Showers of Stars: South East Asian Women’s Postcolonial Gothic,” Gothic Studies 5, no. 2 (Nov. 2003): 64.

[27]Andrew Hock-Soon Ng, “Malaysian Gothic: the Motif of Haunting in K.S. Maniam’s ‘Haunting the Tiger’ and Shirley Lim’s ‘Haunting,’” Mosaic: A journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature, 39, no. 2 (June 2006): 76.

[28]Hock-Soon Ng, “Malaysian Gothic,” 82.

[29]Ng Yi-Sheng, “A History of Singapore Horror,” biblioasia, accessed June 19, 2018,  http://www.nlb.gov.sg/biblioasia/2017/07/03/a-history-of-singapore-horror/#sthash.B2xEGBwO.Jv3oY9LT.dpbs.

[30]Tamara S. Wagner, “Ghosts of a Demolished Cityscape: Gothic Experiments in Singaporean Fiction,” in Asian Gothic: Essays on Literature, Film and Anime, ed. Andrew Hock-Soon Ng (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 47.

[31]Marco Frenschkowski, “Angerhuber, Eddie,” in Supernatural Literature of the World, eds. S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 34.

[32]Monica Farnetti, “Anxiety-free: Rereadings of the Freudian ‘Uncanny,’” in The Italian Gothic and Fantastic: Encounters and Rewritings of Narrative Traditions, eds. Francesa Billiani and Gigliola Sulis (Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2007), 47.

[33]Janet Pérez, “Cristina Fernández Cubas,” in Dictionary of the Literature of the Iberian Peninsula, eds. Germán Bleiberg, Maureen Ihrie, and Janet Pérez (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993), 591.

[34]Reyes, Spanish Gothic, 167.

[35]Reyes, Spanish Gothic, 167.


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Some Thoughts on Women Writers and Lovecraft

In Which I Ramble About Indirect Influences and the Pernicious Power of Sexism

The following isn’t going to be an academic article on the subject of How And Which Women Horror Writers Directly Influenced Lovecraft. I’m not literary critic enough or expert enough on Lovecraft to write that.

What this is, rather, is a semi-organized group of thoughts–can’t even call it an essay, to be honest–on a subject that hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage–or any, really, which is which women writers either directly or indirectly influenced or were an important part of the movements that influenced Lovecraft.

Why this subject hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage–well, we’ll get to that, but it boils down to critical sexist myopia on the part of the major Lovecraft scholars.

Lovecraft was a funny old bird. (And, yes, racist and sexist and all the rest–we’ll just accept those as givens for the sake of this blog post). A brief skim through his biographies (I’m making use of S.T. Joshi’s A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in His Time [2001], although Joshi’s H.P. Lovecraft: A Life [1996] and I am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft [2013] would probably do just as well) drives this point home hard. A loner for most of his childhood, an autodidact who spent a great amount of his childhood reading scientific books above his age level, and a boy who much preferred the company of adults to children his own age, Lovecraft’s difficult childhood environment (dominant, smothering, affectionless mother, absent and then dead father) and straitened circumstances (I don’t think he ever knew what it was to be financially secure and comfortable) pretty obviously exerted an enormous amount of psychological and emotional pressure on him. He had four mental/nervous breakdowns before he was fifteen and a serious “nervous collapse” in 1908, when he was eighteen, and it’s unclear whether he ever admitted to himself that his father’s death was from syphilis.

Reading and writing seem to have been the chief pleasures in his life. As we can see from the Chronological Bibliography of Lovecraft’s publications, he began writing at age seven and kept it up more or less continuously through his life. As someone who thought deeply about writing, he was always open–apparently–about the sources of his stories and the influences on them.

The writers who are generally accepted to have been the biggest influences on Lovecraft’s writing, based on his own statements, were men: Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood. And Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature certainly shows Lovecraft to have been well-read in horror, though some and perhaps many of those writers Lovecraft only read as an adult, and various arguments have been advanced about which writers in Supernatural Horror in Literature were influential on Lovecraft.

(As an aside: Lovecraft’s style evolved as he grew older, so the question of who influenced him applies not just to his childhood and teenaged reading but to the reading he did as an adult).

A lot of critical work–a lot of critical work–has been written about the influence of these various authors on Lovecraft’s fiction and poetry. But there’s a curious–or perhaps not so curious–absence, in Lovecraft’s letters, in Supernatural Horror in Literature, and in the secondary, critical work of people like Joshi and Robert H. Waugh in Lovecraft and Influence: His Predecessors and Successors (2013). Largely missing from these biographies and critical works are women–by which I mean women writers of horror.

