Tonight I’m reading…

Late Victorian Gothic Tales, ed. Roger Luckhurst; published by Oxford World’s Classics in 2005

It is quite wonderful. The introduction identifies the beginning of the Gothic era (late 18th to early 19th century–Mysteries of Udolpho, and Otranto, and Frankenstein) and then links that to a resurgence in the genre at the end of the nineteenth century. Works such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), The Picture of Dorian Grey (1891), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), and Dracula (1897) are examples of the fin de siecle expressions of the Gothic mode.

“The hybrid, bastard form of the Gothic records the undamming of dark forces that rush into and insidiously undermine the order of everyday life. This prospect is a terror but also, of course, a delightful promise. The genre appears to inflict exorbitant punishments on those who step outside the norm, but at the same time it is in the business of lasciviously imagining these transgressions. It invokes the law by breaking it; it insists on sexual continence by dreaming up all manner of ingenious perversity. It is difficult sometimes to decide of a Gothic text is conservative or subversive for it is often both, simutaneously.” (Luckhurst xi)

 Roger Luckhurst’s introduction suggests that the changing world of the late Victorian found expression in the supernatural excesses of the Gothic tale. What sort of changes, you ask? Gender stuff was all kinds of complicated, what with Oscar’s trial and the New Woman and all. The empire was bigger than ever, and so more fragile and more troubling than ever. Science and religion and spiritualism competed for primary place in the public mind. All of this makes for some uneasy times and for some uneasy tales.  

I’m loving the intersection of the Victorian era and modernity. Tropp’s Images of Fear (which I reviewed here) suggests that the framework with which we view the modern age is informed–created by, even–the horror stories of the Victorian era. This collection seems to allow for further interrogation of that thesis –instead of looking at all the stories, we’re just looking at a few, from a very specific time (the 1890’s), and looking at how they dealt with the very modern terrors of the late Victorian era.

Here’s what’s in the anthology:

Vernon Lee’s Dionea
Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime
Henry James’s Sir Edmund Orme
Rudyard Kipling’s The Mark of the Beast
B. M. Croker’s The Dak Bungalow at Dakor
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lot No. 249
Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Case of Lady Sannox
Grant Allen’s Pallinghurst Barrow
Jean Lorrain’s Magic Lantern
Jean Lorrain’s The Spectral Hand
Arthur Machen’s  The Great God Pan
M. P. Shiel’s Vaila

The book also includes some 40 pages of introductory notes, including an extensive bibliography and chronology of the era, as well as some 20 pages of explanatory notes. So lots of extra goodies. 

Highly recommended–whether you’re busily researching or just needing something spooky to curl up with on this late October evening.