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Exploring 20th Century Gothic and Horror Anthologies(09 Apr 2014)
By Miss Vanessa Velez
In the early-to-mid twentieth century the Gothic mode of literature as well as the Horror genre would thrive in pulp magazines and anthologized collections of short fiction. Publications such as Weird Tales, The Pan Book of Horror Stories, and Not At Night would function as purveyors of short “weird” fiction. Although notable names would arise from these publications, specifically H.P. Lovecraft in Weird Tales, the collections would not be considered within the realms of high-brow literature. The stories were sensational and often typical, where the majority of the narratives would focus on the traditional trappings and gimmicks of Gothic and Horror literature. Additionally, The Pan Book of Horror Stories, edited by Herbert Van Thal, and the Not At Night series, edited by Christine Campbell Thomson, would often go on to recycle stories that were first featured in Weird Tales. In a way, from a critical literary perspective the fiction showcased by these collections had little to present when faced with the canonical works of the Gothic authors of the day such as William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor. However, buried within these collections there still can be found little to basically unknown writers who had as masterful a grasp of both their craft and genre as those widely recognized in the Gothic literary canon.
In the past few months I have based my research around discovering the lost voices of the Gothic from the early decades of the twentieth century, and I have decided to start my journey by focusing upon the short fiction present in the Pan Book of Horror Stories and the Not At Night series. This was originally not intended to become a research project. On the contrary, I had read about the Pan series in the July 2013 issue of Rue Morgue magazine and decided to purchase one or two books of the collection to see what it was all about. After doing so, however, the short fiction featured in these collections peaked my interest. I began collecting more of the series and other anthologies related to it, and I started asking myself questions regarding their importance in the scope of the Gothic genre and mode of writing throughout the formative years of the twentieth century.
Featuring stories by authors such as C.S. Forester, W.J. Stamper, Muriel Spark, Hugh B. Cave, and Flavia Richardson (the nom de plume of Christine Campbell Thomson), The Pan Book of Horror Stories and Not At Night draw attention to a vast array of short fiction by authors of repute, though little known for their work in the field of the Gothic, as well as barely known writers of the day. What their stories display is that concealed within these collections are works of literary merit that deserve investigation; short fiction that both reinforces and also expands upon the primary tenets of the Gothic as both a genre and a mode of writing. From one standpoint, these short works bring diversity and a broader understanding to the development of the literary field, yet they also provide insight into events, instances, and social moments that the larger, more recognizable Gothic works of the day may ignore. Moreover, the Gothic short fiction presented in these collections by notable authors from outside of the genre can give us deeper insight into how the Gothic has influenced the expanse of modern literary movements. Lastly, and I believe this to be the most important aspect of this project, what these works of short fiction can also allot to scholars in the field is a chance to reevaluate the development and influence of Gothic literature in the twentieth century, while additionally alleviating future scholarship of the often repetitive evaluations of over-referenced primary works.
The collections I have been reviewing span from the decades between the late 1920s to the late 1950s. They comprise roughly forty years of development of the Gothic and Horror genres in short fiction; a span of time that my research into these collections has shown reflect the vast changes in modern perception, thought, and history. The stories highlight the psychological terrors of the second World War, British colonialism, women coming to terms with their own growing independence, and even works that critically question the psychological desire to hear stories of the macabre. I will cover many of these stories and their topics more in depth in proceeding entries, however, I wanted to give you a taste of what is to come. Moreover, these collections also function as experimental testing grounds for the Gothic and Horror genres. They show which forms of narratives would work with the field as well as those that were complete failures. This provides insight into how the genre would construct itself from a technical perspective throughout the rest of the century as well as into the new millenium.
Therefore, my intention in the upcoming entries on this blog is to begin the endeavor of presenting new sources of primary research that revive the field of the Gothic and bring the importance of its influence on modern literature to light. I want to track the themes and subject matter this vast extent of short fiction has brought to the genre that may have influenced its development. What I hope to create in doing so is a broader, more expansive understanding of the Gothic as we see it today. Hopefully, this will spark interest into these anthologies, and likewise, the unknown authors that contributed to them. Perhaps this research will be able to expand the breadth of the Gothic literary canon and display the diversity of the genre’s thematic range as well as bring new faces into the field that were at one time forgotten by history.
In my next entry I will explore “The Physiology of Fear” by C.S. Forester, a short story that delves into the guilt associated with partaking in the crimes of Nazi Germany. More to come later this week.