(Lovecraft’s personal attitude toward women, as expressed in his stories…well, I’ll let Gina Wisker, from New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft, say it:

Despite interest in H. P. Lovecraft’s own relationships with women, his controlling aunts, and his limited marriage, his female characters are rarely explored critically, possibly because they are so few. However, with the depiction of Lavinia Whately, Marceline, Keziah Mason, and other deadly, deranged, dangerous creatures, his work replays various constructions of the monstrous feminine as critically explored by Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, and Barbara Creed, among others. In Lovecraft’s work, there is a fascination with women as the source of disruption and disorder. There are rare examples of the femme fatale figure common in fin-de-siècle art and literature (“Medusa’s Coil”), and frequent treatments of the witch or haglike woman (“Dreams in the Witch-House”). However, Lovecraft’s unique contribution to the depiction of women who elicit terror and disgust is through the figure of those who are culpable of miscegenation, interbreeding with the alien Other, creatures from the seas, from Hell, from other dimensions, and, controversially for contemporary readers, in Lovecraft’s view, the “racially inferior” (Lord, 2004 20). Lord suggests that Lovecraft’s racism is “blunt, ugly, and unavoidable” (Lord, 2004 20) but that the main focus of this fear and distaste is the women, the source of whatever is being bred.)

Women writers of horror should be mentioned in these biographies and critical works. Not because it’s compulsory—though it should be, it’s critically significant if a male writer has no female influences—but because it defies reason that Lovecraft didn’t read them.

Joshi’s first admitted exposure to horror fiction was at age eight (in 1898), when he first encountered the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The subsequent narrative of the writers who influenced him, at least as peddled by S.T. Joshi and his claque, is that Lovecraft stuck to male writers, the Machen Quartet (Machen, Dunsany, Blackwood, and M.R. James) foremost among them.

But someone as interested in—as fascinated by—horror as Lovecraft surely did not limit himself to works by the Machen Quartet, or the Gothics (in which he read widely), or the major male horror writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth century as a child or teenager, or even those and other male horror writers through the rest of his life. Lovecraft would have read female horror writers. In truth, there’s no way he could have avoided them.

Horror fiction in America in the nineteenth century was largely the province of women. As scholar and writer Jessica Amanda Salmonson has pointed out, as much as seventy percent of the horror fiction published in the nineteenth century was written by women. Before the 1890s arrival of the Machen Quartet, the biggest names in American horror fiction were women–and (and this deserves emphasis) the biggest names in regional horror of New England were women. Lovecraft was a creature of New England for nearly all of his life, and it would have been impossible for him to have escaped reading women’s horror fiction if he did any reading outside of the cheaper pulps and dime novels–if he read newspapers or the major mainstream periodicals or the major pulps, he would have encountered women’s horror fiction.  As omnivorous a reader of horror as Lovecraft was, it’s very difficult to believe he didn’t consume, say, Argosy or Saturday Evening Post or Cosmopolitan (a major source of fiction, Way Back When–first to serialize Wells’ War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon) or the other venues which published women’s horror fiction. Women’s horror fiction was everywhere during Lovecraft’s childhood and teenage years—the Machen Quartet were among the best and most influential male writers of horror fiction during the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s, but their popularity didn’t mean that women stopped writing horror fiction or stopped having their horror fiction published  in prominent periodicals, in collections, and in novels. He couldn’t have avoided seeing women’s horror fiction, and I think he wouldn’t have wanted to avoid reading it.

After all, in Supernatural Horror in Literature Lovecraft writes about the Gothics of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—many written by women—and singles out some female horror writers, particularly Ann Radcliffe. Mary Shelley, too, (somewhat surprisingly) Emily Brontë, (very surprisingly) Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Clemence Housman, and May Sinclair.

Too, in his personal library Lovecraft had horror novels and horror stories written by women. We know what was in Lovecraft’s personal library circa 1932.

(There’s actually a book, twice updated, titled Lovecraft’s Library, which apparently covers all the books Lovecraft mentioned in his letters as well as those known to have been in his personal collection when he died. But I don’t own Lovecraft’s Letters and I’m certainly not going to buy it solely for this blog post. So there may be more horror works by women writers that I don’t know about. But the 1932 personal library is a good starting place).

Among the novels we find:

  • Mary Bligh-Bond’s Avernus
  • Esther Forbes’ A Mirror for Witches
  • Signe Toksvig’s The Last Devil

Among the magazines we find a complete run, as of 1932, of Weird Tales, which published well over one hundred women writers, including, most notably, Allison V. Harding, Mary Counselman, and Margaret St. Clair.

