Dissections logo scissors body by Deena Warner


Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner





Cape Cornwall Stone Sirens by Tanya Krzywinska

Artwork: Cape Cornwall Stone Sirens by Tanya Krzywinska

Reviews by Gina Wisker

Gothic Cornwall

During the pandemic, half of Britain drove on clogged roads to newly purchased over-priced chalet/caravans quite near the beautiful beaches and rugged cliffs of Cornwall, seeking sun and tranquillity, but it is not for this Gothic scenario that the area is best known. Rather Cornwall and the extended region, ‘Kernow’, is famous for folk horror and folk music, legends (and histories) of piracy and smuggling, Gothic romance, murder and a range of horror fictions and films. In Gothic Kernow Ruth Heholt and Tanya Krzywinska’s perfectly formed, beautifully Gothically illustrated book, in the exciting, developing Gothic list from Anthem Press (chief series editor Carol Margaret Davison), captures the rich diversity of the art, the literature, the folklore. Both Ruth and Tanya work at the University of Falmouth on the Cornish coast (which has a range of master’s courses in creative and professional writing), nurturing student creativity.

Tanya Krzywinska and Ruth Heholt (2021) Gothic Kernow: Cornwall’s Strange Fiction (pp.82) London: Anthem Press. Series editor Carol Margaret Davison.

Cornwall is well known as a place for both folk horror and the Gothic work of Daphne du Maurier in particular. This book by two academic creatives from the University of Falmouth, on the rugged and stunning Cornish coast, argues that there is a special relationship between Cornwall, its broader reach known as Kernow (which adds an element of mystery…) and the Gothic, bringing this relationship out in four chapters. Cornwall is known as a place of remarkable artistic and musical production, and this book relates to and references these as a kind of homage to Cornwall’s unusual, rich, special, magical Gothic quality. As inhabitants of Cornwall themselves, both authors testify to the ways in which an imaginary version of isolated, creative, magical Cornwall dominates people’s thoughts even in political times (G7 summit), and they identify this as a dichotomous, intriguing sense of fullness and lack related to the history and the imaginative creative versions people conjure up of the place. After this introduction, which locates this Gothic book building on Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s coining of the term ‘Cornish Gothic’ in 1998 when discussing Daphne du Maurier’s work, Ruth Heholt and Tanya Krzywinska proceed to engage with du Maurier’s writing and then move into work on artistic production and folk horror. I love the idea that Kernow ‘thrives as a dark economy for the creative imagination’, incorporating visual adaptation, contemporary, traditional and digital expressions. This reach allows them to look at dark romances, My Cousin Rachel (1951), folk horror films such as The Wicker Man (1973), and magical paintings, writing and films, e.g. David Jenkins’ work.

This is all brought together in a book that extends across history and the contemporary and different forms of production, and considers ways in which Cornwall is constructed in the imagination. They animate the Cornish landscape in a dark fashion, moving from du Maurier’s novel to the recent film of My Cousin Rachel, re-imagining Kernow as a place of uncanny doubleness, deceiving and haunting. Chapter one has a full introduction locating Gothic Cornwall in gothic studies of place and the imagination. Its treatment of the novel offers new critical appreciation, noting the transplantation of Rachel from Italy to a Cornish garden and the cold. It offers a reading of people and place, ‘a layering’ and an introduction to Cornish heritage, with fundamental undermining of spaces, places, and gender powerplays, engaging issues of centre and periphery, which the Gothic usually does. It does a good job with the novel, treats the landscape as myth and magic, brings in several other du Maurier stories, and ends with a sense of tension and unease. This is likely to be the chapter many people turn to first, and the issues it raises of magic, place, the imagined and the real in Gothic Cornwall then helps us read the other chapters.

The second chapter on the work of Ithell Colquhoun focuses on this artist and magician, and because the book contains work on folk horror, artists, the dark imagination and literary authors, we can enjoy the relationship of each with the other. Tanya Krzywinska’s work on Colquhoun relates to animism and geographies, providing an interesting background to what, why and how she might paint and produce art, as well as an expertly informed discussion of the works themselves, some of which are reproduced here, which is rather special in a critical book on the Gothic. I particularly liked The Sunset Birth and Dance of the Nine Opals, which give a sense of place and magic sensitively explained and explored in the text. The chapter also looks at sculpture by Tim Shaw, a very Pagan piece, and relates to poetry by Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove.

