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Horror: A Literary History

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Horror is unlike any other literary genre. It seeks to provoke uniquely strong reactions, such as fear, shock, dread or disgust, and yet remains very popular. Horror is most readily associated with the film industry, but horrific short stories and novels have been wildly loved by readers for well over two centuries. Despite its persistent popularity, until now there has be Horror is unlike any other literary genre. It seeks to provoke uniquely strong reactions, such as fear, shock, dread or disgust, and yet remains very popular. Horror is most readily associated with the film industry, but horrific short stories and novels have been wildly loved by readers for well over two centuries. Despite its persistent popularity, until now there has been no up-to-date history of horror fiction for the general reader. This book offers a chronological overview of the genre in fiction and explores its development and mutations over the past 250 years. It also challenges the common misjudgement that horror fiction is necessarily frivolous or dispensable. Leading experts on Gothic and horror literature introduce readers to classics of the genre as well as exciting texts they may not have encountered before. The topics examined include: horror’s roots in the Gothic romance and antebellum American fiction; the penny dreadful and sensation novels of Victorian England; fin-de-siècle ghost stories; decadent fiction and the weird; the familial horrors of the Cold War era; the publishing boom of the 1980s; the establishment of contemporary horror auteurs; and the post-millennial zombie trend.


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Horror is unlike any other literary genre. It seeks to provoke uniquely strong reactions, such as fear, shock, dread or disgust, and yet remains very popular. Horror is most readily associated with the film industry, but horrific short stories and novels have been wildly loved by readers for well over two centuries. Despite its persistent popularity, until now there has be Horror is unlike any other literary genre. It seeks to provoke uniquely strong reactions, such as fear, shock, dread or disgust, and yet remains very popular. Horror is most readily associated with the film industry, but horrific short stories and novels have been wildly loved by readers for well over two centuries. Despite its persistent popularity, until now there has been no up-to-date history of horror fiction for the general reader. This book offers a chronological overview of the genre in fiction and explores its development and mutations over the past 250 years. It also challenges the common misjudgement that horror fiction is necessarily frivolous or dispensable. Leading experts on Gothic and horror literature introduce readers to classics of the genre as well as exciting texts they may not have encountered before. The topics examined include: horror’s roots in the Gothic romance and antebellum American fiction; the penny dreadful and sensation novels of Victorian England; fin-de-siècle ghost stories; decadent fiction and the weird; the familial horrors of the Cold War era; the publishing boom of the 1980s; the establishment of contemporary horror auteurs; and the post-millennial zombie trend.

30 review for Horror: A Literary History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Gaya

    Much like the first volume published by the British Library, Science Fiction: A Literary History, this book is a survey of a specific literary genre, through a series of articles written by a group of academics. This overview focuses specifically on English and American literature (so you will not find a single word on Maupassant, Leroux, Borges or Cortázar, for instance). This “literary history” starts in the second half of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, with the dawn of the Gothic Much like the first volume published by the British Library, Science Fiction: A Literary History, this book is a survey of a specific literary genre, through a series of articles written by a group of academics. This overview focuses specifically on English and American literature (so you will not find a single word on Maupassant, Leroux, Borges or Cortázar, for instance). This “literary history” starts in the second half of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, with the dawn of the Gothic genre and early English ghost stories, specifically Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto and Mathew Lewis’ The Monk. Nevertheless, the first significant milestone is, of course, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Roughly during the same period, the horror genre also comes into existence in America, mainly with Washington Irving (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) and the towering figure of Edgar Allan Poe (see Poetry and Tales). The genre flourishes further in Britain, during the Victorian period and the first decades of the 20th century. First, with authors such as Dickens (Bleak House, A Christmas Carol) or George Eliot (Middlemarch), which include some horror elements here and there within their novels, and more specifically with a host of “penny dreadfuls”. Later on, Stevenson (The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Bran Stoker (Dracula), Arthur Machen (The White People) and H. G. Wells (The Island of Doctor Moreau) in Britain, and obviously H. P. Lovecraft (see Tales) in America, push the envelope further still. After the Second World War, a new generation comes in a develops new flavours in the genre. For instance, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend elaborates on the vampire stories; Ira Levin’s Rosemary's Baby establishes the theme of the evil child; Robert Bloch’s Psycho initiates the trend of the psycho-killer. But the significant commercial upturn for horror literature happens during the 1980s, with authors such as the extremely prolific Stephen King (Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, Cujo, Christine, It, etc.) or the slightly more parsimonious Thomas Ligotti (Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe) or Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire). However, the genre is still thriving today — mainly through the zombie theme and the “new weird”. King is still active, and a new generation of writers is coming forth: John Ajvide Lindquist, (Let the Right One In), Laird Barron (The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All), Max Brooks (World War Z), Jeff VanderMeer (Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy) to name a few. It is quite apparent, from this exploration of the horror genre that there is considerable overlap with the genre of science fiction, either because the same authors tend to alternate from one to the other, or because the tropes of both genres are tightly interwoven within the very same stories, both in literature and in film. Case in point, the Alien franchise = interstellar travel + bloodthirsty monsters.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nick Imrie

