Welcome to part 2 of my intro to horror series!
Now we are getting into the meat of what we would call "traditional" or even "mainstream" horror. The 1700s bring us our first Gothic novel! But a couple of things happened first that contributed to this literary point in time: Poetry, and Vampires.
In 1714 Thomas Parnell published A Night Piece on Death as the first work of 'The Graveyard Poets' a group of poets preoccupied with mortality and death (so...poets). Although most people categorize this work as 'Pre-Romantic Poetry', I like to include them because 1. They had a cool name and 2. I think their work contributed to the evolution of the Gothic novel.
Gothic fiction is characterized by an atmosphere of mystery and unease in a pseudomedieval setting. That's a loose definition, but it will work for now. I'll talk more about Gothic fiction in my Southern Gothic series.
In 1731 the Austrian government ordered an investigation into a mass hysteria that had gripped a local village. Arnold Paole had died in 1726 after falling off a wagon. Prior to his death, Paole had said that he'd been bitten by a vampire - and to reverse the curse he had smeared himself with mud from the vampires grave. About a month after his death, villagers said that Paole had risen from his grave and killed 4 people. The villagers dug up his body, put a stake through his heart, and then burned the body. However, 10 more people died of mysterious circumstances and Paole was blamed.
Johannes Flurkinger (yep. That's a name) wrote the report on the villagers claims and the story spread like wildfire through Europe. Even scientists and philosophers were fascinated.
Why am I sharing this story? Because its from this source that our modern obsession with vampires was born!
In 1765, Horace Walpole published what could be considered the very first Gothic Novel titled 'The Castle of Otranto', a story about Manfred, lord of the castle, and his family. The book begins on the wedding day of his sickly son Conrad and Princess Isabella. Before the wedding though, Conrad is crushed to death by a gigantic helmet that falls from above. The rest of the story is filled with ominous prophecies, family drama, romantic struggles, knights, damsels in distress, sorrow, and murder! Oddly enough, this novel would have incredible impact on the emerging genre of horror.
The rest of the 1700s were gothic novelists just trying to outdo and best other gothic novelists, so I'll move on.
There's one more story I want to share in this post as I think it is a good transition from the early Gothic novels of the 1700s, and the horror boom of the 1800s. It's a pretty well known story, but one of my favorites.
In June of 1816 Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley, and Dr. John Polidon shared a villa for 3 days. While there (and probably tripping balls on Laudanum) they decided to have a ghost story writing contest. From that, came the birth of the Science Fiction genre with Frankenstein (written by Mary Shelley, who won the contest) and also came the birth of the vampire sub-genre (now that the world was becoming more intrigued with the concept) with 'The Vampyre' by Dr. Polidon.
Okay! Next time we will talk about the horror boom of the 1800s, AND the scary origins of fairy tales! Yay!
Until next time,