The third chapter on folk horror and witching women also attracts close interest in the ways in which Pagan rituals tend to be situated in Cornwall (also Somerset), and since folk horror has become more prevalent in the last few years with, e.g., Midsommar and remakes of The Wicker Man, this should prove an enlightening chapter. It offers some fascinating connections with Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes and with the US series True Detective, giving a sense of the spread of international and historical folk horror to which these examples of ‘strange people’ in Cornwall are linked. The book as a whole has a wide reach. Each of the three chapters works well both in its individual focus on du Maurier, on Cornish artists, or folk horror and Pagan rites and magic, and each links the work and the rituals and practices to the local countryside and seascapes, relating to history and popular culture as well as well-known work. This is a richly ranging, well written and also quite tightly focused, well rounded book. The authors achieve their desire to deal with the imagined and the real Gothic Cornwall.

We look forward to more Gothic gems in this very special series.

Joan Passey (ed.) (2021) Cornish Horrors: Tales from the Land’s End (pp.365). London: British Library.

The British Library publications uncover and link both the relatively obscure and the famous texts on themes as diverse as on the insect world: Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird, eds. Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf (2021), also discussed here, and Cornish Horrors: Tales From the Land’s End. In the introduction, Joan Passey highlights both the legendary attractions and terrors of Cornwall, which drew Holmes and Watson in in ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’, and later in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Ligeia’, which it seems is the likely remote location for the narrator’s escape (there are Cornish names involved). Cornwall is also attractive to tourists in the 19th century for its emptiness, ‘ancient, distant and separate…a relic or artefact of the past’ (p. 9); however, ‘Cornwall’s spectres and giants may be scared away by the visiting hordes’ (p. 9), clearly a continuing threat. The Cornish coast and its villages and towns are locations for reanimation of an ancient mummy in Bram Stoker’s novel The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), while in his short story, in this collection, ‘The Coming of Abel Behenna’, Stoker draws on the trope of recurrent histories, washed up on Cornish shores. There is a sapphire and emerald sea, caves, torrents of water, blowholes, an edgy beautiful land and seascape, and a dangerous set of choices between an insistent potential lover, Eric, and another, Abel, who disappears to foreign lands by sea with some of Eric’s money invested in toys to sell abroad (to the ‘Chersonese’ in Canton – a little nod to the focus at the time on Chinese difference and trade). Time counts down for the potential return of Abel, Sarah’s wedding dress is finished, storms wrack the coast and children see a strange creature coming out of a cave. The tension builds up – the wedding takes place but Abel had returned a week ago, and his body is found on broken rocks opposite Eric’s door, fatally tied to a mooring. ‘Devil’s help, Devil’s faith, Devil’s price’, says the white-faced, deathlike, guilty Eric, ending the story.

Love interest and danger is the focus of ‘Colonel Benyon’s Entanglement’, by sensation novelist and Gothic short story author Mary Elizabeth Braddon, known for Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). Coming to the ‘remote semi-barbarous land…still pervaded by the Phoenicians and King Arthur’ (p. 79), on sick leave after his posting in India, Colonel Benyon is sucked into the tale of his friend Hammersley’s lovely wife (‘a deadly theme’), who has disappeared, run off with another man – to poverty, or ‘flaunting on a Parisian boulevard’ (p. 83). Benyon’s attempt at a Cornish rest-cure leads only to further illness, and he is carefully cared for by a newly returned local widow, ’Mrs Chapman’, who seems to know something of his past in India, and has an affinity with the house owned by Hammersley, Trewardell. Mrs Chapman is, of course, the errant missing wife.

Foreign lands, the returns of lost lovers and the allure, mystery, and danger of the place, with its beauty, remote grand houses and wild seas draw readers to Cornwall (with some warnings) in both these tales.

Daisy Butcher and Janette Leaf (eds.) (2021) Crawling Horror: Creeping Tales of the Insect Weird (pp. 317). London: British Library.