And then there are the anthologies:

  • Masterpieces of Mystery. A four-volume set, but Lovecraft only had three volumes, one of which was undoubtedly volume three, “Ghost Stories.” Katherine Rickford is in there, for “Joseph: A Story” (1920).
  • The Best Psychic Stories, which also has Rickford’s “Joseph” as well as Elsa Barker’s “The Sylph and the Father” (1920).
  • The Not at Night Series: Not at Night, which has Greye La Spina’s “The Tortoise-Shell Cat.”
  • You’ll Need a Night Light, which has Zita Inez Ponder’s “His Wife” (1927), and Christine Campbell Thompson’s “Out of the Earth;” Gruesome Cargoes, which has Thompson’s “When Hell Laughed,” and Dora Christie-Murray’s “Drums of Fear” (1926); By Daylight Only, which has Thompson’s “At Number Eleven,” Signe Toskvig’s “The Devil’s Martyr” (1928); and Switch on the Light, which has Thompson’s “The Red Turret.”
  • Beware After Dark, which has Cynthia Stockley’s “The Mollmeit of the Mountain” (1913), Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadowy Third” (1916), and Gertrude Atherton’s “The Striding Place” (1896).
  • The Omnibus of Crime, which has Margaret Oliphant’s “The Open Door” (1882), Marjorie Bowen’s “The Avenging of Ann Leete” (1923), and May Sinclair’s “Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched” (1922).

Most of these works are sufficiently different in style and substance from what Lovecraft wrote that no argument can be made of their influence. Most–but not all:

Bligh-Bond’s Avernus is a fantasy novel about reincarnation romance that includes the psychic experiences of other species. Now, I haven’t read Avernus—I’m relying on secondary critical works for information about the novel—but that summary puts me in mind of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow out of Time.” And since Avernus was published in 1924 and “Shadow out of Time” was written in 1934, there’s no chronological problem with the former influencing the latter.

Forbes’ A Mirror for Witches is a historical fantasy set in 17th century New England during the Salem Witch trials, and is about a girl who confesses to being a witch, because she believes she is one. I haven’t read A Mirror for Witches—no time—but the reviews praise the novel’s quality and evocation of the “eerie atmosphere of New England’s dark past,” and makes me think of Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House.” Again, there’s no chronological difficulties in Forbes having influenced Lovecraft—A Mirror for Witches was published in 1928 and “Witch House” was written in 1932.

More interestingly, there are authors and works who we can be relatively sure of having an influence on Lovecraft but who are nowhere represented in his library or in his biographies or critical works about him. Two in particular are worth noting:

Sarah Orne Jewett. Now known mostly to Victorianists and scholars of women’s writing, Jewett was once a giant of American letters, heavily influential on a generations of New England writers and praised by the likes of Rudyard Kipling and M.R. James.

Jewett would seem to be an odd choice for writers that Lovecraft might have been influenced by—except that Jewett, who wrote what is now called “regional fiction” about Maine, was the foremost promulgator of the fictional New England town phenomenon—that is, writers making up a fictional New England town or city, like Lovecraft’s Arkham and Innsmouth and Dunwich, as the site for their stories. Sarah Orne Jewett didn’t invent this, but in Lovecraft’s childhood and teens Jewett was the major practitioner of a story-cycle set around a fictional New England locale, in Jewett’s case Deephaven and then Dunnet’s Landing. As Jessica Amanda Salmonson wrote,

Dunnet Landing is the most famous non-existent town of Maine & reminds us of Lovecraft’s Dunwich, Massachusetts. The influence of regional fiction from the nineteenth century on American horror writers has long been underestimated, though many of the ghost stories of August Derleth are frank imitations of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman & Sarah Jewett. The idea of a totally invented town was well established among the New England regionalists, & it is safe to say there never would have been a Dunwich or an Arkham had there never been a Deephaven or a Dunnet Landing…

 Vernon Lee. One of the best writers of the supernatural of her time, Lee was also a noted writer on art and aesthetics.

Lee, like Jewett, is not the first writer that people would choose for Lovecraft to have been influenced by. She’s far more of a writer of psychological hauntings and psychological horrors than Lovecraft was. And as Anthony Camara writes, “Whereas the weird horror of Lovecraft and the ‘Modern Masters’ revolves around the destabilization of matter, nature, and the cosmos, and is thus intrinsically ontological and/or metaphysical, Lee’s fiction does not show the slightest interest in destabilizing physical reality.”

But Lee was in fact influential on Lovecraft in two ways. It must be remembered that Lee was a significant writer of supernatural weird horror during the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900; Lovecraft, so eager to read horror fiction, must have heard of her, and undoubtedly would have read some of her work. (Absence of evidence—that is, none of Lee’s collections being in Lovecraft’s library, and none of Lee’s stories being in any of the anthologies in Lovecraft’s library—is not evidence of absence).

The first influence is in the psychological effects of horror on Lovecraft’s protagonists. They are generally high-strung, not particularly stable to begin with and rendered unstable because of brushing up against the unnameable and indescribable, and in general the opposite of the rugged, hyper-masculine, implacable and unmoveable male characters of most adventure fiction of the time. Lee’s horror stories, like Lovecraft, emphasize the baleful effect of the weird—the formless supernatural in Lee’s case, the alien space-gods and their spawn in Lovecraft’s. This emphasis on the psychological effects of horror on protagonists was a common enough authorial trick, but Lee’s prominence among writers of the weird and horrible would have meant that it would have impressed itself on him as an authorial trick to emulate, or at the very least as a modern version of the hysteria-causing horrors of Poe’s fiction.

