One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Near the beginning of Guillermo del Toro’s new horror movie, Crimson Peak, a group of Victorian socialites describe the heroine, a young, aspiring American novelist named Edith Cushing, as “our very own Jane Austen,” cattily adding of Austen: “She died a spinster.” Edith replies, “I’d rather be Mary Shelley,” adding, after a pause, “She died a widow.”
Beyond this exchange’s underlying dialogue of marriageability, Edith’s preference for Mary Shelley situates Crimson Peak in the genre of Gothic terror which runs from Anne Radcliffe to Shelley herself to Charlotte Brontë to Daphne Du Maurier and beyond. Edith’s rejection of Austen implies that this movie is not a send-up of the Gothic genre, as Austen’s satirical Northanger Abbey is, even when the film self-consciously trots out the most worn conventions of the genre. More subtly but even more importantly, Edith’s preference signals the film’s distance from the worldview that produced Austen’s satirical novel: there will be no shaming of the female protagonist’s overheated imagination here, as there is via a pedantically mansplaining male figure in Northanger Abbey. In Crimson Peak, all the heroine’s fears are confirmed—along with some terrors that never occurred to her before they were revealed, though they probably occurred to the viewer with any experience of Gothic tales.
In the Gothic tradition, female feelings and fears are central. Continue reading “Gothic Horror, Female Emotion, and Crimson Peak”