This book, according to the editors provides, ‘an environment for insects which is exclusively their own’ (p. 7), dealing with their use in metaphor, their metamorphoses, invasion and parasitism, and their ‘alien unreadable faces’. They also mention ‘entomophobic’ fears of rapid breeding and overwhelming This is a delightful and uneasy introduction to an interesting, diverse collection of tales. There are some tales that remind of the late 19th/early 20th century fascination with Egyptology, so Poe’s ‘The Sphinx’, and an anonymous ‘The Mummy’s Soul’, stand out. Lafcadio Hearn’s Japan-set ‘The Dream of Akinosuke’ and ‘Butterflies’(1904) focuses on interspecies horror, with the marriage between a man and an ant in the first tale, and a butterfly travelling between realms to unite lost lovers in the second. In ‘The Dream of Akinosuke’ Akinosuke falls asleep in the garden with friends, and in his dream (which is brief but feels a lifetime) he marries the King’s lovely daughter, they have children, travel, and he is devastated when she dies. But while he was actually just briefly napping, the friends see a fluttering butterfly pulled down by an ant into a big nest. Akinosuke awakes, hears their tale, and when he excavates the ant hill he sees a mini version of the palace of Tokyo and surrounds, resembling his own land, including a mountain beneath which (in his dream) is the grave of his human princess wife. In the mini version of the human world he finds a dead female ant. His dream was of a human marriage and loss, and when he awoke the reality was quite different.

South African Olive Schreiner focuses on local insects in ‘A Dream of Wild Bees’ (1895), a tale the editors note as ‘intertwined with female authorship and magazine readership’, like a fairytale, in which insects offer gifts to an expectant mother, of which she can choose one. They offer love, health, wealth, talent – and each tells a tale of what the child could seek and how they might benefit from or never appreciate and use the specific gift. These weird insects can communicate with her and transfer powers to her unborn child. After discussing her child’s future, seeking after love, health and so on, the final offer she has is that they will sense, seek and reach a beautiful place with a blue sea, and a mountain topped with burnished gold. The question is: ‘Is it real?’ And the answer of the insect is to pass this back, questioning the nature of reality itself. It seems she chose this flight of imagination and questioning for her child. This brief fairytale is philosophical, ‘And already it had its reward – the Ideal was Real to it’(p. 82).

Jeffrey Weinstock and Regina M. Hansen (eds.) (2021) Giving the Devil His Due: Satan and Cinema (pp. 216). New York: Fordham University Press.

Where else could we find Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, witchcraft, Catholicism, Bela Lugosi, Lucifer, H.P. Lovecraft, The Exorcist and Margaret Atwood in one book? In Jeffrey Weinstock and Regina M. Hansen’s Giving the Devil His Due: Satan and Cinema, which brings together historical and religious background and canonical texts with Disney and asks both questions about some of the moments which produce such engagement with the figure(s) of the Devil, Satan and Angels, and what concerns these figures engage with, particularly in film. The book acknowledges its approaches of ‘new cinema history’ and its roots in both the Gothic and horror and in film history and religious and cultural studies, and puts the devil, or Satan, centre stage. It opens with a historical ‘fact’: ‘in 1646, Jesuit Father Athanasius Kircher made the mistake of conjuring the devil’ (p.1), which already ushers in religious-related devilish darkness, and some ostensibly everyday activities such as the entertaining use of magic lanterns, which Murray Leeder points out in his chapter ‘Narration and Damnation in Angel Heart,’ was called ‘the lantern of fear’, produced ghostly images and was used to hold seances. Leeder’s treatment of Angel Heart, this wonderful mix of the detective and horror story, focuses on the form of narrative, the tales told to cover over the horror, which is only revealed in glimpses until the end.

In cinema, we are told by the editors, the appeal of Satan is both a reflection of conceptions of good and evil, and also ‘an embodiment of culturally specific anxieties and desires’. This places a healthy everyday appreciation of Satan as an active, force and a major monster. He is alive in narratives that vehicle major concerns both of the visible and the invisible. Jeffrey Weinstock raises the issue of desire in ‘The Devil’s in the Details: Devilish Desire in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate’, and focuses on the film’s nostalgia for arcane lore, demons and the devil, where in modern culture (following Nelson), demonology at least suggests, as Weinstock notes, that ‘the supernatural is superior to unbelief even if it culminates in damnation’. Regina M. Hansen considers a range of Biblical figures, with ‘Lucifer, Gabriel, and the Angelic Will in The Prophesy and Constantine’, and her study of the latter film raises issues of how Satan’s cinematic role changes with time and place but also maintains an active relationship between views of good and evil related to belief and behaviour. Sometimes his role is conventional tempting with taboo items or behaviours, followed by punishment and a return to conventional religious faith and order. The holy cross-shaped shotgun operates in this way in Lawrence’s 2005 Constantine, in Regina M. Hansen’s essay.

