Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683691389
Publisher: Quirk Publishing
Publication date: 09/17/2019
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 47,539
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Why are women great at writing horror fiction? Maybe because horror is a transgressive genre. It pushes readers to uncomfortable places, where we aren’t used to treading, and it forces us to confront what we naturally want to avoid.
     And women are accused of being transgressive all the time—or, at the very least, they are used to stepping outside of the carefully drawn boundaries that society has set for them. Women are told what to do and who to be. Women are taught to be sweet, to raise children, to stay in their place. Women are pushed to the edges of society, where they are expected to keep their mouths shut and their heads down. The marginalization of women may have been more overt in the past, at times when women couldn’t vote or own property or work outside the home, but it still happens today. Women are still instructed to be good girls.
     In any era, women become accustomed to entering unfamiliar spaces, including territory that they’ve been told not to enter. When writing is an off-limits act, writing one’s story becomes a form of rebellion and taking back power. Consider, for example, Margaret Cavendish, who in the 1600s brazenly wrote about science and philosophy, two subjects then considered the purview of only male minds. More recently, Jewelle Gomez brought an African American and lesbian perspective to the vampire tale, which had long been the province of European male protagonists. Today, writers like Carmen Maria Machado and Helen Oyeyemi subvert the so-called safe storytelling formats of the fairy tale and the supernatural yarn, adding women’s voices to these traditional narrative forms.
     For women especially, writing is often a kind of noncompliance, which calls to mind the prisoners in the comic book series Bitch Planet by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Valentine De Landro (Image Comics, 2014–17). The comic is brilliant—it tells a female-driven dystopian story about women sent to a prison planet as punishment for being noncompliant. What a great word to describe the women in this book. 
     The writers you’ll meet in Monster, She Wrote are all rule breakers. And here’s the funny thing: society doesn’t always pay attention to what’s happening over there on the edges. So while society was ignoring them, they were taking up their pens. While everyone else has been doing their own thing, women have been doing theirs, crafting tales about scientifically reanimated corpses, ghosts of aborted children, postapocalyptic underground cities.
     Horror has been penned by men and women alike, but it’s important to acknowledge that women have been contributing to the genre since its inception. As you’ll discover in the following pages, the horror genre that readers love today would likely be unrecognizable without the contributions of these women.
     These misbehaving women who write horror in all its nasty forms.

The Queen of Horror
Shirley Jackson

In 1948, the New Yorker published a short story by a then-unknown writer. The tale, about an ordinary town with a sinister secret, so outraged readers that the magazine reported receiving more negative mail than ever before, including many subscription cancellations.
     That story was “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, which went on to become one of the most famous short stories in American literature.
     Though Jackson had been an obsessive writer since her youth and began publishing her writing during college, “The Lottery” made her a household name. For decades she received letters about it, which typically fell into one of three categories: bewilderment, speculation, and “plain old-fashioned abuse.”
     The New England setting of the story was an integral part of Jackson’s writing, which often features main characters who are outsiders and find themselves persecuted in a hostile small-town environment. This was an experience familiar to Jackson.
     Born in 1916, Jackson spent her childhood in California. She met her husband, the literary critic and professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, at Syracuse University, where they were students. The couple married in 1940 and moved several times before settling in 1945 in North Bennington, Vermont, where Hyman took a faculty position at Bennington College. She wrote, in what has become a famous anecdote from her life, that when checking into a hospital for the birth of her third child, the nurse asked Jackson what her occupation was. Jackson replied that she was a writer, to which the nurse said, “I’ll just put down housewife.”
     The truth was that Jackson always struggled against her roles as wife and mother—or, to be more accurate, the roles that others cast her in. Professionally she was a successful author, but at home in North Bennington, she was Hyman’s wife and the mother of four children. Her husband expected her to play the part of faculty wife: to maintain the household, to rear the children, to cook, to clean, and to entertain people he brought into their home. The residents of the college town never quite accepted her as one of their own, which likely informed how she wrote about various groups’ intolerance of outsiders (see: the stone-wielding townsfolk in “The Lottery”).
     Hyman controlled the family’s finances, but often it was Jackson’s income that kept them afloat. Jackson’s posthumously published collection Come Along with Me (Viking, 1968; Penguin, 1995 reprint) contains an anecdote about a time the family needed a new refrigerator. So she wrote a story, was paid, and bought the fridge. In this way, writing was, for Jackson, a real kind of magic. Hyman encouraged his wife’s work, especially because it supplemented his income. But when eventually her career eclipsed his, Hyman no longer tolerated her success and belittled her in front of his university colleagues. What’s more, he was frequently unfaithful, being particularly fond of his former students.
     It’s no wonder that Jackson wrote about women who were lonely and ostracized. Her characters are haunted, sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively, by pasts they can’t escape. Jackson became a master of both types of hauntings, the supernatural and the psychological, the interior and the exterior.

