Horror 101 Part 3: The Horror Boom of the 1800s and the Transition to Contemporary Horror.
We’re back! This is the last installment of the Horror 101 series. I know I haven’t covered everything but let me give you the scoop of what’s happening next here.
In October, like I always do, I’ll be doing “Freaky Flash Fiction Fridays”. So you’ll get a super short scary story from me every Friday. This not only helps you and me to get into the Halloween spirit, but also lets me prep a little for NaNoWriMo in November.
Then in November, I’ll start discussing Key Contemporary horror books & authors, discussing what books or authors helped to transform or elevate the genre in some way. There might also be some NaNo updates, but I’m thinking that will show up more on Long Story Short – mine and my BFF’s collaborative blog (we focus more on the craft of writing over there). AND THEN, I’m going to talk about horror for children (I know I said I was going to include it in this one, but I want it to be a standalone series). Okay. Now on to the post.
We ended last post with the creation of Science Fiction and the birth of the vampire sub-genre. That’s huge! Meanwhile, horror again flourished on stage in the early 1800s. Some of the most popular productions were ‘The Devils Elixir’ by Fitz Ball, ‘The Castle Spectre’ by Matthew Lewis, and James Planche’s ‘The Vampire’ (and for all of you technical theatre nerds – this play led to the invention of ‘The Vampire Trap’ a type of trap door). In 1833 Edgar Allen Poe would bring the Gothic genre to America with his first story ‘MS. Found in a Bottle’ which appeared in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor.
The Industrial Revolution spelled major changes for the genre in the 1840s. Literacy rates were up, cities were more crowded than ever, people wanted a distraction. And for whatever reason at this time, horror became more visceral and gory. Thus the birth of the Penny Bloods (also and more commonly known as Penny Dreadfuls). They emerged as a cheap form of entertainment for mass audiences. From this came the stage version, the Penny Gaffs. One of the most famous being ‘Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber’. Unfortunately, even though the Penny Dreadfuls and the Penny Gaffs were popular with some, others thought they were a sure-fire path to Juvenile Delinquency, and that is what caused the decline of the Penny Dreadfuls.
The late 1800s (well, mid to late) was the beginning of the decline of the Gothic novel and the Gothic narrative as we know it. In 1872 Sheridan Le Fanu published “Carmilla”. In this piece, Le Fanu brought elements of horror and the supernatural into everyday life, leaving the knights and castles and damsels of traditional Gothic lit behind.
As Victorian ideals replaced Romantic ones, writers turned their awareness to individual mortality. This brought us, among many things, ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’
The French stage during the late 1800s and early 1900s saw a return of overt gore, mostly through short plays full of violence, murder, rape, suicide, and ghosts.
Then we start getting a transition into Modern Horror, starting with Ambrose Bierce, whose collection of ghost stories ‘Can Such Things Be?’ brought ghosts into the modern era by mixing it with his gritty war tales. H. G. Wells took it a step further in 1898 with ‘War of the Worlds’ which although is a blend of science fiction and horror, took horror into the future.
This is where I’m going to end the Horror 101 series. In November I’ll be back to discuss contemporary horror (and a little history too) and after that a short series on Horror for kids! But in the meantime, enjoy my scary stories, coming at you October 5th!
Until Next time,