Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Current Music: Ghost - Prequelle Album
Post by: Jessica
The idea of spending my evening with a good horror book that will fuel my nightmares sends shivers down my spine. My love of horror started with this medium and like a zombie it shall never die. I only wish that adulting did not get in the way so I can spend more time reading the list of ever growing books that are on my shelf. When I started to move away from the Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew and engage with R.L. Stine (Goosebumps & Fear Street), Anne Rice and Christopher Pike, I found my interest in the horror genre growing. At first it was only in the written word, I had too much of an overactive imagination that made watching horror movies too scary for me. But now that I think about it, it was probably because of all those books I was reading that contributed to my fear of watching horror movies alone in the dark.
Over the years I expanded my horror library to include classics such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Richard Matheson’s The Legend of Hell House. And of course, no fan of horror literature would be complete without having their nightmares fueled by the King of Horror himself, Stephen King. Granted, I am visiting King much later in my years and that is only because of the one short story of his I read while in high school. It was so f***ed up that at the time I realized I was not ready to venture into Mr. King’s world just yet. It was something to do with a man eating grass naked of something or other. It was one of his short stories. While in university, I did read Salem’s Lot and absolutely became fascinated by his writing and stories. Now, I have a bookshelf full of his novels, along with Clive Barker and a few author horror greats that I am working through.
While doing research for our podcasts’ first episode about Women in Horror, I discovered that while horror has its’ roots in the written word it was female authors that contributed significantly to the genre. Particularly around the Victorian era, some of our most prolific horror stories came from women whether under their own name or a pen name. Women of the era had to overcome many prejudices to be able to write about horror. The idea that they were “angels” and “innocents” kept them from understanding the true essence of horror. However, women of the Victorian era and current day may understand horror better than anyone else considering the many tragic events that influence a good story plot. Such horrific life events would be the pain of childbirth and the traumatic after effects to the body and mind, infant mortality, victimization by callous lovers or heavy handed husbands, becoming penniless, suffering from mental illness or just finding oneself dealing with being alone in the world. Now granted, some of these were more traumatic in the Victorian and Edwardian ages but these items still impact women and modern storytelling today.
I will not go into the entire history of female participation in the world of writing horror as it would beyond the scope of this post, but I will identify some of the top contributors whose novels not only scared their audiences in book format but have had their work adapted or used to inspire some of horror’s most classic films.
Mary Shelley - Everyone knows her name and her novel Frankenstein has gone on to scare readers and shape the horror genre for many decades.
Daphane Du Maurier - Her three novels; Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The Birds were all adapted for the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock.
Charlotte Riddell - While she earned money under the pen name, F.G. Trafford and R.V.M Sparling the majority of her writing has focused on haunted houses.
Shirley Jackson - As her family’s primary breadwinner, her novels The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery reflected her bouts with depression and anxiety that reflected her unease of domestic life and the idea of being tied to a home.
Joyce Carol-Oates - A contributor to modern gothic horror she has cataloged over 100 books including Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque.
So why did I select only five women to mention over the many others I have stumbled upon, both past and present, in my research? It was for two reasons; first, was out of bias because at some point in time I have come across one of these women’s works and was entranced by what I was reading. Second, was how influential I find their work has been on the horror genre in general. If it had not been for these women stepping out of the mold to write these novels, we wouldn’t have the same inspiration for current day female authors of the genre.
I wish I could go into more depth about this topic and write about the other female authors but then I would be writing a whole essay. For now, I will leave you with only just an introduction to Women in Horror Literature as I plan to revisit this topic from time to time as reading and writing is near and dear to my black little heart.