The second influence, the broader and deeper one, lies in the combination of Lee’s materialism—because for her the weird can be reduced to scientific principles and facts—and her conception of (in Camara’s words) “human subjectivity and the forces that haunt it as explicable by the mechanisms of heredity.” These were significant departures from the prevailing horror and weird fiction dynamics of the time—but are themes that repeatedly appear in Lovecraft’s work. Moreover, Lee’s emphasis on the primacy of human psychology as the ultimate source of “supernatural” and psychic horrors, being so different from Lovecraft’s work and from the work of the Machen Quartet, can be argued to have been influential on Lovecraft as themes to be avoided. Again, Lee was a major weird and horror author of the time. Lovecraft would have read her and—thoughtful about writers as he was—would have taken note of her aesthetics and thematics, and would have struck out in the opposite direction, away from her and towards the Machen Quartet. Not every influence is going to be a positive one.

That’s four women authors of horror fiction who may—in my view, who did—influence Lovecraft. My position is arguable—but no less plausible, I think, than the many other arguments critics and scholars put forth about the various male writers who supposedly influenced Lovecraft.

So why hasn’t anything been written about these women writers or other significant women writers of horror of the time influencing Lovecraft’s writing?

One reason, of course, is the absence of their names from Lovecraft’s letters and Supernatural Horror in Literature and the absence of their works from Lovecraft’s library. But as only a moment’s consideration shows, this doesn’t mean he didn’t read them—again, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Why didn’t Lovecraft write about women writers he had read or was reading?

Well, read that Gina Wisker quote again about women in Lovecraft’s writing. It’s sometimes risky to extrapolate what a writer actually believes from that writer’s fiction, but in this case Lovecraft’s fiction seems to have accurately reflected Lovecraft’s beliefs, at least as far as women are concerned. Lovecraft didn’t have many female friends, as a child, teenager, or adult. His was a largely homosocial world. But despite his revulsion at the mechanics of sex with women and his nearly entirely male circle of friends, he wasn’t gay—if anything, he was asexual.

Which would be irrelevant to this discussion—plenty of aces are friends with and love women and even have sex with women—except I’d argue that Lovecraft, vain as he was, took his antipathy toward the physical act of sex and toward romance with women and not only projected them into his fiction, but allowed it to fuel a kind of embarrassment at the very idea of being influenced by women. Misogyny has many manifestations, after all, and it’s quite possible that Lovecraft’s misogyny was the type that saw viewed men who allowed themselves to be influenced by women as lesser men or lesser beings. This particular variety of misogyny would have manifested itself in silence when it came to women’s horror writing that influenced him—he may have been influenced by this female writer or that female writer, but he would never admit that influence to himself, much less to other men.

Armchair psychologizing? Perhaps—but so much that is written about Lovecraft is also armchair psychology.

The larger reason that no one’s written about women horror writers influencing Lovecraft—well, I’ll let Jessica Amanda Salmonson say it, and depressingly and angrily note that she wrote this thirty years ago and nothing’s changed:

Women have been overlooked by many means, so that if you set out to find tales of strangeness & terror by women, you would have a difficult time of it. This is no place for a synopsis of Joanna Russ’s brilliant How to Suppress Women’s Writing (1983), but the fate of women’s supernatural & horrific writings could have provided textbook cases for all her points. Mention Mary Higgens Clark or V. C. Andrews & be told, “Yes, but their gothicisms are not ultimately supernatural, so they don’t count.” Mention women’s dominance in Victorian ghost stories (Riddell, Molesworth, Oliphant, Broughton, Wood, ad infinitum, not to mention the neglected American portion) & be told, “Yes, but those are not always horrific in intent, & that’s a long time ago, so it doesn’t count.” Mention the horrorific fiction of Ruth Rendall & Patricia Highsmith, it’s “But only a little of their output is supernatural & they’re really closer to mysteries.” Mention Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s vampire tales & be told, “Yes, but these are more romance than horror; they don’t count.” Mention Russ or Tiptree or Charnas & a dozen other moderns who’ve written first-rate horror, & it’s: “They’re better known for their science fiction, so we can’t count them.” Mention Kathryn Ptacek & it’s, “But she was helped by a husband, Charles Grant, the real star of the family” (as there was only one Browning?). How about Shirley Jackson, the real beginning of the modern horror genre without whom Stephen King would have found no road paved for his success. According to the naysayers, “She was an anomaly & anyway she didn’t produce that much overall.”

As a general rule critics and historians of horror fiction have slighted women’s contribution to the genre, and the major recent histories of horror literature have not improved matters. Joshi & Stefan Dziemianowicz’s Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), Joshi’s Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction (2014), Xavier Aldana Reyes’ Horror: A Literary History (2016), Matt Cardin’s Horror Literature Through History (2017), Kevin Corstorphine & Laura Kremmel’s Palgrave Handbook to Horror Literature (2018)—certain women writers are described or mentioned or referred to in these works (because they are too famous and influential to omit), but the great mass of second-rankers, and even the majority of the first-raters, who happen to be women simply don’t appear in them, or (in the case of Joshi) are slighted by the writers, who apply ludicrously uneven standards to them and seem wholly unaware of their own misogyny and sexism.

