Have You Read…? Victorian Supernaturalism

Last week I promised a more genre-led selection and here it is. I’ve taken inspiration from a module I did at university because grouping together my book-collection into coherent groups is something I can’t manage without assistance. I wouldn’t ever have classed myself as a particular fan of horror fiction or tales of supernaturalism but these are a few that I cannot help but love and serve as a suitable entrance into the genre and also a reminder that the Victorian period was top-notch.

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Bram Stoker – Dracula

This will come as a surprise to…nobody. One can’t discuss this genre without acknowledging the influence and lasting power of Dracula, published in 1897. It wasn’t the first of its kind, with Le Fanu’s Carmilla first appearing in 1872 amongst others, but Stoker’s tale of vampirism is one which seems to have had the strongest influences on what we still associate with vampirism in the 00s – sparkling skin aside. I doubt I need to write an in-depth response to Dracula – a thousand people have done it before me and probably with better insight. This is merely my gentle nudge of ‘go on, read it. It’s worth it.’

On first read this text is lengthy and I found it to have too many diversions from the central plot which left my mind drifting but on repeated reads I’ve come to see that without the erratic Renfield and the degeneration of the innocent women it wouldn’t be the text that it is and eventually the eponymous villain sort of slips into the background. It’s undeniable that this is a pretty sexual text with the constant references to penetration, lips and desire and I think that is where its power lies for me. Not because it’s a Victorian 50 Shades, far from it, but because women are, albeit briefly, permitted sexuality and a role of predator rather than victim. Of course, these ‘unnatural beings’ are eventually put back into their place but for an era when a sexual woman was considered to be ill what else did you really expect? P.S. the writing is brilliant.

Robert Louis Stevenson – ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’

I don’t need to tell anyone the story of Jekyll and Hyde and I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to tell anyone that it’s a fantastic read but maybe it’s one that you never really made the effort to pick up and read. Basically, read it. My copy is only 65 pages and the writing is easy to get through. Read and appreciate this text for its build-up of intrigue and climactic revelation of the truth then try to imagine coming to it with no prior knowledge and it becomes rather brilliant.

Sheridan Le Fanu – ‘Carmilla’

‘Carmilla’ is just one of the short stories from Le Fanu that I love but I chose this one as a close-contrast to Dracula. Published more than 20 years before Stoker’s text, this one seems somewhat more progressive and a lot less conservative in its presentation of women through the eponymous protagonist being cast as a female vampire intent on preying only upon young ladies. Essentially, we have a lesbian threatening to destroy the virtue of young women and upset their good, moral fathers. Just like the vampires of today, Carmilla is possessive and abusive, slowly draining the life from her victims whilst masquerading as a tender friend. This story isn’t likely to strike fear into the heart of anyone except members of the Westboro Baptist Church but this isn’t the 1870s so that’s a given.

Obvious but necessary addition: read more Poe. Pretty much everyone has read ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ but there are some other great ones like ‘Berenice’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

If you want more then have a hunt for stories that featured in Blackwood’s Magazine – if you track down a good story that you don’t already know the ending to you might feel a twang of suspense and thrill.

Are there any stories you’ve come across which you love?

Lauren – Tweet Me!

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2 thoughts on “Have You Read…? Victorian Supernaturalism

  1. Pingback: Have You Read…? Virginia Woolf | Wendy House

  2. Pingback: Have You Read….? Second-Wave Feminist Fiction | Wendy House

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