Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blavatsky as a Horror Writer

Over at Monster Librarian, a site “dedicated to all the books that are creepy, scary, and give us the willies” that serves as a resource for readers and librarians on the subject of horror, Paula Cappa charts “The Literary Ladies of Horror’s Haunted Mountain.” Cappa points out that in a genre known for its male writers—Poe, James, LeFanu, Lovecraft, Stoker, King, to name a few—women played a part and made their own contribution. There was Mary Shelley, of course; but also Ann Radcliffe, “who tore open supernatural paths with The Mysteries of Udolpho as early as 1794. Radcliffe’s writing of suspense about castles and dark villains influenced Dumas, Scott, and Hugo.” 

By 1865, Amelia Edwards’ The Phantom Coach cut popular tracks across the haunted mountain. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky cleared the way for future women writers with her collection of nightmare tales, The Ensouled Violin, as did Elizabeth Gaskell with The Poor Clare, which deals with a family evil curse, complete with witches and ghosts.

Subsequent writers like Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, down to Anne Rice indicate that this was not just a trend.

A seminar paper by Nico Reiher for a 2009 Popular Literature in America course at Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, takes up one of Blavatsky’s tales, “The Cave of the Echoes,” “a vivid and colorful piece of occult fiction that features mysterious settings, some bizarre characters and supernatural happenings,” and submits it to literary theory. His paper, Between Occult Fiction and the Promotion of Theosophical Ideas, published this month by GRIN Verlag, looks at whether the story’s purpose was “simply to entertain its readers or does it serve other functions such as the promotion of the author's theosophical ideas and ideology,”

Blavatsky’s occult fiction was collected and published after her death as Nightmare Tales, London: Theosophical Publishing Society, 1892.

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