(At the risk of being self-congratulatory and self-serving: my two books on horror fiction, Horror Needs No Passport, a guide to international [non-US, non-UK] horror fiction of the 20th century, and my A Chilling Age of Horror [due out out next year from Praeger], about 20th century horror fiction, were written with this gender gap in mind—I tried my best to rectify it).

As long as men are writing the histories of horror fiction and writing about the influences on Lovecraft, this state of affairs won’t change. In the past twenty years we’ve had feminist and queer studies readings of Lovecraft’s work, but more is needed, about Lovecraft’s background, about the major female horror writers of Lovecraft’s childhood and teenaged years, and about Lovecraft’s fiction.

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A short history of 20th century African-American horror literature

As I may have mentioned here before, I’m writing A Chilling Age of Horror: How 20th Century Horror Fiction Changed The Genre for Praeger (due out late spring 2020). A Chilling Age of Horror is, as the title says, a look (as panoptical as I could make it) at 20th century horror fiction, starting with the Machen Quartet (Machen, Blackwood, Dunsany, James) and following all the major and the important minor writers and trends in horror fiction published during the century.

This being Black History Month, and with the trailer to Us fresh on my mind, I thought I’d post my take on 20th century African-American horror fiction.

In a very real sense horror, in the form of slavery, was a part of the African-American experience from the beginning. Unsurprisingly, horror was a part of African-American narratives from the first as well. The folklore, legends, and myths brought over from Africa during the Middle Passage and turned into oral literature by the slaves was one significant element of pre-twentieth century African-American horror literature.1 A second, which long outlasted the African folklore and legends as a source of African-American horror, was the Gothic, which in its “Afro-Gothic” form was as popular by the end of the twentieth century as it was in its more primitive form centuries earlier.

Viewed collectively, the titles of canonical and lesser-known African-American texts project a long-standing–if unintentional–concern with the nexus between blackness, fear and terror. Our Nig; or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black, in a Two-Story House, North. Showing that Slavery’s Shadows Fall Even There [Harriet E. Wilson, 1859]; “Mars Jeems’s Nightmare” [Charles W. Chesnutt, 1899]; Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self [Pauline Hopkins, 1902-1903]; Invisible Man [Ralph Ellison, 1952]; Shadow and Act [Ralph Ellison, 1964]; The Spook Who Sat By the Door [Sam Greenlee, 1969]; A Visitation of Spirits [Randall Kenan, 1989]; Let the Dead Bury Their Dead [Randall Kenan, 1992]–these titles’ common bloodline is that they pulsate with gothic traits: the split or divided self, a theme which has epidermal, psychological, spatial, and national implications; the preternatural concern with blackness as the unconscious horror haunting the personal and collective white American psyche; the omnipresence of blackness as a befouling but ineradicable presence in the American psychic landscape; and the irrepressible materiality of those things designated alien and grotesque–the black, the female, the homosexual, the nationally dispossessed, all of which constitute an abject morass sullying America’s mythic sense of innocence, equality, and opportunity. If the “unspeakable” is “one of the most distinctive of Gothic tropes”…then the gothic is and has been secretly implanted in the black imagination….2

The first published form of African-American literature, the slave narrative, was Gothic:

As Hannah Crafts astutely notes in her own slave storyline, the slave narrator’s life was extraordinary and innately gothic, needing no fictionalizing to augment market appeal. Despite their formulaic tales and determinations to prove their claim that they are not fictionalizing…the ex-slave writers, among many others, manage to inscribe gothic formulations within their narrative beyond mere plot. The very life of a slave is also inevitably a gothic existence. The murders/suicides, rapes, entrapment and escape cycles, torture (brutal whippings), and familial secrets (illegitimate births) that make up numerous gothic plots constitute real, daily existence under slavery. Therefore, these writers have recourse to gothic ideological tropes, exercising them as rhetorical asides upon an already gothic plot. Furthermore, as texts such as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl illustrate, the slave narrative easily transitions, typologically and ideologically, into the gothic novelistic mode.3

By the turn of the twentieth century, when horror was cohering into a discrete and marketed commercial entity, African-American authors were producing Gothic fiction, both in stories and at novel-length. A number of the stories in Charles W. Chesnutt’s collection The Conjure Woman (1899) make use of Gothic elements either partially or wholly:

