Hans Christian Andersen and Selma Lagerlöf

This chapter presents two important forerunners to contemporary Nordic Gothic, Danish Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) and Swedish Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940). The chapter sketches their different literary and historical contexts and touches on translations and adaptions of, or contemporary references to, their Gothic stories and novels. The first part of the chapter then focuses on Gothic elements in Andersen’s fairy tales ‘Den lille Havfrue’ (1837; ‘The Little Mermaid’), ‘Snedronningen’ (1844; ‘The Snow Queen’) and ‘De vilde Svaner’ (1838; ‘The Wild Swans’), and briefly relates the first two to the Disney adaptations of those two tales. The second part of the chapter examines folklore, fin-de-siècle and provinciality in the novel Gösta Berlings saga (1891; The Saga of Gösta Berling). The short stories ‘De fågelfrie’ (1892, ‘The Outlaws’) and ‘Stenkumlet’ (1892, ‘The King’s Grave’) are also briefly discussed as examples of Lagerlöf’s use of the forest as Gothic setting.

in Nordic Gothic
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Fur, fashion and species transvestism

Werewolf mythology is intrinsically bound up with Western culture’s relationship with clothes, and specifically with the substitution of one kind of skin for another. This chapter explores the relationship between fur and the body in werewolf narratives and the way that these inflect the presentation of fashionable femininity. It focuses on the Ralph Lauren Autumn/Winter 2015 advertising campaign, tracing its heritage through nineteenth-century werewolf fiction, visual culture (from nineteenth-century painting to contemporary photography) and contemporary film. Drawing on Marjorie Garber’s construction of the transvestite as ‘third term’ that disrupts a binary gender system, it proposes the werewolf as ‘species transvestite’. By ‘wearing the wolf’ – or, indeed, ‘wearing the woman’ – the female werewolf refuses a clear distinction between fur and skin and becomes a ‘third term’ disrupting the binary division between human and animal. This liminal status is based in problematic cultural assumptions about the nature of femininity, indigenous peoples and indeed animals, but it also promises a fierce glamour, bodily freedom and intimacy with wilderness that remains seductive. The chapter concludes that the promise of transformation in these texts is the promise of fashion itself.

in In the company of wolves
Brutishness, discrimination and the lower-class wolf-man from The Wolf Man to True Blood

Whilst the vampire has experienced an enormous resurgence in film, television and fiction in recent years, the werewolf is represented rather like a familiar or loyal canine accompanying a more powerful master. Not only does this monster carry second billing, an interesting permutation is the community status of the monster, frequently placed in a subordinate social class, relegated to the equivalent of a kennel rather than a castle. This chapter explores this lesser position of the werewolf in three particular works. First, in 1941’s The Wolf Man, despite his role as a man who ‘is pure at heart and says his prayers at night’, Lon Chaney Jr’s portrayal of Larry Talbot as a lumbering, expatriated-to-America prodigal son of a Welsh grandee posits him as a poor relation clearly out of his depth. In the Twilight series, the Native American shapeshifter, Jacob Black, lives on the reservation and cannot compete with the effete Cullen family. Finally, the notion of American Southern white/trailer trash permeates Charlaine Harris’s novels, and True Blood portrays the wolf packs as crude boondocks residents. Rather like the misrepresented wolves currently being reintroduced in various wilderness locations, these filmic werewolves are equally unwanted and undermined.

in In the company of wolves
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Wolf-children, storytelling and the state of nature

This chapter looks at culture itself and how its foundations in and departure from wolfish nature are problematised by the wild children so frequently associated with wolves. The sound of wolves is commonly associated with unsettling, uncanny or sublime moments in literature and film but we can see a contrary depiction in Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Life after Death’. Here, the empathic and consoling nature of the wolves’ cry is emphasised in a moment of absolute grief. Hughes is seeking solace in the notion that wolves and other animals can become surrogate parents to orphaned human children. Wolf-children in Romantic-period poetry, where notions of native innocence prevail, are examined, drawing on poems by Wordsworth and Mary Robinson. The representation of such children is examined in relation to Locke’s tabula rasa theory and Rousseau’s lost ‘state of nature’. Whilst the eighteenth-century wild children Victor of Aveyron and Peter the Wild Boy remain largely mute, literature constructs a history for these children through repeated storytelling. The Rousseauvian ideal of the child of nature is often undermined in such accounts but there is ambiguity too. Abandonment can be seen as a blessing: the child inhabits an animal world, a gap is bridged and something once lost is rediscovered through narrative.

in In the company of wolves
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Running into the forest in Russian fairy tales