Haunted Housekeeping
Haunted house stories are a staple in horror literature; nearly every writer of the genre has told one or two. None have come as close to perfection as Jackson in creating houses that loom larger than their actual size, describing a past that haunts the present. What also sets her domestic stories apart is how quickly and effectively the mundane scenarios she depicts turn violent. Even a setting as seemingly humdrum as a grocery store transforms into a downright bloodbath in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, her 1962 novel about two sisters living in a family home following an infamous multiple murder.
     “The Lottery” established Jackson as reigning queen of the horror genre, though she wrote everything from campus novels to darkly comic domestic sketches about family life. These sketches were first published in magazines like Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day and, later, in the books Raising Demons (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1957; Penguin Books, 2015) and Life among the Savages (Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1953; Penguin Books, 2015). She cemented her status as a titan of terror with the 1959 publication of The Haunting of Hill House (Viking), which was adapted in 1963 into the film The Haunting, which then developed a cult following of its own. Director Jan de Bont brought a less popular adaptation to the screen in 1999. And in 2018, the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House took the bare bones ofJackson’s story into new territory.
     Hill House is a lovely work of ambiguity. Four characters from different walks of life converge on the titular property, which has a bad past and a bad reputation. Eleanor Vance, the protagonist, has answered an advertisement posted by Dr. Montague seeking assistants for a haunted house investigation. She sees it as the first adventure of her life, which until that point she has spent taking care of her invalid mother. Once the action begins, it’s hard to tell if the four people are cracking under the strain of their isolation in the bizarre mansion, or if the house truly is haunted. It doesn’t help that every angle in the building is off by a few degrees, and the decorations are . . . well, let’s just say, strange. In addition to the usual cold spots, bangs and knocks, and even a séance of sorts, Jackson adds Eleanor’s internal monologues in which she struggles to understand her morbid attraction to Hill House.
    With this book and others, Jackson drafted a blueprint for the modern haunted house in both literature and film. Stephen King modeled his Overlook Hotel in The Shining after another of Jackson’s creepy settings, the Halloran house in The Sundial (Farrar, Straus & Cuddahy, 1958). Moreover, King wrote at length about his debt to Jackson in his nonfiction ode to the horror genre, Danse Macabre (Gallery Books reprint, 2010), and in On Writing (Scribner reprint, 2010), his memoir on his chosen craft. Other authors who have cited Jackson as an influence include Neil Gaiman, Richard Matheson, and Sarah Waters.
     If The Haunting of Hill House was the definitive haunted house novel, then Jackson’s final completed novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Viking, 1962), cemented her in the Gothic and horror traditions. Time magazine named it one of the ten best novels of 1962. The story focuses on the Blackwood sisters, Constance and Mary Katherine (nicknamed Merricat), who live with their infirm Uncle Julian in their fenced-in family estate outside of a New England town. Uncle Julian’s poor health and the scorn the townspeople feel for the surviving Blackwoods are the result of a tragedy that occurred six years earlier. One night at supper, four members of the Blackwood family—the girls’ parents, brother, and aunt—were poisoned and died. Constance, who hadn’t used the arsenic-laced sugar on the dinner table, was arrested for the crime but not indicted. The townspeople believe she got away with murder. Her younger sister Merricat had been sent to her room without dinner on that fateful night and now is the only member of the household who ventures outside; she also practices magic rituals in order to keep Constance safe. Out of the blue, their cousin Charles swoops in, believing he is the rightful inheritor of the estate, and establishes himself as patriarch.
     Castle is often praised, especially for its protagonist. Merricat Blackwood is an outsider, like many of Jackson’s women, but she maintains an imaginative spirit and a fierce devotion to defending her sister and her home. Fans of the horror writer Paul Tremblay will recognize similarities in his protagonist Merry in A Head Full of Ghosts (William Morrow, 2015).
     The Blackwood sisters’ existence at the margins of their community reflects Jackson’s own experience. She didn’t quite fit in with the other wives of her small university town; she spent her days writing and tending children, but her nights were filled with more exotic fare. A lover of the occult, Jackson gave tarot readings to friends and family. She claimed not to believe in ghosts but she owned a crystal ball and a Ouija board and seemed to relish her reputation as a “witch.” Whether or not she practiced witchcraft is debatable.
     Shirley Jackson may not have been understood by the people who knew her, but her literary legacy is indisputable. As an example, consider the Shirley Jackson Awards, a juried accolade that has been given annually since 2007 for excellence in horror, thriller, and dark fantasy fiction.

