From Mary Shelley to Carmen Maria Machado, women have profoundly shaped horror | Horror books

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YesYou probably know the story of Lord Byron’s house party at Villa Diodati – the one in which he challenged his guests to see who could write the scariest ghost story. Teenage Mary Shelley won her challenge on infamy, if not technicality, when she wrote Frankenstein. So, the horror genre was invented by a disenfranchised teenage girl.

If it might be more accurate to say that Shelley invented science fiction at that time, her story, a nonreligious creationist myth, would upend the rules of literature. Frankenstein has become such an influential examination of the distortion of nature and of human pride, that it occupies a more prominent place in the Gothic horror genre than any other literary work.

If you want to recognize how much women have contributed to the horror genre, and how much the genre continues to reflect women and the realities of women, Frankenstein is a useful place to start as well.

Horror is one of the only genres that allows for an ever-changing interaction between the factual and the fantastic. “When you step into horror, you step into your own mind, your own anxiety, your own fear, your own darkest spaces,” said American author Carmen Maria Machado, speaking to the Paris Review in 2017. After winning the Shirley Jackson award for his collection of short stories Her Body and Other Parties, Machado then used a horror setting to tell his personal story of queer domestic violence in his 2019 memoir, In the Dream House. . With gothic tropes and flair, Machado re-enacted the physical and emotional abuse within the walls of her mind and the memories of the old house she shared with her partner – now haunted by the past and their relationship. “Horror is an intimate, strange and terrifying thing, and when done right it can defeat you, the viewer, the reader,” she said.

Horror slips more and more between the personal and the political, the real and the surreal. “Black history is black horror,” author and educator Antananarivo Due said in the 2019 documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. This better understanding of gender to reflect ourselves and our realities has seen an overhaul of horror stories, especially those written by women, and even a reconsideration of stories that are traditionally not seen as horror. Toni Morrison Beloved’s novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 – the story of a former slave family whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a restless spirit. The tendency now is to read Morrison through the prism of horror, while also acknowledging, as Due does, that: “Beloved is horrible because of his rendering of the horrors of slavery, as much or more than ‘because of the presence of a ghost. “

Horror can also provide us with a collective frame of reference for our fears and experiences. Consider Patrick Hamilton’s play Gas Light, which was adapted into Ingrid Bergman’s 1944 film of the same name, becoming the predominant shortcut for discussing forms of domestic violence and even nefarious politics. And in a post-Trump and post- # MeToo landscape, we’ve used fictional horror tropes and shortcuts to better describe our morphing realities.

Danielle Binks’ YA novel, The Monster of Her Age. Photography: Hachette Australia

It was this weird fusion of the #MeToo movement and behind-the-scenes horrors in the world of cinema, especially for child actors, that led me to write The Monster of his Age. It’s a YA story about Ellie Marsden, 17, descendant of an infamous fictional family of Tasmanian comedians and granddaughter of Lottie Lovinger, a ‘Scream Queen’ of ’70s schlock horror cinema and 80. In the novel, Ellie starred alongside her grandmother in an Australian horror film playing the Child Monster, but the filming experience was visceral and traumatic – both physically and emotionally, under the thumb. of a tyrannical director without the protection of his fame-hungry grandmother.

Ellie’s family don’t believe or downplay the effect the film and the set had on her, the agony it inflicted. And that’s the real horror for Ellie, as it is for a lot of women: the fear of not being believed, that her voice won’t weigh down, and that help won’t come as a result. The only monster Ellie fights with is the one she played as a child actor, but she admits all the same, “I know better than most that certain injuries can haunt you. No matter how old they are. arrived, because they find a way to grow with you and around you, like a weed. What goes on behind the camera, off the page, can be just as horrific as the made-up stories we use to understand ourselves and understanding our fears The horror genre is just the way for us to try to understand our underlying fears.

Here, too, we find our way back to the genre matriarch and her monster.

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein at this house party at Lake Geneva in June 1816, when she was 18, and finished it in May of the following year. By this time, she had suffered the birth and death of a child and had been excluded and alienated as the mistress of a married man at 16. It is about a girl who had learned to read in part by tracing the letters on the gravestone of her mother: the writer, philosopher and women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to Mary. In the 1831 revised edition of Frankenstein, Shelley attempted to answer the question, “How did I, then a young girl, come to think and develop such a hideous idea?” How indeed.

Danielle Binks’ monster of her age is now available at Hachette

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