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Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

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The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

Index of Sources

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Celebrating the Female Writers of Horror

Women don’t get a lot of credit in any field that they may excel in, so why should the world of literature be any different? While, they get recognized by their peers, how many of you can name more than a handful of famous female horror authors off the top of your head? It’s unfortunate that most can’t, to say the least, but that’s something that we plan to remedy here today.

Woman in the dark
Photography by H.F.E. & Co.

While we are asserting that all of the writers listed here are horror writers, a lot of these amazing women have actually produced written work that is outside of the horror genre–or, even more astoundingly, their main genre of work may not even be horror.

Mary Shelley

(08/30/1797 – 02/01/1851)

Mary Shelley

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein (1818) which is quite widely cited as the very first Science Fiction horror novel. Unfortunately, her career wasn’t quite as prolific as some modern writers, but her work seems to have been more about quality, rather than quantity. Unsurprisingly she wasn’t the first writer within the horror genre, but she was the first female horror writer and she did invent two completely different subgenres of horror. I do find it rather nice though, that all of her works are within the public domain and can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to read her Gothic-styled genius.

Check out our coverage of Mary Shelley in her Dead Author Dedication we did earlier this year.


Daphne Du Maurier

(05/13/1907 – 04/19/1989)

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier has generally been classed as a romantic novelist, but the stories she produced in her lifetime have been described as “moody and resonant,” and most if not all of them have paranormal and supernatural overtones. Critics never gave her a fair shot when her bestselling works were first published, but her exceptional talent with her voice in narrative changed their minds and earned her a persistently unparalleled reputation.

A few of her novels have been adapted into films—quite successfully in fact, including Rebecca (1938), adapted by Alfred Hitchcock to film in 1940—which starts off as such an innocent romance, but quickly turns into a story with such a haunting atmosphere, you can’t be sure if it’s a ghost story, or one of subterfuge. Don’t even get us started on his adaptation of her novel The Birds (1952) which was released in 1963!

Some Books to Read by Du Maurier

  • Jamaica Inn (1936)
  • Rebecca (1938)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • The Birds (1952)
  • Not After Midnight and Other Stories (1971)

Unfortunately, we haven’t covered the life and times of Daphne Du Maurier as of yet, but believe us when we say that her style of writing is phenomenal–actually, don’t believe us, read some of them and decide for yourself! Since we’ve been trying to cover a single dead author per month, in memoriam during the month in which they passed, we won’t be visiting the life and achievements of Daphene Du Maurier in full until April of 2021.


Shirley Jackson

(12/14/1916 – 08/08/1965)

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of those writers that the weird, dark, and haunted can thoroughly relate to–personally, I believe that she is the one writer I can relate to the most. Not because she was insanely talented–I’m not self-centered enough to believe I rank on her level–it’s because she never made an attempt to pretend that she was in any way normal and I mean that in complete admiration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Shirley Jackson, take a look at the articles we did to honor her for August’s Dead Author Dedication:


Lois Duncan

(04/28/1934 – 06/15/2016)

Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan made a name for herself by writing for young adults–those transitioning from childhood to adulthood, who needed a voice to relate to that would help them understand what it was like to have to evolve into a responsible human being, even under the worst of circumstances. As a horror writer for the young and the young-at-heart, Duncan left a legacy, not only for her readers, but for those who were inspired to follow in her footsteps.

She paved the way for writers and creatives to finally be able to appeal to the younger audiences who, otherwise would only have had adult horror to turn to–because, let’s be honest, those among us who love horror now have loved horror for a long time and if it hadn’t been for Duncan’s books we might not have had age-appropriate content for our nerdy dark brains to dive into.

You can learn more about Lois Duncan through our exploration of her life, literary achievements, and legacy–Puzzle Box Horror style, in our Dead Author Dedication in July 2020.


Anne Rice

(10/04/1941 – Present)

Anne Rice

She is a best-selling American author and having sold nearly 100 million copies of her books, is one of the most widely read authors in modern history. World-renowned, among her works the most well-known are the Vampire Chronicles, where she demonstrates her ability to convey love, death, immortality, existentialism, as well as the human condition under the umbrella of the gothic horror genre. One thing is certain, aside from Mary Shelley, Rice is possibly the most popular female author on this list!


