A “major influence” to Graham Greene and described as a “superb writer” by the New Yorker, Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952) might be one of the most popular authors you’ve never heard of. Her extensive bibliography is an endless list of novels and short stories, mostly within the romance and horror genres, but also includes history and biography.
In 1949, near the end of her life, she gathered a humble collection of her favorite eerie tales and had them published as The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories. Now newly reprinted under the “Monster She Wrote” banner, celebrating women writers of the macabre, Bowen’s words find a new generation of enthralled readers. Here’s my review of each story:
Read more “Marjorie Bowen – The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories (1949)”
“The Fall of the House of Usher” is among the most scrutinized works in Edgar Allan Poe’s bibliography. Ripe with metaphorical descriptions and intentionally mysterious language, the story is an open invitation to varied interpretations. At the high school level, most students are taught that it is a tale about extreme isolation. In academia, scholars tend to be more interested in the bizarre brother-sister relationship and its incestuous possibilities.
Until recently, the idea that Poe could be in conversation with queer anxieties might sound absurd. Increasingly, however, critics have identified queer themes throughout his stories and poetry. In some cases, such as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” it is nearly impossible to deny that Dupin and his male companion are in a romantic relationship (Novosat). So too does “The Fall of the House of Usher” benefit from a queer reading. Suddenly the curious language and enigmatic events make sense. Not vaguely or subconsciously, but in its entirety. It is my argument that “Usher” is, from beginning to end, about queer anxieties. Notably, the angst of sexual repression and an inability to reproduce.
Read more “Queer Theory: Edgar Allan Poe – The Fall of the House of Usher (1839)”
First published in 1816, when Edgar Allan Poe was an impressionable seven years old, this “science” volume chronicles reported incidents of premature burials, re-animated corpses, and bizarre embalming methods. It even finds time to get into politics, advocating for new laws that would make burial illegal within church yards and city limits.
Poe scholars point to this text as a possible reason for the author’s obsession with alive burials. Even if Poe never read it, its existence shows there was a general unease about premature interment at this point in history. Such evidence can further be found in early nineteenth century coffin technology which might include literal bells and whistles to alert a passing sexton.
Read more “Joseph Taylor – The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)”
Avoid the pond water and don’t cut the grass! This eco-gothic horror novel delivers more plant-based thrills than an Earth Day celebration. You’ll think twice about weedy vegetation overwhelming that ramshackle house outside of town, and may even second guess having outdoor trysts with woodland nymphomaniacs.
It’s rare for a pulp novel to live up to its brilliant cover, but this one does. Actually, the story surpasses any of the wild assumptions you might have going in. It gets crazier and crazier with every page, and I’m all about it!
Read more “Hugh Zachary – Gwen, In Green (1974)”
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)”
Ever aware of the show’s campy tone, this novelty joke book first appeared in February 1969. Apparently it exceeded expectations, as there there at least five additional printings in only ten months. This impressive accomplishment is more indicative of the national frenzy for Dark Shadows anything, I believe, than the book’s content.
Read more “Anonymous – Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein (1969)”
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)”
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)”
Among the controversial literary works published throughout world history, few have sparked the level of outrage and obsession associated with Matthew Lewis’ 1796 novel The Monk. Even before his book bugged out eyes all across London, the patriarch was feeling hesitant toward Gothic plots. On one hand, Ann Radcliffe’s narrative puzzleboxes were charmingly written. But on the other, her female characters were too pushy against their fathers, too resistant of assigned husbands, and too eager to run off on exotic adventures. A girl could get ideas reading such folly. What a mess that would be!
Read more “Matthew Lewis – The Monk (1796)”