Northampton Electronic Collection of Theses and Research

American Horror Fiction: from Poe to Twilight

Simmons, D. (2017) American Horror Fiction: from Poe to Twilight. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 9781137532794.

Item Type: Book
Abstract: Chapter 1: This introductory chapter explores the integral role that class played in the establishment of a definably U.S. popular Gothic literature. While public rhetoric often held that the U.S. was a democratic, egalitarian ‘land of plenty’, in which any individual, regardless of creed, color or background could succeed, the truth was that many lived in abject poverty through no fault of their own. Duly this opening section examines the multifaceted ways in which key writers, including Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton and Jack London, and new forms like the dime novel, used genre tropes to explore this tension: giving birth to a National, urban gothic in which the poor were frequently ‘othered’ as different to the more bourgeois reader. In the process these authors shaped the constituent parts of what would become an increasingly popular U.S. instance of the genre throughout the twentieth century. Chapter 2: Working from Paul Kincaid’s recent suggestion in The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (2012) that “Weird Fiction is a decidedly American Form” (44), this second chapter explores the development of the Gothic in the shape of Weird Fiction and the pulp magazines that originally published such material. The chapter argues that the work carried out by a host of often culturally derided pulp and popular writers, exemplified by H.P. Lovecraft, was defined by the issue of class. Class was an issue both in terms of the ideology of those involved on the creative side of such magazines (Publishers, editors, writers) but also filtered through to the content of the fiction that was published; in the process giving voice to a set of anxieties and fears concerning the emergent, literate working class, and the changing nature of U.S. identity. Chapter 3: This chapter explores the changes that took place during the mid-century period when many of the previous avenues for Horror writers and their work started to close. What resulted was an often conscious hybridisation of the genre that saw writers such as Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Shirley Jackson, and Robert Bloch look backwards to the Urban Gothic work of the nineteenth century. However, this chapter argues that whereas older writers frequently demonised those that they wrote about, in the post War period changing sensibilities to the economically marginalised meant that many genre writers increasingly employed psychologically realist approaches to both, evoke sympathy for those living in poverty, and encourage the reader to ask questions about the inequity of U.S. society. Chapter 4: This chapter examines the Horror novel ‘Boom’ of the late 1970s and the 1980s, a period when many Horror writers (including Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, Anne Rice, and Whitley Streiber) found their work reaching bestseller status across the U.S. In particular, the chapter focuses on Stephen King as an exemplar of many of the tendencies at play more widely, specifically trends concerning the depiction of class and the increasingly self-reflexive nature of the horror novel as ‘bad’ object. King’s novels frequently valorize a ‘homespun’ blue-collar ideology, rejecting the trappings of capitalism and the culture industry, while the author himself enjoys immense (continuing) commercial success producing the sort of work his writing appears to criticize. The chapter resituates King’s place within the development and argues for his importance in U.S. popular Gothic’s ongoing depiction of class and popular culture. Chapter 5: This final chapter explores the importance of class to contemporary instances of the genre. Analyzing the myriad ways in which authors such as Thomas Harris, Poppy Z. Brite, Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis have developed and built upon established genre trends, it examines the use of the serial killer as a means of questioning class inequality; the self-conscious reengagement with the genre as ‘bad object’ in order to shock the status quo; and the increasingly explicit, though often complex, anti-capitalist sentiment of novels as diverse as Fight Club (1996), Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie series, Thomas Ligotti’s My Work Here is Not Done (2002), and Max Brooks’ World War Z (2006). This chapter concludes that in an era when even the most mainstream of genre novels, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, explicitly situates its central characters in terms of their socio-economic status, class remains one of the most abundant sources for anxiety in the U.S popular psyche.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Horror, U.S.A., class, poverty, Edgar Allen Poe, Marx, cultural theory, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Twilight, Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature > PS370 Prose fiction
Creators: Simmons, David
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Faculties, Divisions and Institutes: University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > Faculty of Education & Humanities > English and Creative Writing
Faculties > Faculty of Education & Humanities > English and Creative Writing
Date: 19 October 2017
Date Type: Publication
Series Name: Palgrave gothic
Place of Publication: London
Number of Pages: 212
Language: English
ISBN: 9781137532794
Media of Output: Book and E-book
Status: Published / Disseminated
Refereed: Yes
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