Octavia E. Butler

(06/22/1947 – 02/24/2006)

Octavia E. Butler

Butler started her writing career in her twenties after studying at several universities and she blended elements of science fiction and African American spiritualism in her novels. Her first book, Patternmaster (1976) which would kick start her first series of books. It wouldn’t be her last series, however, as she continued to write and publish books up until her death in February of 2006. Although Butler was better known to be an author of science fiction, she often incorporated elements of our favorite genre, horror. Her most horror-inspired novel was published just a year before her death and told the story of a girl who discovers she’s a vampire. Often hailed as a genius, Butler worked to address racism from her vantage point as a writer and exposed the horrors of oppression in American history. When talking about one of her most popular books, she explained that, “[she] wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”

Join us in February of 2021, for when we honor Butler’s contribution to horror.


Kathe Koja

(01/06/1960 – Present)

Kathe Koja

As a writer, director, and independent producer, Kathe Koja is a multiple platform powerhouse of a woman—her talent allows her to work within several different genres, from Young Adult, to contemporary, to historical, as well as horror fiction genres. Several of her novels have won awards and have also been translated into multiple different languages and her work has also been optioned for film and performance pieces.


Caitlín R. Kiernan

(05/26/1964 – Present)

Caitlín R. Kiernan

As an Irish-born American, Caitlín R. Kiernan is a published paleontologist and author of both science fiction and dark/horror fantasy. An accomplished author in her own right, Kiernan has published ten novels, a series of comic books, and over two hundred fifty short stories, novellas, and vignettes—for all of her hard work she has received both the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards twice!


Tananarive Due

(01/05/1966 – Present)

Tananarive Due

Tananarive is an all-around wonder when it comes to the horror community, not only is she an award-winning author, she also teaches about Black Horror and Afrofuturism at the University of California Los Angeles. But wait, there’s more—as a prominent figure in black speculative fiction over the last twenty years, she and her husband collaborated to write “A Small Town” for the second season of the reboot of The Twilight Zone. This is by no means a complete biography for Due but we hope it’s enough to interest you in her incredible literature and work for equality as she helps to educate in the exclusionary history of not just American history, but horror history.

To get better acquainted with Tananarive Due, check out her official website and the upcoming article we have dedicated to her work in horror.

For a more in-depth look at the history of horror and the role that black people have historically played within the genre, keep an eye out for Shudder’s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Tananarive Due is listed as an executive producer for this highly anticipated documentary and it’s coming out in February 2021, just in time for Black History month!


Gemma Files

(04/04/1968 – Present)

Gemma Files

London-born, Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic—but she had quite a meager start as a freelance writer until she landed a continuing gig with an entertainment periodical called Eye Weekly. It was this position that led to her gaining local traction, as she began critiquing horror, independent, and Canadian films. In 1999 Gemma won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story, with The Emperor’s Old Bones. Since then, five of her short stories have been adapted to television for The Hunger series. She’s been nominated for countless awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award in 2009 and 2010 for a short story and novelette respectively.


Jemiah Jefferson

(01/01/1972 – Present)

Jemiah Jefferson

Another elegant African American horror author, Jemiah Jefferson toes the line between horror and erotica through her gift to horror-loving women everywhere—her Voice of the Blood series about the famous creatures of the night has been called “smart, beautiful, sexy, and vicious.” (I’m not going to lie, I may have purchased all four of them the very same day I discovered her.) Jemiah has a lot more to offer in the way of novels and short stories, however, and we’re exceptionally excited to share her with you all.


Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi

(12/10/1984 – Present)

Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi and her writing are equally unique, her writing transcends any genre that attempts to confine or define her, so the best way we can describe her work is a blend of horror, fantasy, fairy tales, and folklore. While not a dedicated horror writer, her work is often unsettling (just the way we like it), frightening, and she often explores the paranormal, bizarre, and supernatural elements of fiction. When she was a young woman, just twenty years of age, she published her first novel The Icarus Girl (2005), which mixed the paranormal with Gothic horror themes and Nigerian folklore. In 2009, her novel White is For Witching, was published and is considered one of the great modern cosmic horror novels—we personally loved it!


Kat Howard

(09/14/19** – Present)

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As a modern-day writer in a genre dominated by a more masculine influence, Kat Howard is a refreshing change of pace–since the best writing is when you are allowed to immerse yourself in the story and are otherwise unaware of the writer’s gender, skin color, sexuality, or how they otherwise identify themselves.