Although the stories do not achieve gothic effect–the shudder-provoking end often undone by the revelation of Julius’ varied ulterior motives–they do have frequent recourse to the gothic’s tropes. Chesnutt combines gothic elements with sociological observations to achieve a “gothic texture” (Edwards 90). Significantly, this “texture” is apparent in the cases of haunting, murder, inter- and intraracial violence, and implied rape that haunt Chesnutt’s stories. Chesnutt’s use of the genre results in a series of stories that invert the gothic tropes in ways similar to slave narrative use: the tales “identify the positive effects of darkness set against the demonic effects of whiteness associated with the perpetuation of slavery…[thus] situating whiteness…as the inspiration of fear and a more appropriate shade of the gothic” (Crow 2009, 90).4

Chesnutt “uses the gothic as a vehicle of an African-derived sense of time and space which allies nature with the sacred: time and space expand and alter because they are animated.”5 Similarly, his The Marrow of Tradition (1901) makes heavy use of the ruined, blasted Gothic landscape as “a metaphor for all of America when viewed through the lens of race.”6

Pauline Hopkins wrote her Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self (1902-1903) to raise what she called the “stigma of degradation” from African-Americans and to stress the unity of biological kinship of all human beings, but its concluding chapters rely heavily on the Gothic. A riot is described in Gothic and horror story terms, with lingering, nightmarish effects, rioters described as vampires, a doctor makes his way through a landscape of mutilated black corpses;

the novel notably ends in this environment of horror, its characters surrounded by scenes of mob violence and brutality in which white men become the bogeymen to blacks. The atmosphere and haunted landscapes introducing each of these texts hint at the actual problematic recurrence of violence and racial oppression reminiscent of slavery, and thus illustrates important moments of temporal collapse.7

The earlier appearance of a ghost, a traditional Gothic trope, is by contrast “tempered: ghostly appearances in these novels are not traditionally Gothic in that the ghosts evoke neither fear nor dread in the reader.”8

Jean Toomer’s collection Cane (1923) is critically acclaimed as one of the masterpieces of Harlem Renaissance literature, and one of the first novels to sensitively and insightfully portray the African-Americans of the American South. Cane is also a Gothic: “Toomer’s interest in generic and genetic impurity (for example, the U.S. history of miscegenation) places him firmly within the territory of the Gothic, as does his exploration of the history and meaning of slavery and the modern insistence on uniformity and conformity that he associates with industrialization.”9 As with other African-American Gothics, the ruined landscape of the South–ruined in this case by what Maisha Wester calls “slavery’s haunting specter”10–is a recurring Gothic trope in Cane: “the entirety of the South proves a wild and ruined ‘home’ that hints at a terrible past of sexual violation, gross abuses of authority, and criminal disenfranchisement, much like the haunted houses of the traditional gothic.”11

It might be expected that there would have been African-American horror writers from the beginning of horror as an organized commercial genre. There may well have been such writers during the dime novel era of the nineteenth century and the pulp era of the twentieth century, but they remain unknown: “As Harlan Ellison once noted to Samuel Delany, nothing is known of dozens of the writers of the pulps of the first half of the 20th century. Many of them might have been women or people of color.”12 So the first known horror story of the twentieth century by an African-American author is Zora Neale Hurston’s “Spunk” (1925). “Spunk” is told in the vernacular of African-Americans of rural central Florida and displays the author’s expertise in the folk beliefs of the people she portrays—beliefs alien to most readers of “Spunk,” then and now. “Spunk” is a well-wrought distillation of local folklore into the form of horror fiction, with Hurston’s strong narrative voice and expert use of dialogue emphasizing the horror elements of the story; an intriguing theory that the story is a “complex allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet” should add to the reader’s appreciation of Hurston’s artistry.13

Ann Petry’s The Street (1946) is about the life of a black woman and single mother, and deals with themes of racism, sexism, and classism. The Street was critically acclaimed on publication and was seen as breathing new life into the social criticism novel and the naturalistic novel. Less commented upon by critics are the deeply Gothic aspects of the novel. Keith Clark is undoubtedly correct when he writes that “at least through the 1960s, the preponderance of black literature might be considered a ‘literature of terror,’ with slavery of course standing in as the ‘original sin’ which provided the artistic matrix for subsequent black authors,”14 with The Street standing as an exception:

Petry’s Afro-Gothic defies such jejune categories as protest gothic or feminist gothic or Afrocentric gothic…the scope of Petry’s narrative concerns—horror; sexual and racial neuroses; unquenchable materialism and the dis-ease it engenders; spatial confinement; commodity, racial, and gender fetishisms—moves The Street beyond the realm of “social” terror. The novel’s catholicity marks Petry’s as a malleable gothic architectonics, the framework of which she manipulates and alters for manifold rhetorical ends.15

The list of the Gothic tropes in The Street reads like a checklist of archetypal Gothic elements: “catatonia, paroxysmal, blood-curdling violence; confinement and entombment; psychosexual neuroses; villainous and shape-shifting characters who worry and dislocate the line separating ‘good’ and ‘evil’; and an omnipresent and palpable specter of impending death.”16

