Book Review: Monster, She Wrote

Monster, She Wrote:  The Women Who Pioneered Horror & Speculative Fiction, by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson

There is a useful touchstone when it comes to reviewing books like this one that deal with obvious gender issues.  If a woman purports to be presenting a feminist account (as this book is) and delights in slighting and mocking Jane Austen, her professions to speak on behalf of a sisterhood of authors cannot be taken seriously.  We may call it the Austen line, that a praise of women writers that does not include Jane Austen fails to be properly inclusive enough of women, given Austen’s intense interest (expressed most notably in Northanger Abbey) of speaking on behalf of her fellow novelists and (expressed in Persuasion) of her intense focus on the importance of women speaking with their own pens.  The fact that this book celebrates the transgressive in all manner of ways while looking askance at those women who chose a more sophisticated and ironic strategy to disarm the contempt and disrespect of their audiences suggests that the ulterior motives of the authors to celebrate the transgressive outweighs their feminist desire to speak on behalf of women writers, and that is borne out by the contents of this book as a whole and not only their shoddy treatment of Jane Austen as a notable lady writer.

This book is about 300 pages long or so and is divided into eight parts and various biographical essays that mostly focus on individual writers and their contexts.  The authors begin with an introduction and then quickly move on to a look at the founding others of horror and speculative fiction, namely Margaret Cavendish, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Regina Roche, Mary Anne Radcliffe, and Charlotte Dacre, most of whom appear to be chosen for their misfit lives as much as for their writings.  After that the author looks at haunting tales from such women as Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Ridell, Amelia Edwards, Paula Hopkins, Vernon Lee, Margaret Oliphant, and Edith Wharton.  The authors then turn to occult writings by Margorie Bowen, L.T. Meade, Alice Askew, Margery Lawrence, and Dion Fortune.  Pulp writers make up the next section, which includes essays on Margaret St. Clair, Catherine Lucille Moore, Mary Counselman, Gertude Bennett, Everil Worrell, and Eli Colter.  Women like Dorothy Macardle, Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, Toni Morrison, and Elizabeth Engstrom are focused on for their discussion of haunted houses.  Paperback horror is celebrated through such authors as Joanne Fischmann, Ruby Jensen, V.C. Andrews, Kathe Koja, Lisa Tuttle, and Tanith Lee.  More contemporary gothic writers are celebrated like Anne Rice, Helen Oyeyemi, Susan HIll, Sarah Waters, Angela Carter, and Jewelle Gomez.  Finally, the book discusses the future of horror and speculative fiction with five essays that look at weird fiction, vampire writings, the haunted house, apocalyptic fiction, and works on serial killers.

Even in a case where the approach and perspective of the author is not one that I particularly appreciate, I am still nevertheless pleased when, as is the case here, I find a great deal to enjoy as far as the writings discussed.  While I am by no means a great horror reader, I do enjoy fantasy and science fiction more, and found a lot of writers of the latter two genres represented here (although it was a bit baffling that the authors did not write about the well-rewarded Lois McMaster Bujold here, who definitely deserves recognition).  Even if my own reading tends not to focus on female writers of horror and related literature, I can still affirm that I have read and enjoyed the writings of such figures included here as Edith Wharton, Shirley Jackson, and Sarah Waters and that at least a few of the other women included here wrote about things that interested me.  I likely would have found more to interest me had the authors not deliberately chosen transgressive authors but would have been more interested in celebrating the full diversity of women as writers.  When a not particularly feminist reviewer has broader views of what women’s works should be celebrated than avowed feminists, there is a problem with the sort of feminism adopted here.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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