Reading List
Not to be missed: Need some Shirley Jackson in your life? Honestly, who doesn’t? Jackson is best known for her novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, both available from Penguin Classics. “The Lottery” can be found in The Lottery and Other Stories, a 2009 Penguin reprint, among other editions. But Jackson’s other novels are criminally underread. The Sundial is an apocalyptic tale with all the Gothic trappings: a family with a sordid past, a manor house with secrets, and a storm blowing in. Yet it avoids cliché thanks to a unique exploration of family relationships. The narrative quickly turns into psychological suspense, and readers must question whether the end of the world is, in fact, near. It is available in a 2014 Penguin edition, with a foreword by Victor LaValle.

Also try: As mentioned, the 1963 film adaptation of Hill House has gained a fandom of its own. The ten-part 2018 Netflix series provides a fantastic reimagining (not a straight adaptation) of the novel that is well done and worth viewing.
     Judy Oppenheimer’s Private Demons (Ballantine Books, 1989) was the first full-length biography of Shirley Jackson. Oppenheimer interviewed Jackson’s family and friends for a more complete portrait than a mere blurb on a book jacket could offer. In it she focuses on Jackson’s supposed witchcraft and occult leanings...maybe a little too much. Ruth Franklin’s more recent and thoroughly engaging Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright, 2016) dives deep into Jackson’s personal papers and notes from the Library of Congress archive and interweaves insightful readings of her works into a sharp yet sympathetic biographical portrait. If you read only one biography of Jackson, make it Franklin’s.

Related work: In a testament to Jackson’s enduring allure, Susan Scarf Merrell’s murder mystery Shirley (Blue Rider Press, 2014) features Jackson as a character. Like so many of Jackson’s novels, this is a psychological thriller, with a young girl at the center. When the girl disappears, Jackson is a suspect. The director Josephine Decker began adapting the novel to film in 2018, with actress Elisabeth Moss playing Shirley Jackson.

Table of Contents


Margaret Cavendish: Mad Madge
Ann Radcliffe: Terror over Horror
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: The Original Goth Girl
Regina Maria Roche: Scandalizing Jane Austen
Mary Anne Radcliffe: Purveyor of Guts and Gore
Charlotte Dacre: Exhibitor of Murder and Harlotry

Elizabeth Gaskell: Ghosts Are Real
Charlotte Riddell: Born Storyteller
Amelia Edwards: The Most Learned Woman
Paula E. Hopkins: The Most Productive Writer
Vernon Lee: Ghostwriter à la Garçonne
Margaret Oliphant: Voice for the Dead
Edith Wharton: The Spine-Tingler

Marjorie Bowen: Scribe of the Supernatural
L. T. Meade: Maker of Female Masterminds
Alice Askew: Casualty of War
Margery Lawrence: Speaker to the Spirits
Dion Fortune: Britian’s Psychic Defender

Margaret St. Clair: Exploring Our Depths
Catherine Lucille Moore: Space Vamp Queen
Mary Elizabeth Counselman: Deep South Storyteller
Gertrude Barrows Bennett: Seer of the Unseen
Everil Worrell: Night Writer
Eli Colter: Keeping the Wild West Weird

Dorothy Macardle: Chronicler of Pain and Loss
Shirley Jackson: The Queen of Horror
Daphne du Maurier: The Dame of Dread
Toni Morrison: Haunted by History
Elizabeth Engstrom: Monstrosity in the Mundane

Joanne Fischmann: Recipes for Fear
Ruby Jean Jensen: Where Evil Meets Innocence
V. C. Andrews: Nightmares in the Attic
Kathe Koja: Kafka of the Weird
Lisa Tuttle: Adversary for the Devil
Tanith Lee: Rewriting Snow White

Anne Rice: Queen of the Damned
Helen Oyeyemi: Teller of Feminist Fairy Tales
Susan Hill: Modern Gothic Ghost Maker
Sarah Waters: Welcome to the Dark SОance
Angela Carter: Teller of Bloody Fables
Jewelle Gomez: Afrofuturist Horrorist

The New Weird: Lovecraft Revisited and Revised
The New Vampire: Polishing the Fangs
The New Haunted House: Home, Deadly Home
The New Apocalypse: This Is the End (Again)
The New Serial Killer: Sharper Weapons, Sharper Victims

