Angela Carter’s werewolves in historical perspective
Willem de Blécourt
The film The Company of Wolves, was directed by Neil Jordan from a script he co-wrote with Angela Carter. It is necessary to frame the discussion by engaging with the discourse surrounding Neil Jordan's and, especially, Angela Carter's work. When Carter published her werewolf stories, folklorists were debating how to categorise 'Little Red Riding Hood'. The story 'Peau d'âne' resembles werewolf stories because of the shared animal skin. Female werewolves were very hard to find in Western European folklore texts, with their overwhelming majority of male werewolves. The medieval incest stories seem to stand apart from the werewolf stories. There is a transgression in the other main incest story cluster: the Maiden Without Hands, where the father-daughter union is first consummated and later avoided. Father-daughter incest was a theme in many medieval narratives and its history reaches back into the thirteenth century, to the French poem La Manekine.
This chapter aims to consider how Dans Ma Peau frees the female werewolf from the status of the body to allow it to be considered as a mode of embodiment. Dans Ma Peau has been classed among a large number of films emerging from France that are aggressively difficult to watch. The chapter discusses similarities between Dans Ma Peau and werewolf narratives, such as the split-self, the split world within the film, representations of transformation, and how each have severe limitations for theorising female subjectivity. In the case of Dans Ma Peau, the entire film is arguably a transformation scene for Esther as she slowly and irreversibly loses herself to her desire for self-harm, yet there is one particular scene where she significantly represents the shape-shifter. A dominant werewolf and shape-shifter narrative is that of the split-self.
Blake, Milton, and Lovecraft in Ridley Scott's Prometheus
Jason Whittaker argues that Scott’s Engineers, a species of ‘dark angels’ who seem to have created human life accidentally, have their origin in Blake’s Zoas, thus locating the film’s action in a metaphysically distressing universe devoid of any fundamental benevolence or omniscience. Hence, ‘[t]he horror of Prometheus’, for Whittaker, ‘lies not so much in our disgust with the operations of the human body and in abjection as in the realisation that the secret history of the cosmos is utterly alien to us’. Human life is the product neither of a Divine, infallible creator nor a natural, evolutionary process, but rather of ‘an aberrant series of alien experiments’, an idea at the root of ‘the cosmic horror of Prometheus’.
Collecting folklore has played a significant role in the history of the Estonian nation and state, helping to build an Estonian identity. This chapter discusses the werewolf texts collected on the island of Saaremaa, which comprise about one-seventh of the full corpus. It introduces those werewolf legends from Saaremaa whose plots are more widely known and that can be classified according to their plots. Ivar Paulson has suggested that some aspects of Estonian folk belief that are related to the forest even contain references from the era of hunter-gatherers. The idea of wolves as the pups of St George, to whom God casts down food from above, apparently contains remnants of the pre-Christian notion of the Master of Animals as well as the image of the wolf in the Catholic era. There are several customs related to the positive power of the wolf in Estonian traditions of past centuries.
Ana Elena González-Treviño encourages us to think about Blake’s art graphically and, more specifically, topographically—though, to be clear, Blake’s topography is always multilayered such that place, gender, body, and history intertwine. González-Treviño reads Blake’s Thel as ‘probing...into the body of nature in order to acquire some sort of knowledge about nature and about herself’, a knowledge from which Thel recoils but that Oothoon seems prepared to engage. Inspired by folktales and mythical precursors to read how femininity is literally and figuratively entombed in the landscapes of both Thel and Visions, González-Treviño explores how both works stage ‘female desire and the legitimacy of intuitive knowledge, especially regarding the natural world’. And yet, for González-Treviño it is not simply that female characters in Blake are more ‘natural’; rather, if femininity does open up conduits to an encounter with radical materiality, these characters react with understandable anxiety after gazing upon the unveiled face of nature.
