Modern phantasmagorias and visual culture in Wilkie Collins’s Basil
in Monstrous media/spectral subjects
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This chapter examines Collins’s rewriting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in Basil (1852), paying particular attention to the transformation of fears related to modern technology and visual culture. Just like Shelley’s mad scientist, Basil is fatally pursued and persecuted by a monstrous being. If Mary Shelley sought to revamp the supernatural by moving away from ‘the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment’, Collins revamps dusty ghosts by setting his tale in London at the heart of modern culture. As a consequence, the sublime assault on the senses of the Romantic traveller exploring the Alps becomes an assault on the senses of the consumer. While Dr. Frankenstein is blinded to the horror of his experiment, Basil is bedazzled by the lures of commodity culture, which creates desires and fancies that haunt him and literally lead him to the brink of a precipice. Material culture is a ‘phantasmagoria,’ in Walter Benjamin’s terms, which blinds and maddens the consumer, turning the phantasmagorias of the marketplace into a horror motion picture.

Monstrous media/spectral subjects

Imaging gothic from the nineteenth century to the present

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