Into The Mansion

Somewhere, once upon a time, I learned an interesting theory about dreams. That theory stated that certain rooms represented certain aspects of the dreamer’s psyche. If you dream of a bedroom, for instance, that’s believed to have something to do with sexuality and intimacy. If you dream of a kitchen, that’s your domestic side, a living room was considered your social, public self … and so on. That, in part is what Into The Mansion is about.

Not long ago in Facebook Land, I shared that I was working on something somewhat different than my usual Horror novel fare. Oh, it’s still about a big, creepy, old house, but instead of prose – it’s poetry. It’s not a new poem. It was written in 1995, though parts of it existed long before that in the world of my dreams.

Instead of just posting it here and forcing you all to read, I’ve created a 7-minute video of the poem that I narrate. It took more times than I care to mention to get a recording I was happy with and though it’s still not perfection – it will do.

And so, without further delay – I extend a hand and say, “Come with me …

INTO THE MANSION

 

Book Review – The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

As a female horror author, I decided last fall it was high time I read what is considered to be one of the first Gothic novels written by a woman, “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Ann Radcliffe.

My first encounter with Gothic literature came at around the age of twelve. I’ve always been big into vampires, and as luck would have it, my best friend’s brother had a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that he was willing to let me have it. 19th Century novels are hard enough for most adults, but I was a determined reader and pushed my way through. I went on to read it at least ten more times over the years, each time understanding a little bit more.

From Stoker, I moved on to Poe, Dickens, and Hawthorne all on a voluntary basis, plus whatever reading of that period that was required of us for English classes such as Mark Twain. After high school, I discovered the likes of Willkie Collins, Emily Bronte, and Oscar Wilde. As a Civil War reenactor for nearly ten years, I wanted to learn more about the period based on the diaries which led me to the likes of Sarah Morgan, Rose Greenhow, and Mary Chestnut.

All this being the long-winded way of saying I am familiar with the ins and outs of 18th-19th century writing. Speaking of long-winded, let’s talk about the novel in question.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, published in 1794, takes us on what is now considered a typical Gothic adventure. A life of peace and happiness is shattered when young Emily is left a poor orphan and placed in the cruel hands of her nearest relative. In this case, an aunt. During Emily’s happier days she meets and falls in love with a handsome cavalier named Valencourt. But, alas, this love struck couple will not find it so easy to be married and live happily ever after. First, Emily must be torn from her native land of France to reside in Italy with her heartless aunt and uncle who want to marry her off to a wealthy friend who’s old enough to be Emily’s father. But, Emily’s heart has sworn allegiance to Valencourt and she’ll have no business with her elderly suitor. Next, she is removed to the isolated fortress of Castle Udolpho where, after the death of her aunt, it seems as if Emily is destined to suffer the same fate at the hands of her greedy uncle.

Getting to this point, unfortunately, took half the book and with a total of over 600 pages, that’s a long and somewhat tedious amount of reading. And yet, much like slogging my way through Dracula as a twelve-year-old, I persisted and emerged victorious. But, did Emily? Will she ever escape her treacherous uncle and the prison Castle Udolpho has become? Who is the mysterious male figure she keeps seeing at night moving about on the battlements? What of the female ghost-like apparition being reported by the servants and seen by Emily herself? Will she and Valencourt ever set eyes on each other again? I’m not telling!

Dark, brooding, and suspenseful, it’s easy to see how The Mysteries of Udolpho set the stage for so many other Gothic novels that would follow and why it was so popular with the ladies of its hay day. A tough read at times, but well worth the effort and satisfaction I got when I was finally able to close the covers knowing at long last, the eluded to mysteries of Udolpho.

Due to it taking half the novel to get to the good stuff, I’m giving it –

3 out of 5 Ravens

The First Ladies of Gothic Literature

I had no idea that February was Women In Horror Month when I first started researching the following article back in September 2016. I was hoping to use it for a blog post in October, but life being what it is, just never found the time to wrap it up. Therefore, instead of holding off on it, I thought it was quite topical for February instead!

As a female horror writer and a long time reader of 19th century literature, mostly along the lines of Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and Edgar Allen Poe, I recently decided it was time to learn more about those ladies who have come before me in the genre. The best place to start was at the beginning, or as near to the beginning as I could find out there. That search led me back to 1778.

Before Anne Rice’s vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac told us all about Lestat in that famous Interview With A Vampire; before Daphne du Maurier introduced us to the cruel and promiscuous Rebecca; and even before the creation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in 1816, there was Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe. Reeve’s novel The Old English Baron was published in 1778. Radcliffe followed suit in 1794 with The Mysteries of Udolpho.

What passed for horror then is a far cry from what we know today, but the basic elements remain the same. 18th and 19th Century horror was more of the emotional variety. It was a mental state of being linked to unfortunate and seemingly inescapable circumstances. A sense of claustrophobia was key to these novels, be that in a physical sense as in bodily imprisonment or in a mental sense with feelings of madness and mental illness. Today’s version puts the characters in some sort of insane kidnapper’s isolated torture chamber or house of madness trying to escape as one by one as they are bumped off in the bloodiest, most gruesome ways possible. Not quite so with the works of Cleeve and Radcliffe.