In American and Canadian literature of the nineteenth century, indigenous peoples of North America were frequently equated with wild animals, particularly wolves. By the nineteenth century, wolves had been hunted to extinction in the north-east and their loss has often been linked in literature with the forced removal of North American tribes from their land. Nineteenth-century authors such as James Fenimore Cooper and Honoré Beaugrand chose to set their narratives during America's colonial period when Native Americans and wolves were still mainly in possession of their land and considered a threat to European colonists. In 'The Werewolves', published in 1898 in Century Illustrated Magazine, Canadian author Honoré Beaugrand takes the motif of 'Indians' as wolflike one step further by transforming them completely into loup-garous or werewolves. As a werewolf, La-Linotte-Qui-Chante is the ultimate symbol of otherness in nineteenth-century fiction, female, indigenous and monstrous.
This chapter provides an overview of the relationship between the hairy woman and the female werewolf figure and the ongoing complexities of the social attitudes towards fur/body hair and the feminine. Demonstrating the ambivalence towards hirsute individuals, the hairy female body has also been viewed as a manifestation of animalistic lust since at least the Renaissance. Hairy individuals continue to feature in evolutionary debates. Some biologists propose that congenital generalised hypertrichosis (CGH) 'is a manifestation of a genetic atavism'. Lupine body hair visibly manifests the 'mobile, elastic fictions or borders' between humans and animals; however, this perceived proximity to the animal is not necessarily indicative of compromised humanity or a sub-human status. Hirsute individuals are being distanced from their simian heritage as 'missing links' and increasingly attributed lupine lineages through conflation with the werewolf, particularly on screen.
One of the most enduring faces of the monstrous-feminine is that of the femme animale. The monstrous femme animale continues to haunt the modern horror film although in different guises from her ancient counterparts. The female werewolf offers a perfect example of the symbol of the femme animale and her ability to explore new ways of being and knowing. Films which feature the female werewolf, such as Ginger Snaps, also call gender and sexual boundaries into question, particular where the female grows a furry phallus of her own. Ginger Snaps explores Giorgio Agamben's caesura and its gendered structure through its narrative about a young girl who metamorphoses into a werewolf asserting that she derives greater pleasure from being animal than female. Ginger as female werewolf tears at the fragile suburban surfaces, exposing its abject depths, bringing that which should have remained hidden into the light.
In ‘The Gothic Sublime’, Claire Colebrook identifies in Blake’s poetry what she calls a ‘Gothic sublime’, one that, unlike the Kantian sublime, destroys the integrity of the rational subject and allows ‘multiple voices and registers to generate what Deleuze (after Leibniz) refers to as “incompossible” worlds’. For her, Blake’s work is ‘overwhelmingly committed to an intuition of the infinite’ and not simply just to thinking the idea of it. Carefully following the Gothic structure of Blake’s worlds, and the nomadic Gothic line that is ever forming and deforming, Colebrook argues that Blake’s Gothic structures relate directly to their content, such as the ‘nightmarish multiplicity of voices’ and refusal of ‘constitutive finitude’. Blake’s Gothic sublime arrives not at the limits of experience (as in Kant), but with expanded perception, with the ‘invasion of reason from elsewhere’.
Towards an aesthetic context for William Blake's 'Gothic' form
Kiel Shaub traces Rahab through Blake’s oeuvre, focusing especially on Night the Eighth of The Four Zoas, in order to ‘reveal how Blake’s depiction of Rahab is at least in part a critique of…conservative aspirations of the gothic revival’. Echoing Baulch’s reading of ‘Living Form,’ Shaub argues that Blake’s innovation—which is fundamentally a political innovation—has to do with his ‘understanding of “form” as a relational rather than an absolute distinction’. Indeed, it is Urizen, whose sense of order is ‘bondage’, who would impose absolute distinctions and in so doing transform the passionate Vala into the deadly Rahab: a figure—to recall Radcliffe’s terms mentioned above—of condensed horror born, reactively, from Urizen’s terror in the face of uncertainty. As Shaub argues, terror is the affective correlate of uncertainty and systemic, subjective, or ideological instability whereas horror is the affective form of paralysing determinateness. Rahab, he illustrates, physically embodies a process of ideological ratcheting-up that tends toward conservation in the name of safety, one that uses the threat of disorder as an alibi for total control.