Alice Walker’s “The Child Who Favored Daughter” (1973) makes for horrifying, if mesmerizing, reading. About a sullen, Bible-thumping African-American sharecropper who deals with the guilt over his sister’s life and suicide and with his attraction to his own daughter by imprisoning, torturing, and killing her, “The Child Who Favored Daughter” has no supernatural elements, but needs none to be thoroughly horrific and terrifying. The story is a thoroughly professional mixture of technique, emotion, storytelling, horror, and confronting what in the African-American literary community of the 1960s aroused only “silent but unreconcilable antipathy.”17 Further, as Maisha Wester argues, “The Child Who Favored Daughter” “challenges the ideas of black monolithic identity and allegiance using the tropes of incest, murder, torture, and suicide to illustrate the dire consequences of melancholic subject formation in connection to the construction of racial allegiance.”18

The wave of paperback horror novels during the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s was in some respects similar to the wave of pulp horror stories published in the 1920s and 1930s, with a number of novels written by authors about whom there is little information. Just as with the pulps, so too with the paperback horror novels: some or perhaps many of these authors could have been men or women of color. One author who is known to have been African-American was Joseph Nazel, the writer of the Blaxploitation horror novel The Black Exorcist (1974), a Blaxploitation version of Blatty’s The Exorcist. The Black Exorcist uses familiar Blaxploitation tropes, from a Satanic cult that was a front for the Mafia to the protagonist, a former pimp who found God, as well as a surprising dose of realism: “Nazel was an African-American man deeply tied to his community, and so The Black Exorcist has a real feel for L.A. street life.”19 However, The Black Exorcist did not spawn imitators or create a wave of African-American authors writing commercial horror novels.

Arguably the first work of horror by a professional African-American writer of fantastika was Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” (1984). “Bloodchild,” a science fiction novella which tells the story of human males on another planet who bear alien children, won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Award in 1985. “Bloodchild” “explores the paradoxes of power and inequality, and starkly portrays the experience of a class who, like women throughout most of history, are valued chiefly for their reproductive capacities.”20 “Bloodchild” does this through squirm-inducing implantation scenes, creating a body horror narrative that is both visceral and philosophical, and which Butler wrote as a way to “ease an old fear of mine…I worried about the botfly—an insect with, what seemed to me then, horror-movie habits.”21

Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills (1985) centers around an affluent black suburb and spotlights its material corruption and moral decay. A contemporary allegory with Gothic overtones, Linden Hills is

a modern version of Dante’s Inferno in which souls are damned not because they have offended God or have violated a religious system but because they have offended themselves. In their single-minded pursuit of upward mobility, the inhabitants of Linden Hills, a black, middle-class suburb, have turned away from their past and from their deepest sense of who they are.22

As Maisha Wester writes,

Naylor’s text is overtly gothic. The villain, Luther Nedeed, is a mysterious and anachronistic mortician often described as better placed in the nineteenth century. The neighborhood of Linden Hills winds and rambles, replacing the gothic’s sprawling mansion with its unusual occurrences and haunting noises, and its residents are inhuman automatons who serve the will of a single, demonic, seemingly ageless man. Willa, the novel’s heroine, is not only a variation of the stock “mad-woman-in-the-attic” character, but also frequently compared to Poe’s vengeful Madeline Usher…Naylor even symbolically evokes cannibalism to round out her gothic story.23

Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) is a ghost story about the horrific prices slavery demanded from the enslaved. Although Beloved contains a number of frightening supernatural moments, its central purpose is to conceptually horrify–that is, to appall the reader through the knowledge of what was done to slaves like the protagonist and her family and loved ones. “Beloved is more of a work of magical realism than it is a traditional ghost narrative in that the appearance of the supernatural is not necessarily a disturbing disruption of reality, but instead an accepted part of the daily world.”24 Beloved is, as S.T. Joshi notes, “an exquisite prose poem…[that] focuses so intently on the horror and tragedy of slavery that all other features in it dwindle to insignificance.”25

Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits (1989) depicts the traumatic effects of slavery on generations of African-Americans, but the primary driver of events is the protagonist’s confusion, guilt, and disgust at his own homosexuality. The protagonist ends up possessed by demons–who may only be imaginary–and commits suicide after a night of horrifying psychological struggle. As Maisha Wester writes, Kenan “performs revisions of the Gothic that prove particularly noteworthy and complex. Kenan uses the genre to reveal the archetypal depictions of racial, sexual, and gendered Others as constructions useful in the production of (white) patriarchal dominance.”26 Kenan’s stylistic razzle-dazzle is technically superb but diminishes the emotional impact of the horror aspects of protagonist’s struggle, leaving it only conceptually horrific.