We were lucky enough to be able to speak to Kat Howard recently—so, check out the interview that we did with Kat Howard, where she speaks about her novel The End of the Sentence (2014), horror, and what it’s like to be a writer. You can check out that interview here if you’d like to know more!

You can find out a bit more about her on her official website, kathowardbooks.com and you can also follow her on twitter!


We reserve the right to update this list in the future to further represent female writers of the horror genre that we may currently be unfamiliar with–an exclusion of an amazing female horror author here only means that we have yet to be introduced to her work! Let us know if you believe someone should be included here!

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Lois Duncan–Making Waves and Winning Awards

Lois Duncan
MAY 6 1981 Duncan, Lois (Author) – Ind. Credit: The Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)

If you haven’t been following the Dead Author Dedication for the month of July, you might not be aware of Lois Duncan or what she contributed to the literary community. If that’s the case, then here’s the short of it: she was a warrior of literature who pioneered the Young Adult horror genre, something that has been continued on by well-known authors such as Neil Gaiman and Cassandra Clare.

Her life was no cakewalk though and despite her proclivity for writing horror fiction for young adults, that ended as abruptly as her life was changed when one of her daughters was murdered and her killer was never caught. If you’re interested in reading more about Lois Duncan and her hard-worked life, then take a look at our article where we discuss The Trials and Tribulations in the Life of Lois Duncan.

Duncan never stopped writing, even throughout her grief and suffering and she left behind a legacy in print, on film, and within the hearts and minds of the people who related to her body of work. This is discussed in greater detail in our article about The Legacy of Horror Writer, Lois Duncan–it’s worth a read, just like all of the books she contributed to Young Adult horror fiction.

Lois Duncan's Books
Lois Duncan’s Various Books

She Won Awards?

Considering the skill and history-making work Duncan contributed to the world of Young Adult fiction–especially in the genres of horror, thriller, and suspense–she was undoubtedly deserving of all (if not more) of the attention and acclaim that she received. We’ve compiled a list of the awards that Lois Duncan received during her lifetime, with the intention of promoting another amazing author.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal

In 1963, Duncan received the Randolph Caldecott Medal–an honor that is bestowed upon writers for the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children”. She received this award for best children’s book for her publication Silly Mother (1962)–a first edition of which is now worth nearly a thousand dollars!

The Edgar Allan Poe Award

In the spring of each year, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) present the Edgar Allan Poe Awards (usually referred to as The Edgars)–the Edgars are considered to be the most prestigious awards that an author can receive in the genre. MWA is the premier organization for mystery and crime writers, professionals allied to the crime-writing field, aspiring crime writers, and people who simply love to read crime fiction. What is really spectacular about knowing how prestigious it is to win this award, is the fact that Lois Duncan has actually won six of them! As an author of Young Adult fiction, five of these awards were for the category of “Best Juvenile” fiction, for Ransom (1966), They Never Came Home (1969), The Third Eye (1984), Locked in Time (1985), and The Twisted Windows (1987). While it may seem strange that she didn’t receive any more after the eighties, it becomes less mysterious when her daughter’s murder is factored into it–Duncan no longer had a taste for writing fiction within the crime and horror genre after that.

Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan
Summer of Fear by Lois Duncan

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award

The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award is based out of Vermont, it’s an amazing accomplishment and an enormous honor within the world of Young Adult literature, simply due to the fact that the winner is voted for by students across the entire state. In the spring of each year, the eight-person committee for the award carefully selects and nominates thirty books for students to consider. Students are required to read at least five of the books from the list before they are able to vote for their favorite titles. The winner is then invited the following spring to speak with the students of Vermont about their experience as a writer and how they have contributed to the literary world. In the year of 1978, Lois Duncan happened to be nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award for her book Summer of Fear (1976) subsequently received the award and was able to speak to the students of Vermont.

Margaret A. Edwards Award

Established in 1988, the Margaret A. Edwards Award honors an author in addition to a specific body of their work, for their significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. A subdivision of the American Library Association (ALA), the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) annually awards the Edwards to recognize authors whose work addresses the issues that adolescents face as they become aware of themselves, as well as what their role and values within relationships, society, and the world. In 1992, Duncan received the Edwards Award from the ALA for her contribution to writing for teens and being able to relate to them through her literature. They include six of Duncan’s books, citing several of her novels and added, “whether accepting responsibility for the death of an English teacher or admitting to their responsibility for a hit and run accident, Duncan’s characters face a universal truth–you actions are important and you are responsible for them.”

The Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award

In 2015, a year before Duncan’s death, she did however receive what can be considered an achievement of a lifetime. The MWA awarded Lois Duncan the Edgar Allan Poe Grand Master Award, something that any author would consider themselves lucky to receive.

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Mary Shelley: How a Teenager Changed the Literary World

Growing Up in a Literary Household

Born in London, England on August 30, 1797, as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin–Mary was the daughter of famed feminist Wollstonecraft as well as the philosopher and political writer William Godwin. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft authored The Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, but she died shortly after Shelley was born, and consequently, they were never able to develop a relationship.

There is some warrant for seeing Mary Shelley as a reflection of her parents, for both mother and father were extraordinary. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, published the classic manifesto of sexual equality, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Her father, William Godwin, established his preeminence in radical British political thought with his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) and won a permanent place in literary history with his novel Caleb Williams (1794), often considered the first English detective novel. The toast of radical social circles, the two were bound to meet. When they did, in the summer of 1796, an immediate mutual attraction began, and they were married on 29 March 1797. On 30 August of that year Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born. Complications from her birth resulted in her mother’s death 10 September.

Shelley and her older, half-sister Fanny Imlay (a child her mother had through an affair with a soldier), were raised by Shelley’s father William Godwin until he remarried in 1801. Shelley’s stepmother brought two of her own children into the marriage and she and Godwin would later have a son together. Although she provided Shelley with a mother figure, they were never exactly fond of each other–Mary Jane Clairmont would end up sending her own two daughters away to school, but decided that Shelley had no need of a formal education. Despite Mary Shelley’s lack of a true formal education, she educated herself through her father’s own extensive library and she could often be found reading by her mother’s grave.

As a child, I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to ‘write stories’.

Mary Shelly in The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft

Her First Publication

The Godwin household was no stranger to many distinguished people of the time, their household visitors included Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth; it’s no surprise that Shelley found a creative outlet in writing, as her escape from her often overtly challenging life at home was being able to delve into her imagination through daydreaming. Her first publication was a poem called, Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris which was made official through her father’s publishing company in 1807–stunningly showing her prowess as a writer at the young age of ten.

Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris

Illustration for Shelley's Poem
Illustration for Shelley’s Poem

John Bull, from England’s happy Isle,
Too Bold to dread mischance,
Resolv’d to leave his friends awhile,
And take a peep at France.

He nothing knew of French indeed,
And deem’d it jabb’ring stuff,
For English he could write and read,
And thought it quite enough.

Shrewd John to see, and not to prate,
To foreign parts would roam,
That he their wonders might relate,
When snug again at home.

Arriv’d at Paris with his dog,
Which he for safety muzzled,
The French flock’d round him, all agog,
And much poor John was puzzled.

The rest of the poem can be found at wikisource.org, as it is a work within the public domain.
Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or, The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris

How a Teenager Changed the Literary World

Just five years after she published her first poem, during the summer of 1812, Mary blossomed into a young woman–one who resembled her late mother far too much for her step-mother to bear. It was for this reason that Mary Jane Godwin, Shelley’s step-mother, forced her to travel to Scotland to stay with an acquaintance of her father–William Baxter and his family. It was during this stay with Baxter’s family, that she found a sort of serenity in the daily domestic lifestyle and she returned the following year to recapture the bliss she had captured the year before. The two years in Scotland may have nurtured Mary’s literary imagination, but it also further isolated her from her much-loved father.

They were my eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered.

Preface to the single-volume, Standard Novels edition of Frankenstein in 1831

A Scandalous Affair & the Birth of a Monster

In 1814, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet under the tutelage of Mary’s father, but soon focused his attentions solely on Mary. She soon began a relationship with the still-married Percy Shelley; when she was nearly seventeen years old, the two ran off to England together, along with Mary’s stepsister Jane. Despite the close relationship she had with her father, Mary’s actions alienated her from them, who would go a long time before speaking to her again. The couple traveled through Europe for quite a time, struggling financially and facing the loss of their first child–a baby girl, who lived only for a few days–in 1815.

The summer of 1816, Mary and Percy were in Switzerland with Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori–the story goes that the group were entertaining themselves on a tumultuously rainy day by reading ghost stories. It was this day that Lord Byron suggested that they make a game out of each creating their own horror story and see who could come up with the best one. This is how Mary began her work on what would become her most renowned novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus–so in many ways, when Mary began to write this infamous tale, she was showing off to what she considered her peers in the literary community.

