Commodification, corporeality and paranormal romance in Angela Carter’s beast tales
Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is full of metamorphoses, between animal and human, but also of texts. Variants on the same tales and themes allow her to examine the same problems in various ways from different angles. ‘Red Riding Hood’, the wolf and the werewolf are central motifs. This chapter analyses how Carter’s tales depict flesh (usually female) as in the marketplace. Flesh is commodified, but exchange value becomes transformed into use value (that is, following Marx, its sensuous particularity is restored) through her miraculous metamorphoses. There is a vision of utopian mutuality in desire, emancipated and enhanced by immersion into the non-human – a liberation not only from patriarchy but also from the capitalist commodification of those bodies. She initiates the generic hybridity of present-day paranormal romance, where the monster of traditional Gothic becomes a sympathetic lover, forming an architext for the new genre of paranormal romance. The transformations of fairy tale that Carter pioneered work on prior ‘horizons of expectation’ and form one of the devices of that genre. Carter intermodulates genres to create a form that looks back to questions first raised in the Enlightenment about what humanity is and our relation to nature and animality, and bequeathing her explorations to her successors.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Thomas Ligotti and the ‘suicide’ of the human race
Xavier Aldana Reyes and Rachid M'Rabty
Thomas Ligotti, who began writing in the 1980s, is perhaps Gothic's
best-kept secret. Until the recent publication of his first two collections
of short stories by Penguin, his Gothic work (reminiscent, but by no means
derivative, of Poe and Lovecraft) has remained relatively obscure. This
chapter explores what could be termed Ligotti's materialistic
pessimism, or the belief that conscious and rational life is inherently
tragic, as it is largely dominated by the experience of pain and the
realisation of the inevitability of death. More specifically, the chapter
focuses on one of Ligotti's recurring solutions to the quandary of
existence, suicide, in selected stories from Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1986),
Grimscribe (1991), Teatro Grottesco (2006) and The Spectral Link (2014), but
also in his non-fiction treatise The Conspiracy against the Human Race
(2010) and his interviews in Born to Fear (2014). For Ligotti, antinatalism,
or mass suicide as a way of preventing future generations from suffering the
same fate, becomes an appealing, perhaps even the only real, option for a
human race who has, thus far, preferred to believe in the absurdity of
futurity and the fallacy of persistence.
Darkness and suicide in the work of Patricia Highsmith
When Highsmith’s friend Arthur Koestler committed suicide with his wife due
to his leukaemia and Parkinson’s disease, she was both shocked and furious.
Her friend Jonathon Kent recalled, ‘As she talked about it her face
blackened, and she was very angry. She said that she would never forgive
him’. This chapter explores how Highsmith approaches the question of suicide
in her writing, and examines how suicide or self-murder, perhaps the darkest
of acts, accesses the Gothic in ways not usually considered within the
context of crime writing. Emphasis will be placed on the ways in which the
theme of suicide both foregrounds crime fiction’s debt to the Gothic and
also provides an interdisciplinary presence that binds both genres
Gothic themes, tropes and narrative converge in the 2012 videogame Dear
Esther. Set in perpetual twilight, on a deserted Hebridean island, this game
is part of a growing sub-genre known as the ‘first-person walker’, which
involves the player exploring a typically Gothic space – a setting as
evocative as that of Frankenstein or Wuthering Heights. Through a subversion
of gaming expectations and tropes, this chapter argues that Dear
Esther's control system and lack of interactivity with the game’s
landscape allows the player to take the role of a ghost, haunting the
island, as she uncovers a narrative of loss and suicide. The chapter further
argues that through the game’s construction, the player forces the narrator
– an unnamed male whom the player hears as she walks across and even inside
the island, delivering fragments of letters to the titular Esther – to
endlessly repeat his suicide and the events that lead to it.