Jewelle Gomez’s novel The Gilda Stories (1991) is both the first vampire novel with a black protagonist and the first vampire novel written by an African-American author. A kind of revision of Stoker’s Dracula and of the literary vampire tradition more generally, The Gilda Stories not only makes the vampire a hero–an authorial maneuver that was becoming more common in 1991–but also a black lesbian. This “‘recasting the mythology’ of the vampire…into a black, lesbian, fugitive slave politicizes a nexus of issues, including sexuality and race,”27 and its positioning of the protagonist vampire as the hero of the story, both signal the author’s intention not to tell a traditionally horrifying vampire story. Instead, the horror is, as with most of the narratives described in this chapter, primarily conceptual: what is done to the protagonist through her history, because of her ethnicity and sexuality, is disturbing, even without the expected scenes of vampires menacing innocents.

Tananarive Due’s The Between (1995) is a combination horror novel, detective story, and suspense/thriller, about a man who was saved from drowning as a child, but as an adult begins to believe, thanks to messages from his subconscious, that his survival was a mistake. An intriguing story, full of suspense, tension-filled moments, and elements of Ghanian folk tales and ghost stories, The Between also boasts strong characterization and a protagonist whose crumbling sanity is chillingly drawn.

Linda Addison’s collection Animated Objects (1997) contained science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories and poems. Addison’s horror is variable, appropriate for each story but without a unifying theme or underlying philosophy. Technically, though, Addison is a skilled horrorist, capable of describing bleak and frightening urban landscapes, literally hellish paranoia, and nightmarish claustrophobia with equal intensity.

  1. When the writer Zora Neale Hurston went on an African-American-folklore-gathering expedition in 1927 and 1928, she gathered nearly 500 primarily west African folktales, of which fifteen were in the categories “Devil Tales” (stories in which the Devil was either the protagonist or the antagonist) and “Witch and Haunt Tales” (stories about witches and ghosts). While these stories were told by people unexposed to Western horror literature or traditions, they nonetheless had substantial horror elements and provided a foundation for the first African-American horror writers.
  2. Keith Clark, The Radical Fiction of Ann Petry (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2013), 93-94.
  3. Maisha L. Wester, African-American Gothic: Screams from Shadowed Places (New York: Palgrave, 2012), 35.
  4. Wester, African-American Gothic, 69.
  5. Ellen J. Goldner, “Other(ed) Ghosts: Gothicism and the Bonds of Reason in Melville, Chesnutt, and Morrison,” MELUS 24, no. 1 (Spring, 1999): 71.
  6. Wester, African-American Gothic, 71.
  7. Wester, African-American Gothic, 72.
  8. Christine A. Wooley, “Haunted Economies: Race, Retribution, and Money in Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood and W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece,” in Haunting Realities: Natguralist Gothic and American Realism, ed. Monika Ebert and Wendy Ryden (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2017), 134.
  9. Daphne Lamothe, “Cane: Jean Toomer’s Gothic Black Modernism,” in The Gothic Other: Racial and Social Constructions in the Literary Imagination, ed. Ruth Bienstock Anolik and Douglas L. Howard (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 56.
  10. Wester, African-American Gothic, 107.
  11. Wester, African-American Gothic, 109.
  12. Jess Nevins, “The Black Fantastic: Highlights of Pre-World War II African and African-American Speculative Fiction,” io9.com, accessed Feb. 18, 2019, https://io9.gizmodo.com/5947122/the-black-fantastic-highlights-of-pre-world-war-ii-african-and-african-american-speculative-fiction.
  13. David G. Hale, “Hurston’s ‘Spunk’ and Hamlet,” Studies in Short Fiction 30.3 (Summer, 1993), 397.
  14. Clark, Ann Petry, 95.
  15. Clark, Ann Petry, 97.
  16. Clark, Ann Petry, 97.
  17. Trudier Harris, “Tipotoeing through Taboo: Incest in ‘The Child Who Favored Daughter,’” Modern Fiction Studies 28, no. 3 (Autumn 1982): 495.
  18. Wester, African-American Gothic, 150.
  19. Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell, 30-32.
  20. Sherley Anne Williams, “Sherley Anne Williams on Octavia E. Butler,” Ms., March 1986, 70.
  21. Octavia E. Butler, “Afterword,” in Bloodchild and Other Stories (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1995), 36.
  22. Catherine C. Ward, “Gloria Naylor’s Linden Hills: A Modern Inferno,” Contemporary Literature 28, no. 1 (Spring, 1987): 67.
  23. Wester, African-American Gothic, 150-151.
  24. June Pulliam, “Morrison, Toni,” in Supernatural Literature of the World, ed. S.T. Joshi and Stefan Dziemianowicz (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2005), 821.
  25. Joshi, Unutterable Horror, 684-685.
  26. Maisha Wester, “Haunting and Haunted Queerness: Randall Kenan’s Re-Inscription of Difference in ‘A Visitation of Spirits,’” Callaloo 30, no. 4 (Fall, 2007): 1035.
  27. Cedric Gael Bryant, “‘The Soul has Bandaged Moments’: Reading the African-American Gothic in Wright’s ‘Big Boy Leaves Home,’ Morrison’s ‘Beloved,’ and Gomez’s ‘Gilda,’” African-American Review 39, no. 4 (Winter 2006): 550.
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