Poe is known for short stories and poetry, but fans who haven’t read his only novel are missing out. These two-hundred pages encapsulate all there is to love about Poe. That includes chapters with alive burials, unforgettable gore, relentless anxiety and all manner of physical torture. The body count is high and the deaths are brutal. Yes, please!
The premise is that Arthur Pym and his companion are young daydreamers with fantasies of going on adventures in the open ocean. Unfortunately, Pym’s family forbids such folly. So the friend helps him stow away on a voyage. Once sufficiently out at sea, and thus too far to turn back, Pym expects to reveal his presence and enjoy the ride. This plan soon goes awry, however, with one ghastly event leading to the next until it seems unimaginable anything worse can happen. That’s exactly when things get doubly and triply worse.
Read more “Edgar Allan Poe – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym & Related Tales (1838)”
From an historical perspective, Quatrefoil is immensely significant. It is known for being the first American novel to depict gay relationships in a positive way. In the 1950s, Quatrefoil (pronounced cat-er-foil) became the bible for battling suicidal thoughts and embracing monogamous love, while simultaneously masquerading as straight to avoid blackmail and social ruin. Often the plot functions more as self-help than fiction. Tim and Phillip, one more experienced with his identity as a homosexual, the other still coming to grips, serve as stand-ins for readers going through their own journey.
Given this historical context, it’s no wonder the book became such a classic—and deemed so “obscene” that Greenberg, its publisher, was indicted on a federal charge of “sending obscene material through the mail.” After five years of legal woes, they eventually settled on a $3,500 fine and promised to keep the novel out of print. All this hullabaloo, mind you, for a book with absolutely zero sex scenes—not even a kiss! The only “problem” was its depiction of gay love in a positive light.
Read more “James Barr – Quatrefoil (1950)”
Zofloya is a pre-Freud gothic novel first published in 1806, but it often seems informed by modern theories of sexual psychology. Much of the drama arises from megalomania in the characters’ brains. This includes a philandering man with a fetish for married women. He has the very specific goal of using his charms to wreck happy homes. Then there’s the young Leonardo who thinks himself above temptation, but soon finds himself the love slave of a fifteenth century dominatrix.
Read more “Charlotte Dacre – Zofloya (1806)”
First published in 1897 by “Girl’s Gossip” columnist C. E. Humphry, this how-to guide on not being a cad or embarrassing yourself in polite society is surprisingly readable. Mrs. Humphry utilizes sharp wit that remains hilarious 100+ years later. Other laugh-out-loud moments emerge thanks to the rich ironies of drastic culture change. My favorite parts, however, are when she berates men for engaging in uncouth behavior that continues to plague today’s society.
For example, manspreading. Yes, the act of bowed legs on public transit was an issue in 1897 as well. She has a whole section on it:
True courtesy will prevent a man from infringing the rights of his neighbours on either side by occupying more than his own allotted space. Very stout men are obliged to do so, but at least they need not spread out their knees in a way that is calculated to aggravate the evil. Even a thin man can take up a quantity of room by thus disposing himself at an angle of forty-five with the other occupants of an omnibus.
Read more “Mrs. Humphry – Manners for Men (1897)”
Since its publication in 1915, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis has become one of the most dissected literary works of all time. Multitudes have pored over every detail of the author’s life for clues to reveal its proper meaning, extending their search even to the journal entries of his close companions (Cain). A hypothesis that Kafka suffered a Father Complex remains the running theory for how such bizarre fiction manifested itself into existence (Abraham). This interpretation is far from conclusive, however, with dozens of other compelling arguments. Feminist readings and postcolonial readings offer their own rich interpretations, and practically everything in between.
Read more “Franz Kafka – The Metamorphosis (1915)”
Bungay Castle by Elizabeth Bonhote is a literary artifact of the 1790s. This was a time when London was obsessed with reading Gothic novels by Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe and their numerous imitators. Minerva Press was a major publisher of all things Gothic and they added Bonhote’s novel to their growing catalog in 1796, the same year that Matthew Lewis published his enduring masterwork, The Monk.
For those of us with an academic interest in Gothic literature, the 1790s is seen as a magical period of enlightened creativity; a renaissance of all things spooky and macabre. The era also contains a never-ending well of Gothic novels that need to be re-read, re-analyzed, and re-discovered. Sadly, these works have been largely neglected by academia and, in many cases, out-of-print for over two hundred years.
Read more “Elizabeth Bonhôte – Bungay Castle (1796)”
Dracula seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it type books, but for me it is all love! The opening chapters alone provide some of the most gripping, suspense-inducing, edge-of-seat anxieties I’ve ever read, all leading up to a delightfully queer twist with a male character stepping in for the traditional Gothic heroine.
Jonathan Harker fulfills the damsel in distress role quite suitably, being locked away in a remote castle and forced to navigate the domineering personality of his captor. Dracula is reminiscent of Montoni from Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, particularly in the way he has control over Jonathan’s sexual well-being. When the three weird sisters close in on an unaccompanied Jonathan, Dracula stops them at the last second, saying “This man belongs to me!” before Harker “sank down unconscious.”
Read more “Bram Stoker – Dracula + “Dracula’s Guest” (1897)”
Lesbian vampire novel that pre-dates Dracula by 25 years? Sign me up! Carmilla (1872) was in fact a huge influence on Bram Stoker, as shown by many subtle references in Dracula (1897) and more obvious ones in “Dracula’s Guest”. Largely a forgotten classic, today Carmilla is receiving something of a revival thanks to an increased academic interest in queer artifacts and this new edition that’s edited by Carmen Maria Machado.
Read more “Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)”
Lady Audley’s Secret is a gorgeous example of the Victorian ‘Sensation Novel’ which dominated Great Britain during the 1860’s and ’70s. It includes a unique female mastermind of evil, while also presenting enough evidence for a lively counter argument over who the real villain is. The prose is top-notch and very modern. At times it reads more like the latest literary prize-winner and not something that was published over a hundred and fifty years ago. There’s plenty of mystery and suspense to keep the pages turning, but intriguing characters are what really keep you glued. It’s a shame this classic no longer enjoys the massive popularity it once carried well into the early 20th century. It holds up extremely well.
Read more “Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)”
Over 150 years later, The Woman in White still deserves its status as one of the most beloved and influential novels written in English. The combination of Gothic aesthetics, penny dreadful scandal, domestic drama and Victorian true crime makes it a mainstream delight for all readers, then and now. There’s even classic detective work that would, no doubt, go on to inspire the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
Read more “Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859)”