Two Suicides & A Wedding

Late in 1816, Mary’s half-sister Fanny Imlay committed suicide and a short time later, Percy Shelley’s first wife also committed suicide by drowning herself. Instead of taking this time to mourn, Mary and Percy Shelley seized the opportunity to officially marry one another in December 1816. During their escapades in Europe, Mary Shelley published a travelogue entitled History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817), while continuing to work on the monster tale that she had begun in Switzerland.

When she finished her famous monster story, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, she did so anonymously in 1818. Since Percy Shelley wrote the introduction to the book, it was mistakenly believed that he was the author of the book, but as the novel continued to be a huge success, the Shelleys moved to Italy and Mary devoted herself heavily to her marriage which was rife with infidelity and heartache. Two more of the children that Mary birthed died and the only child they bore that survived to adulthood, Percy Florence Shelley, came about in 1819.

Later Years

The most devastating tragedy that affected Mary was when her husband drowned in a boating accident with a friend in the Gulf of Spezia, in 1822. She was made a widow at the young age of 24, but she continued to work diligently to support herself and her son. Despite having lived a full, scandalous and tragic life before she was even a quarter of a century old, Mary didn’t give up. After her husband died, she wrote several more novels, including Valperga (1823), as well as another science fiction tale The Last Man (1826). A devoted wife, even after her husband passed, she continued to promote his poetry to preserve his place in literary history, despite facing opposition from Percy’s father who had always disapproved of his son’s unorthodox lifestyle.

Death

Shelley continued to live until the age of 53–she passed away on February 1, 1851 from aggressive brain cancer and was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth with the remains of her late husband’s cremated remains. Shortly after her death, her son Percy and daughter-in-law Jane had Shelley’s parents exhumed from St. Pancras Cemetery in London and had them place next to Mary Shelley within their family tomb.

Fact or Fiction?

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, but considering the traditions we maintain to this day–keeping cremated remains in urns on our mantles, as one example–what we know about what Mary did is actually not all that strange! After Percy Shelley’s remains were recovered from his boating accident, his remains were cremated–oddly enough, his heart refused to burn and it is speculated that this was due to a disease which slowly calcified his heart. Instead of burying Percy’s heart along with the rest of his cremated remains, she kept it as a valuable possession in a silken shroud and carried it with her wherever she went. It wasn’t until a year after her death that Percy’s petrified heart was found wrapped in the pages of one of his last poems Adonais. It was eventually buried in the family vault with their son, Percy Florence Shelley when he died in 1889. It was wrapped in the pages of one of his last poems, Adonais. The heart was eventually buried in the family vault with their son, Percy Florence Shelley, when he died in 1889.

Mary Shelley (2017)

Mary Shelley (2017)
Mary Shelley (2017)

With the recent trend of classical authors having their tales told, it was about damn time that Shelley got the credit she deserved. Somehow it still took well over a century and a half for Shelley to be recognized on the big screen in a biographical sense, although the movie is rife with inconsistencies comparatively with how she has been historically represented. If taken at face value, however, it is an excellent movie–we highly recommend it if you’re a fan of Shelley at all–it is not at all within the genre of horror, despite her status as the famed mother of sci-fi horror fiction.

Index of Sources

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Shirley Jackson: Novels, Short Stories, and Other Works

The Lottery (1948)

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The Lottery is a short story that Shirley Jackson wrote in 1948—it was written within the month of its first publication. It appeared within the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and describes a fictional account of a small town that participates in a lottery of sorts. This particular short story has often been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.”

Conceptually, two creative stories come to mind immediately after reading this story–no doubt the authors of which were inspired greatly by the Jackson original. The cult classic film The Wicker Man (1973), then later the novelization and The Hunger Games franchise both echo the idea of a ritual where the town comes together and holds what they call a lottery.

This lottery is, unfortunately, not the type that anyone hopes to win, but mirrors the dystopian attitude where the losers rejoice in the winner’s predicament. Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, let’s just say it’s most definitely worth the read (or simply listen below). What is truly interesting with this story–one that leaves the reader with a feeling of utmost terror and despair–is that Jackson apparently wrote within the confines of a single morning. The agreed-upon account of its creation is that Jackson came up with the idea for the story while she was shopping for groceries in the morning, came home, set her two-year-old daughter in her playpen to play, and had it finished before her son came home from kindergarten for lunch.

