But back to the subject. I've also been reading related articles everywhere they pop and I have to say, it's a mixed bag. At best I found innumerable lists that pretend to highlight the best of the best, only to repeat the same well-known names. At worst these articles/blogs are downright patronizing. Men trying their best to be humble and bring recognition to the many contributions talented female writers have made to the genre; instead they come off sounding like: "C'mon guys, these gals deserve it. They may not understand horror like we do--because women can't do horrible things--but they kinda bring other cool scary stuff you haven't read before. I swear!"
It's sad really. Another sad trope is how often Mary Shelly is called "The Mother of Horror." While I love the romantic appeal of calling us Shelly's Daughters, what these people are doing in fact is erasing a century of female names from history. I'm here to correct that.
In other posts I've talked about Gothic literature being the origin of what would eventually be known as Horror. "The Castle of Oranto" by Horace Walpole was the first novel ever published that dealt with ghosts and the supernatural in a plot that aimed at terrifying the reader. Soon the critics deemed these kind of stories unworthy of educated minds. And then came Clara Reeve, whose novel "The Old English Baron" (1778) attempted to legitimize the genre by modernizing the style, eliminating the over temperamental characters and bringing rational thinking to the plot.
But my favorite of the True Mothers of Horror is Ann Radcliffe. She managed the impossible: To make the critics recognize that creepy plots could turn into Literary master pieces when apt writers were given the task. She introduced the brooding Gothic villain before Lord Byron (and the Byronic hero) was even born! She was so widely popular that imitators rose from every corner of the world. Better yet, she created a technique known as "The Explained Supernatural" where every apparent preternatural event in the story is finally explained by natural, man-made, or scientific events. Sounds familiar? All Scooby Doo lovers out there owe a big debt to a female horror writer born in 1764.
Mary Shelly wrote the most influential novel to modern lovers of the genre, that much is true, but she would've never achieved fame had there not been a Clara Reeve or an Ann Radcliffe. So the next time you hear someone going on about how the women of today are building on top of Shelly's shoulders, or how the horror genre is an "Old Boy's Club," I trust you will you tell them right.
Celebrate Women in Horror this February!
The Sirens Call Issue #13 - Women in Horror - Second Annual Edition.