When films deal with the devil and procreation, as in Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), in David Sterritt’s essay, and in the more recent The Witch (David Eggars, 2016), as discussed in Simon Bacon’s ‘Agency or Allowance: The Satanic Complications of Female Autonomy’, treatment of his presence in relation to women’s roles and feminism comes to the fore.

This is a well-researched, well written book, which for me, and I expect for many readers, offers a new, dark re-entrance into most of my very favourite films.

Faye Ringel (2022) The Gothic Literature and History of New England: Secrets of the Restless Dead. US: Anthem Impact, Anthem Studies in Gothic Literature.

When we think of American Gothic we first think of New England with the Salem witch trials, Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Faye Ringel’s The Gothic Literature and History of New England certainly enhances our knowledge and appreciation of the dark work of both these writers and dark moments in New England history. There is, however, much more to New England Gothic, and Faye Ringel’s impeccably researched and beautifully written book opens up this effaced or understated history, replacing the often absent presence of indigenous people, African Americans, migrants, who rather chose to come to the US, and women.

It opens with a timeline that begins with events of colonial horror, the decimation of indigenous people through imported epidemics, the first African slaves landing in North America, and it continues to highlight the somewhat dubious extremist versions of and responses to Puritan religion through the puritan Divine, Cotton Mather, and the Salem witch trials. It takes us right up the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is immediately clear that Faye Ringel’s The Gothic Literature and History of New England has a very different and much overdue take on New England Gothic. It not only re-inserts race, colonialism and power into the history, the events, the writings of New England, it also noticeably includes the women writers, Elizabeth E. Wilkins Freeman, who wrote ghost and social vampire tales, and Edith Wharton, whose incisive ironic tales of high society are augmented here with her ghost stories. The timeline, the contents, the events and the writers considered here offer surveys of the history, nature and the forms of the Gothic in New England. As the text states, three main areas of its focus are women’s representation as writers and consumers of Gothic literature, the Puritans’ fear of the wilderness and treatment of the native peoples, and the legacy of slavery and enduring racism. Texts include work by Cotton Mather and other Puritan divines who collected folklore of the supernatural; the Frontier Gothic of Indian captivity narratives; the canonical authors of the American Renaissance, such as Melville and Hawthorne; the women's ghost story tradition and the Domestic Gothic from Harriet Beecher Stowe to Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Shirley Jackson; Stephen King and the horror boom of the twentieth century; and current critical and creative writers who respond to the racial and gender issues in the work of Providence writer, H.P. Lovecraft.

In the third chapter Faye Ringel reveals among other things, historical events that inform Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) and Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ (1948), two fundamental works of women’s Gothic and horror. The real post-partum depression of Charlotte Perkins Gilman led to this novella, which is studied worldwide in schools and universities. Its focus on gendered power and control on incarceration and disorientation is fundamental in feminist studies and reading and re-reading of a range of texts, from Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859) to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963) and beyond. We are told that in moving to the area a couple were pelted with vegetables, and that this unneighbourly violence underpins the upset of the seemingly bucolic ordinary existence of the village in ‘The Lottery,’ which is (certainly currently) such a revelation about the way dull rule-bound normality is underpinned by intrinsic otherising and pointless brutal treatment of anyone randomly targeted for victimisation.

In Faye Ringel’s discussion of what she terms ‘domestic gothic’ she looks at oppression and violence at home. ‘Rather than fearing attacks by wild beasts or savage men, the female protagonists of the Domestic Gothic fear those who share their homes – they fear being walled up in interior spaces with the walls closing in.’ This third chapter takes us through the ghost stories of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Madeline Yale Wynne, Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, offering ghostly intrusions in home settings, and also writing of the same-sex relationship of several of the women writers of the Gothic and horror in this period. We are in New England, so Rose Terry Cooke’s ‘My Visitation’ (1858) is a ‘Bronte-esque Gothic novel’ ‘dealing explicitly with same- sex desire’ involving the ghostly visit of her lost love, Eleanor. The publishing practices of New England Gothic women writers are broad; they published in the Penny Press, dark adventurous children tales, and thrillers. Emily Dickinson’s poetry is also discussed. This chapter also explores work deriving from spiritualism, bringing in William Dean Howells and Henry James, and Sarah Helen Whitman, a more ardent spiritualist who with her circle channelled Poe, involving automatic writing.