Talk about a whirlwind turn-around for something so utterly and terribly fantastic. Along with other myths that surround the creation of The Lottery, there was a time when people actually believed that the story was a factual report–this is in part due to the fact that at the time The New Yorker didn’t distinguish between fact and fiction when it came to the stories within its publications. As a result of the misunderstanding, much to the chagrin of Jackson, subscribers sent her several hundred letters that in her words could be summed up to, “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” It was especially alarming to her that some of the letters were from people who wanted to know where such lotteries were being held and whether they would be allowed to watch.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

This gothic horror novel stands in the same class as those by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker—to the point of even being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. While Shirley adhered more to the thrilling psychological aspects, which successfully elicited stronger emotions in her readers. It has since been adapted into two feature films, a play, radio theater, as well as a Netflix series which premiered in 2018, although considerable liberties were taken with Shirley’s original story.

Shirley’s initial idea for this particular novel came to her after she read about a real-life group of researchers from the nineteenth century who had spent time in a reportedly haunted house and then published their experiences while investigating the site. She spent quite a bit of time researching and studying floor plans of large, potentially haunted houses around the country, and also spent time reading several volumes on hauntings and ghost stories before she sketched out the grounds of Hill House, as well as the floor plan for the house itself. Suffice it to say, she took her time considering how the characters might move about the house and made sure she had a clear vision of how a haunting would play out in such a house.

Check out this trailer of the Netflix series of The Haunting of Hill House and see how this novel translated to a television series.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962—just a few years before the radical social movement of the 1960s and 1970s—and served as her reaction to the movement of traditionalism that followed the Second World War. The fifties was an exceptional decade when women were transitioning from having jobs that supported the war effort while the men were overseas, to being expected to stay at home in order to support their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.

This novel takes place in a small New England town where the remaining members of the Blackwood family stay in their ancestral home—they seem to live a peaceful, if not removed life from the rest of the town and its oppressive atmosphere. The initial perception of the people in town is one of apprehension when the main character Mary Katherine admits the anxiety she feels when having to pass the general store when the men are sitting out front. The mood of the novel changes to reflect what many literary scholars believe might have been Jackson’s own response to the changing social climate of the fifties and how stifling it would have been to be a housewife with a job. It also bears mentioning that it brings attention to the ways women had been oppressed in the past, referencing witch hunts where women would be killed for even the slightest misstep.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle echoed a lot of the same themes that were found in her profoundly popular short story The Lottery, with special emphasis on the strange and hostile townspeople who take on the type of mob mentality that allows otherwise sensible people to commit horrible acts with little to no impact on their conscience. It is said that this particular novel served as inspiration to many writers—including authors like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates—who, after reading Shirley’s work, felt liberated in taking leaps with horror, speculative fiction, and just enough realism to create creepy atmospheres within their own novels.

Take a look at the trailer for We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019) and let us know what you think between the differences you’ve found between it and the original novel.

Looking back on a career like Shirley’s it’s widely believed that despite the fact that raising four children is an extremely difficult task, Shirley couldn’t have been such a literary success without them—after all, her first success, The Lottery came only a few months before Shirley was set to deliver her third child. A cringe-worthy moment came when the clerk asked Shirley her occupation, when she responded that she was a writer, the clerk responded that he was going to put down the occupation of housewife instead. While it was true that being a mother was one of her jobs, Shirley was more than just a mere housewife—in fact, she was the breadwinner of the family.

Shirley Jackson happened to be both a housewife and a “talented, determined, ambitious writer in an era when it was still unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.” The appearance of a conventional American household generated material for this sassy mother of four—who thrived on the tensions that it created between both roles. The expectations of herself, her husband, family, publishers, and readers gave life to her writing since what was normal for her was unspeakably abnormal for the time. She made this clear during the early years of her career, when she drew, “a muscular woman, looking disgruntled, [dragging] her husband off by his hair as another couple [looked] on worriedly. ‘I understand she’s trying to have both a marriage and a career,’ one says to the other.” The truth of the matter was, that Shirley’s career only really took off after she became a mother, having gained an empathetic view of developing minds and the well of imagination that she drew therein. In this respect, Shirley was not only a sensational author, she was an admirable role model for any woman who may have wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Index of Sources