Literature and Theatre

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The monstrous feminine as femme animale

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.

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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’.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination
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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.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination
Globes, englobing powers, and Blake's archaeologies of the present

Peter Otto considers of a series of creation scenes in Blake’s oeuvre that all feature a familiar image: a red disk. This image—variously, but also potentially simultaneously, a womb, head, pool, globe, and mirror—provides a pivot around which to organise the perspectival multiplicity that comprises Blake’s Bible of Hell. Using the trope of archeology as a way to think about how the past remains uncannily present in Blake’s moment and our own, Otto invites us to approach Blake spatially and graphically, in terms of constellations and arrangements, rather than sequentially and linearly. Blake’s images themselves ask us to consider phenomena along spatial axes, to traverse a field divided into quadrants, regions, and organs, and to take account of layers, superimpositions, and multiple ‘grounds’: foregrounds, middle-grounds, and backgrounds, as well as over- and undergrounds. Otto argues that for Blake the Gothic provided ‘a lexicon and iconography of elemental conflict and of powerful affect’.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination

Mark Lussier explores the field of subject formation from both Deluzian and Lacanian perspectives. ‘Shaped more than most by the erotic, esoteric, and exotic elements of Gothic symbolic’, Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Visions of the Daughters of Albion explore how the unconscious ‘confront[s] the phallic order that animates patriarchy’, casting subject formation as a Gothic drama. For Lussier, both texts explore how subject formation involves a sort of wounding that the action of symbolisation—especially when that symbolisation is comprised of Gothic forms—can never entirely suture: what the eye sees and what the heart knows will remain always slightly askew, just as the Lacanian ‘I’ will never perfectly coincide with itself. Stressing the specific psychoanalytic terrain of female subjectivity, Lussier focuses most of his attention on Visions, a work in which Oothoon ‘endure[s] dual forms of objectification: her embodiment as an object of use (for the rapist Bromion) and as an object of exchange (for her ‘beloved’ Theotormon)’.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination
Boobs, blood and sacrifice

This chapter considers the presentations of adolescent female lycanthropes in fantasy fiction written after Neil Jordan's 1984 film, focusing specifically on texts in which a teenage female is both the central character and the intended reader. Gene Fowler Jr.'s I Was a Teenage Werewolf was released in 1957, and presented lycanthropy as related to the hormonally driven male adolescent body in a way that would be revisited by Rod Daniels in his 1985 comedy horror film, Teen Wolf. In the female werewolf young adult (YA) fiction of the early twenty-first century, it is rare to find lycanthropy explicitly associated with menarche, as it is in 'Boobs' and Ginger Snaps. The coincidence of the heroines' names in the Dark Divine and Wolves of Mercy Falls series has interesting implications for a consideration of female werewolves in YA fiction. The concept of 'grace' is an important aspect of characterisation in these novels.

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In the robust and expanding field of Gothic studies, William Blake remains a spectral, marginal figure. Bundock and Effinger’s Introduction opens by exploring Blake’s prominence in contemporary Gothic art and culture, a fact made ironic given the relative dearth of scholarly work on Blake’s Gothic sensibility. Bundock and Effinger suggest how the Gothic as an historiographical, affective, and aesthetic concept might inform Blake in several substantial ways. The Introduction then expands in four directions. The first considers terror, horror, and the ‘Gothic body’ in Blake. The second considers the intersection of Blake and the Gothic in terms of visual art and iconography. The third surveys extant criticism on Blake and the Gothic to illustrate the hitherto missed opportunity this collection attempts to take. The fourth and final section is a ‘descriptive catalogue’ of the chapters that follow, offering summaries of each contribution and explaining the order of presentation.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination
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A history of female werewolves

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores particular moments of the female werewolf narrative to reveal a variety of cultural assumptions, narrative tropes and putative archetypes of femaleness and femininity. It explains folkloric records of the island of Saaremaa, Estonia, a territory in which, unusually, there are more folktales of female werewolves than male. The book examines twenty-first-century young adult paranormal romance texts, considering the ways in which such texts associate lycanthropy with contemporary idealisations and constructions of the post-adolescent female. It also explores presentations of body-centred violence in film, drawing parallels between female werewolves and other violent females in horror cinema. The book examines cinematic representations of the femme animale with an exploration of how this conceptualisation of the feminine might inform a reading of Ginger Snaps.

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William Blake's Gothic relations

Reading Blake’s art as less the product of a Gothic than of a ‘gothicising’ imagination, David Baulch argues that Blake’s conception of the Gothic as ‘Living Form’ interrupts logics of precedence, consequence, and causation more broadly, turning the sometimes conservative, regulative work of the Gothic inside out. In Baulch’s words, ‘[r]ecognising the political import in Living Form makes visible Blake’s dynamic conception of the Gothic, his most radical conception of being and its attendant potential for unprecedented difference’. Making this case means reconsidering Benjamin Heath Malkin’s influential though misleading representation of Blake as a Gothic artist, a representation that understands the Gothic as merely rustic, simple, anti-classical, and reactionary.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination
Female werewolves in Werewolf: The Apocalypse

This chapter explores the content of a role-playing game (RPG) by White Wolf Publishing, one of the games in their World of Darkness series, and examines the role and presentation of the female werewolf within this game. It suggests that the corebook for Werewolf: The Apocalypse integrates tropes of femininity and femaleness into a construction of lycanthropy in a uniquely sustained and complex way. Apocalypse offers a counterpoint to the assumption of male identity in the form of the Black Furies, a tribe 'composed almost entirely of female Garou'. Regardless of individual story and character creation, the narratives of this particular RPG posit an undeniable relationship between werewolves and femininity that both draws on and subverts the tropes of each category. The trope of lycanthropic transformation being determined by lunar influence is, largely, a creation of twentieth-century cinema, with few earlier literary narratives making this specific connection.

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