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Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for allowing me to read this text! In Monster, She Wrote, authors Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson take readers on a fun and informative tour of women's contributions to horror, beginning with Margaret Cavendish and ending with the prolific trailblazers of today. The books "slime green" illustrations make for a fun aesthetic and the short entries allow for reading straight through or for dipping in before falling asleep. If you are someone who enjoys horror - or knows someone who does - this book would make a perfect gift -- especially if you paired it with one of the lesser known titles inside. The book examines several broad themes alongside its literary ladies: hauntings, the pulp fiction stories found in magazines like Weird Tales, the pulp horror paperbacks of the 1980s, haunted homes, the return of the Gothic, and the future of horror. Readers can expect to learn about famous writers like Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter - but even the most prolific reader is likely to encounter an entire host of new voices - some which have been republished and some which still need some literary love/ rediscovery (I was adding to my wish list the entire time I read). It was a pleasure to learn that female writers of genre and speculative fiction have had wide influence on things as diverse as the creation of the character of Han Solo and the appendix to Dungeons and Dragons. Less happily, I learned that women writers were often criticized for the very things for which their male counterparts were often praised: being too prolific, being too gory or disturbing, or pushing the boundaries. Readers who open this book will have a dual delight: the book is a pleasure on its own - but its practically guaranteed to lead to more books!
C_S_OCinneide 7 months ago
What a well-researched and beautifully laid-out book. I picked up Monsters She Wrote initially to gain background for a seminar I planned to give on women authors in frightening fiction. By then end of this book I knew I would have a whole lot more reading ahead of me in order to do that subject justice. The creators of Monsters She Wrote have definitely done this reading, and more. Starting with the early Gothic era, the book examines each of the significant stages in Horror’s evolution and the female authors that contributed to it. This includes (just to name a few) the Victorian Ghost Story, the occult fascinations of the late 19th century spiritualist movement, the advent of the Pulps, early American Horror, the rise of the serial killer, and finally post-millennial horror trends. In all these stages I was intrigued by the women who wrote this type of fiction and the sociocultural issues they examined in their stories, in particular the vulnerability of women physically, economically and politically throughout the centuries. It seems no coincidence that many of these authors were feminists, often writing extensively on that subject in their non-fiction body of work. Short stories like “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman are feminist gothic manifestos that still have a modern message to give, such that even my young daughter was required to study it at university. But beyond those messages, the fact remains that this is all damn good fiction, written by women sometimes forgotten over the years for the stunning contributions they have made to the genre and the influence they exerted over the development of the craft. I’ve got a reading list now as long as Frankenstein’s arm in order to find these stories and enjoy them for their own sake. I recommend Monsters She Wrote to anyone who is interested in the history of horror and weird fiction, the contribution of women authors to the genre, and the unique ideas they sought to explore in their work. You’ll come out of it with a whole list of wonderfully rich reading material to fill your eerie story TBR’s for many nights to come.
jnmegan 9 months ago
With its eye-catching cover and compellingly strange sketches and drawings, Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction attracts attention from its opening pages. From there, the authors Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson proceed to thoroughly entertain and inform those curious enough continue reading about this underexplored topic. Providing historical context, fascinating biographical background and a plethora of reader's advisory information, Monster She Wrote is mandatory for anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of these genres that are typically assumed as dominated by their male authors. Kröger and Anderson's chronology starts with Margaret Cavendish in the 17th century and the advent of speculative fiction and gothic tales, culminating with recent releases—many of which that have sought to revive, expand and modernize some recurring feminist themes over the centuries. The book is divided into eight sections, each with an introduction to a time period or emerging trend accompanied by defining characteristics; a quick bio of its most relevant female writers with recommended reading lists; and suggested supplemental materials related to each. Also sprinkled within are quotes and asides that discuss how women's voices, changing roles and male counterparts contributed to each moment in the genre's history. With their witty and colloquial tone, it is obvious that the authors are both well-informed and passionate about the subject matter. Monster, She Wrote can be enjoyed sequentially or browsed in any order for those seeking to explore the origins of some exceptional horror/speculative fiction or add substantially to their TBR list. Thanks to the authors, Quirk Books and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
StephieBe 11 months ago
"There seems to be an unspoken assumption that women aren’t interested in horror and speculative fiction, despite ample evidence of the opposite (p. 269)." Monster, She Wrote provides this ample evidence. It is fantastic overview of women writers throughout history that have made their marks in the weird fictions. I am not a big horror reader so this book was a great exploration into genre. The horror writers I am familiar with are majority men so it was wonderful to read about new to me authors that I may not have read about in the past. I absolutely recommend this book. My TBR has definitely expanded by 27 stories! Also RIP to Toni Morrison who was represented in this book, before her passing, with her story Beloved. Thank you Netgalley and Quirk Books for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.