Classic Gothic literature is considered to have started in 1764 with the writing of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Within it contains elements of realistic fiction and romance with overtones of the paranormal. The setting included the now almost cliché isolated castle with secret passages, trap doors, clanging chains, and pictures with eyes that shifted and watched passers-by and set a standard for many, many future Gothic novels. The term Gothic stems from the setting, specifically Gothic-style Architecture that was popular during the high and late medieval period, roughly from the 12th-16th centuries. The most common use for this type of architecture was churches and castles, though hundreds of stately homes and colleges also employed the style.

ClaraReeveClara Reeve was born in 1729 to Reverend William Reeve, M.A., rector of Freston and of Kreson in Suffolk, England and his wife, whose family were jewelers to King George I. Clara did not begin to write seriously until after the death of her father. Originally titled The Champion of Virtue, a Gothic Story, The Old English Baron was written in direct response, and perhaps even as a form of literary rivalry to Walpole’s 1764 novel. Very little is known about Clara’s personal life.

Ann_RadcliffeAnn (Ward) Radcliffe was born in London in 1764 to William and Ann (Oates) Ward. At twenty-three she married William Radcliffe who was a journalist and Oxford University graduate. As he often worked late and the couple was without children, Ann took up writing to help pass the many hours she spent alone. As with Reeve, Radcliffe left behind scant information about her private life outside her accomplishments as an author.

More times than not, the main character is a seemingly hapless and helpless woman destined for a life of misery should things continue as they are. More times than not she is also an orphan. This loss of parents or any sort of close, positive and loving family member to protect and guide her is only the beginning of her troublesome fate. Emotions are the biggest foe as well as the greatest ally to the Gothic Horror heroine. Time and time again she will be brought down, dragged through the emotional mud, her mind and spirit and sometimes her body taken to the very brink of doom and despair. She is ruled over by an iron fist in the form of an older man or woman who wants to control everything she says and does for their own personal gain. Usually, that gain is monetary and comes with an increased level of status. These guardians are actually more like cruel, heartless prison guards. This is where the monsters we’ve come to associate with horror novels and movies today were spawned.

Straberry-Hill-Walpoles1798

As powerful and omnipotent as these very human monsters appear to be, they have their weaknesses and their secrets. Finding that weakness and unravelling the secrets is the only way the damsel in distress is going to be set free. Most assuredly there is a knight in shining armor out there, because romance is what makes a Gothic Horror, Gothic and not just Horror, but she can’t rely on him to rescue her. And this where those emotions that have so far worked against her, become her greatest weapon.  She cannot hope to overpower them physically, but at some point in her upbringing, before she was orphaned and life went to hell in a handbasket, someone taught her some powerful psychological and emotional lessons. She may be poor and she may be destitute, but she’s far from stupid. She must use her wits and beat her captors at their own game. How she does that is what drives the plot forward.

Have you noticed that not once have I mentioned anything supernatural actually going on?

The earliest Gothic novels contained very little in the way of the paranormal. And even if there was a ghost, strict limits were often placed on its behavior. The ghost of Lord Lovel in The Old English Baron for instance, is a silent apparition. He is detectable only by sight, never heard or sensed in any other way and is never brought forward into daylight so we can have a really good look at him. There is no confirmed ghost at all in The Mysteries of Udolpho, but we do catch sight of what may be a corpse wearing a black veil.

For obvious reasons, these sorts of novels were tremendously popular with female readers and were very often targeted towards that audience by first appearing as serials in the leading women’s magazines of the day. Within the confines of the story they could see themselves portrayed as the ‘weaker sex’ and taken advantage of by men, and sometimes other women, of wealth and power.  And yet, despite the hardship, there was always hope that the main character would triumph because of her quick thinking. She may be physically weaker, but to see another woman win because of her smarts must have been a wonderful ego boost and given feelings of empowerment to the women reading. If the poor and pitiful Emily of The Mysteries of Udolpho can survive all that she was put through, surely, I, the reader, can overcome my troubles. Feminism was taking root even back then.

From Reeve to Radcliffe, Shelley to du Maurier, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters up to our current female women in horror, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Anne Rivers Siddons, Caitlín R. Kiernan and even myself, we have all strived to present horror in a way that not only frightens but may also empower our readers. Without consciously trying to target a female audience with my own work, I’ve noticed that the majority of my main characters are very strong-minded women. They face the most bizarre of situations and yet they keep fighting for what is right. They discover their inner strengths as they battle the real or imagined paranormal madness that surrounds them. In that way, I feel I am giving a very respectful nod of recognition to the female horror writers who have come before me and am proud of what I have been able to offer the genre in the past and what I hope to present to it in the future.

If you liked this post, you might find my The Horror of Women blog post of interest, too.