The fifth chapter moves beyond the racism and xenophobia which readers and critics stumble on when engaging with the work of Lovecraft and others.

Arguing that ‘enslaved Africans are skeletons in New England’s closets’, Faye Ringel reminds of James Mars’ autobiographical work on his own historical slave experience, and situates and explores the work of artists and film makers of colour, including Connecticut poet laureate Marilyn Nelson and film maker Jordan Peele (Get Out, 2017). While Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) in Maine, she did not engage with slavery elsewhere, and as Faye Ringel points out, there must be more historical writing to be unearthed exploring the hidden histories of slavery in New England, and considering writing by local inhabitants, Black or white, and by visitors to the region. This is a very scholarly chapter in a rich scholarly book, which recuperates a range of work and re-writes the study of New England Gothic.

The book will appeal to literary scholars, lovers of Gothic and horror, students and other readers who appreciate the highlighting and reorientation of focus on work of the region, replacing cultural diversity and gendered perceptions underpinning and informing its rich darkness.

Simon Bacon (2022) The Anthropocene and the Undead: Cultural Anxieties in the Contemporary Popular Imagination. Lexington Books Horror Studies.

This is a worryingly topical collection dealing as it does with ‘rough times’ in the planetary ecosystem, of global warming and species extinction, plagues. The introduction deals early on with and goes beyond comparisons between the Anthropocene, that period which, in horror readings, is when man has so dominated and nearly destroyed much of the world, and the zombie, the favoured obvious image of our times. Simon Bacon writes tellingly of a Gothic ‘unhomely relationship to the environment constructing it as a world of undead doppelgängers’ and spectres of former fecundity. Abjection is a key concept running throughout, as zombie hordes, mutant species, dying and dead ecosystems and parasitism dominate.

The book is in five sections, which cover undead identity through to a post-Anthropocene imagined future:

Part I: Undead Identity in the Anthropocene
Part II: Undead Spaces and ‘Zones’ of the Anthropocene
Part III: The Anthropocene and the End
Part IV: The Disanthropocene: Is Not All About Us
Part V: The Post-Anthropocene, the Symbiocene and Undead Futures

Monstrosity and, mutation run throughout several chapters, including in Chapter 3, where Johan Höglund looks back to Maggie ‘in the Necrocene’. Nils Bubandt explores a range of undead short stories, and in another chapter, Chapter 5, with uncanny foresight, Steffen Hantke very topically considers ‘Mutants and Tourists: Horror Film, Sacrifice Zones, and Chernobyl Diaries (2012)’. In Chapter 9, ‘“To Remember Forever to Forget”: Into Eternity and the Anti-Anthropocene’, Mikaela Bobiy and Kristopher Woofter consider workers deep in a cavernous underground. Madsen’s ‘Into Eternity’, avoiding pathos and redemptive escape, enacts and tells us ‘that the lessons history has taught us about humanity amount to trying to save ourselves from our own destructive impulses, resulting in perpetual cycles of abuse. The will to death.’ Elsewhere in the collection there is ‘tiger flu’ in one chapter, and in Daisy Butcher’s work an interest in the creepy, in ‘Night/When Two Become One: Stranger Things, Parasitism, Assimilation and the Abject.’

It is possibly good to note that the Anthropocene is not the end, as argued in ‘Chapter 15: ‘After the End: The Post-Anthropocene Future of Endzeit’ by Lars Schmienk. Here while there is in one form the separation of zombie and human, a ‘cordon sanitaire’ between the two, there is also an appreciation of similarity, a near human right to existence and a new potential pastoral co-existence, not just between zombies and humans but humans and the nature they have so near completely despoiled. In this collection, while frequent actors, zombies are possibly the least of humankind’s problems. It is a redeeming touch in this last chapter to suggest that:

‘The world does not need a human eye to behold it or a human hand to manipulate it, it is teeming with life nonetheless.’


Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner
Website maintained by Michelle Bernard - Contact michelle.bernard64@gmail.com - last updated March 11, 2022