In many fairy tales and folktales, wolves and witches are villains that lead the protagonists into the dark realm of the forest to commit crimes with impunity. However, in the Russian folktale ‘Tsarevich Ivan and the Grey Wolf’, the wolf and the witch become figures of salvation, aiding the heroes and heroines in their quest, while the forest itself, although ruled by the super-natural, becomes a respite from the cruelty of human nature and civilisation. In the forest, the Grey Wolf provides Ivan with wise counsel, escape and resurrection from death. And when events are outside his power, the Grey Wolf directs Ivan to the only other equally powerful being in the forest – the witch Baba Yaga. Although the Russian taiga, or boreal forest, is a wild and liminal space, it, along with its inhabitants (Baba Yaga, the Grey Wolf and the Leshii, or forest spirits who take the form of wolves), offers the only hope of survival for the fairy tale protagonists. If the hero or heroine are to survive, they must go into the forest and place themselves into the paws of the wolf or the ancient hands of Baba Yaga, seeking wild sanctuary to survive.

in In the company of wolves
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A writer’s perspective

This chapter investigates the relationship, in reality, folktale, literature and popular culture, between wolves and untruth, in various forms. From the fables of Aesop to the cartoons of Disney, the use of the wolf as a metaphor for deception is long and appears deeply engrained in the human psyche. Basing an understanding of this metaphor on the fundamental nature of the animal appears at first sound, but starts to crumble when we appreciate that different cultures have not universally viewed the wolf in wholly negative terms of a ravenous, malevolent predator. Since the wolf appears frequently in hoax stories about feral children, the chapter goes on to study the very validity of the ‘wild child’ and concludes by discussing the obverse of the negative accounts of the wolf’s ‘wildness’. That this beast is free and natural thus appeals to some as a token for a missing link between ourselves and the natural world, which we have largely left behind us.

in In the company of wolves
Cancer, modernity, and decline in fin-de-siècle Britain

In this chapter, Agnes Arnold-Forster takes up the interplay between medical understandings of cancer and broader social and economic shifts, which, she notes, have given rise to cancer’s fluid metaphoric identity. The chapter situates the ‘new cancer epidemic’ of the fin de siècle within a climate of widespread anxiety about the vitality of the British Empire, and concerns about imperial over-reaching, as well as fears of the revolt of an apparently unruly, ungovernable, and newly enfranchised urban population. The metaphoric associations of the cancerous growth resonated in many colonial contexts, as doctors who reflected on medicine in non-European contexts became particularly engaged with the conceptualisation of certain races as more or less prone to the disease, and therefore as more or less ‘modern’. Commentators on the domestic ‘cancer epidemic’ perceived its presence as an unintended consequence of the public health successes of industrial modernity, such as lower infant mortality, increasing hospitalisation, and sanitary reforms. In these parallel, but conflicting, constructions of cancer as a pathology of progress, the disease itself emerged as a symptom of modern life that nonetheless manifested a national deterioration in health.

in Progress and pathology
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Waiting for the Americans

This chapter offers concluding thoughts regarding humanitarian exceptionalism. It is argued that liberal interventionism has globalised political infantilism, and so undercuts the aspiration to political self-reliance and autonomy, as well as amplifying the conceits of US global leadership as the ‘indispensable nation’, luring the US and its Western allies into thinking that international order is easily malleable. The result has been enormously destructive. It is argued that the problem has not been the instrumentalisation of human rights, but the fact that they embody the ideology of permanent war and political paternalism.

in Cosmopolitan dystopia
International intervention and the failure of the West

Liberal cosmopolitanism promised a humane and progressive vision of global reform and improvement, in contrast to the terrible utopian projects of the twentieth century. Yet the efforts to globalise human rights and democracy through force have subverted the liberal international order and produced a new type of cosmopolitan dystopia, in the form of permanent war, jihadist insurrection and a new paternalism embodied in transnational protectorates and the paradigm of ‘sovereignty as responsibility’. Cosmopolitan Dystopia explains how this came about through the rise of humanitarian exceptionalism. The book argues that humanitarian exceptionalism saw humanitarian emergencies as opportunities to develop deeper forms of human solidarity that went beyond nation states, thereby necessitating military responses to each new crisis. This in turn helped to normalise permanent war. As the norm and exception have collapsed into each other, the rules-based order envisioned in traditional liberal internationalism has corroded away. Efforts to embed humanitarian exceptionalism into the international order have undermined the classical liberal ideal of self-determination, with the spread of protectorates and a new paternalist legitimisation of state power in the ‘sovereignty as responsibility’ paradigm.

In this chapter, Mikko Myllykangas considers the phenomenon of suicide as discursively connected both to the conditions of modern life and to social degeneration and decline at the fin de siècle. In Finland, the principal case study of the chapter, the psychiatrist Thiodolf Saelan explicitly attributed the slowly increasing suicide rates in Finland to modern urban lifestyles, in an effort to accentuate the cultural differences between so-called ‘modernised’ Western nations, and other cultures. Myllykangas interrogates such claims in the context of Finnish society, which, he notes, was at a very different stage of industrial transition than many of its Western European counterparts. Analysis of the divergent constructions of the role of modernity in relation to suicide ultimately illustrate the ways in which physiological and psychological problems of the period were being constituted in relation to their social contexts and to the changing dynamics of urbanisation and industrialisation.

in Progress and pathology