In recent months I have seen a specific article return repeatedly to my Facebook newsfeed: Esquire’s now rather infamous list of “80 Best Books Every Man Should Read”—a list full of macho (and occasionally misogynistic) novels by authors ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Charles Bukowski. Flannery O’Connor is the only woman author featured in the list (with her collection of short stories A Good Man is Hard to Find), a fact that rightly spurred indignation in feminist quarters. Flannery O’Connor was thus still very much on my mind as I spent this past Thanksgiving in Savannah, Georgia, her birthplace, an elegant Southern city with charming squares and venerable oak trees dripping with moss and mystery. While there, I visited O’Connor’s childhood home. I am a great admirer of her short stories, and O’Connor is widely considered one of the greatest American writers, as well as perhaps America’s greatest Christian writer. Touring the house in which she spent the first thirteen years of her life, I discovered some of the influences that shaped O’Connor’s work. But I also found my mind returning to that Esquire list, and thinking about the larger question it implied: which books by women will men read, and why?
Continue reading “The Women Writers Men Will Read”
The fear that you are going crazy, that you are imagining the things that wound or haunt you, is one our culture is always ready to confirm in women. We have been culturally conditioned to distrust our own minds, our own responses to the world around us. The writers of Gothic narratives have always understood this…In any situation of intense pain or fear, whether medical or domestic, being told repeatedly that you are imagining things or “making them up” creates a hell of Gothic isolation.
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”