    This is the sort of book which, if you were reading it as part of your research for an essay, would make you say, 'Thank God it's such a light and easy read. So interesting!' But if you were reading it for pleasure you would say, 'Hmm, it's a bit dry and academic, though.' For my money, the best literary criticism is written by amateurs, in the literal sense of one who loves, people who glow with enthusiasm and can't stop rhapsodising about the beloved, as if in the early days of a great romance. This is the sort of book which, if you were reading it as part of your research for an essay, would make you say, 'Thank God it's such a light and easy read. So interesting!' But if you were reading it for pleasure you would say, 'Hmm, it's a bit dry and academic, though.' For my money, the best literary criticism is written by amateurs, in the literal sense of one who loves, people who glow with enthusiasm and can't stop rhapsodising about the beloved, as if in the early days of a great romance. Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them is one of the best for people who love books. This is not that kind of book. This is a very serviceable introduction to horror in the anglosphere. It will lead you sedately, in an orderly fashion, through 18th century Gothics, to lurid Victorian penny dreadfuls and biohorror, American weird, 20th century short stories and pulps, the slow emergence of horror, science fiction, and fantasy as distinct genres, to the great big boom of the 1980s and into the modern day. There's a fairly handy list of recommended reading at the end of each chapter.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    While reading the British Library's A literary history of science fiction I discovered that there was a sister edition that charted the history of horror as well. As you can imagine I set out to read that as well and here is it. Now this book follows the tried and tested format - a number of eminent authors and scholars are given a chapter to chart the history and notable high points of the genre through specific time periods The book charts the genre from its humble beginnings where it was trea While reading the British Library's A literary history of science fiction I discovered that there was a sister edition that charted the history of horror as well. As you can imagine I set out to read that as well and here is it. Now this book follows the tried and tested format - a number of eminent authors and scholars are given a chapter to chart the history and notable high points of the genre through specific time periods The book charts the genre from its humble beginnings where it was treated as a sub-genre and a very poorly thought of one at that - referred to often as horrible romance to its resurgence and height of popularity to its not acknowledged and sable genre in its own right. The book does cover off a number of other aspects including the literary connection to the screen (both big and little) as well as other formats the have come to the fore as well such as graphic novels and comics. AS you can imagine squeezing such a subject in to a single book is no mean feat and there will no doubt be omissions that some will not agree with but the book for me is a great starting point for further reading and is a worthy recognition of a style and subject that has often been overlooked to outright dismissed

  4. 5 out of 5

    Magdarine

    A more approproate title for the book would be "Horror: A (mostly) white male Literary History" (some white women are mentioned more or less in passing) but within that rather limited scope I did find most of the essays pretty interesting. A more approproate title for the book would be "Horror: A (mostly) white male Literary History" (some white women are mentioned more or less in passing) but within that rather limited scope I did find most of the essays pretty interesting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    More properly titled Horror: A Limited Literary History, this collection of seven essays edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes covers the development of horror as a literary genre from the 18th century until today - but only in Britain and America. Opening with an introduction by Reyes which outlines the collection's working definition of horror, the potential social and psychological underpinnings of horror, and the general organization of the book's examination of the form, this History then gets down More properly titled Horror: A Limited Literary History, this collection of seven essays edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes covers the development of horror as a literary genre from the 18th century until today - but only in Britain and America. Opening with an introduction by Reyes which outlines the collection's working definition of horror, the potential social and psychological underpinnings of horror, and the general organization of the book's examination of the form, this History then gets down to the promised business of its title, starting with an essay by Dale Townshend on the development of the Gothic in Britain. From there it hops the pond for Agnieszka Monnet's examination of how that Gothic tradition translated itself into American fiction, then settles into a series of mostly chronological essays covering the rise of 19th and 20th century horror, what the genre looked like after the decline of Universal monster movie horror, the peak of the genre's popularity toward the close of the 20th century, and what fear looks like in the new millennium. As with any collection, the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts, though the weakest link here is Reyes' introduction, which spends an amusingly large amount of time promising how generally accessible the book will be while being itself a fairly excellent example of inaccessibly academic writing. Overall, though, I found the essays well-written, though my preference for Mahawaite's essay on horror in the 19th century and Luckhurst's piece on the transition from Victorian Gothic to modern horror (which, interestingly enough, is structured around Arthur Machen's career) is probably more due to my particular area of interest rather than any particular quality of their writing. As previously mentioned, this collection narrowly focuses on horror in Britain and America, which the editor describes as a necessary limiter given international horror's roots in specific historical and cultural conditions which would require more explanation that this volume has room for. I don't know about you, but that seems a bit too pat an answer, particularly when paired with the book's strange omission of any discussion of how YA fiction aimed at young women helped keep the genre alive in the 1990s, or how Reyes manages to have an entire discussion on the New Weird that doesn't once mention that the most interesting work in that genre is being done by people of color who are reclaiming and subverting the work of Howard "The P actually stands for Problematic" Lovecraft. As a general introductory survey, Horror definitely does what it says on the tin, and deserves particular praise for the inclusion at the end of every chapter of not just bibliographic resources but a suggested reading list for further study. Still, those of us who've read a bit on the genre and are looking for something a bit more in-depth might be forgiven for wishing the editorial staff had just said "Fuck it" and given us the more-inclusive, thousand page deep-dive version of this relatively limited literary history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    For someone who has not read much more than a few Gothic novels and one or two contemporary horror novels, this book was incredibly informative about the scope and history of this genre. Currently, I am a Literary Studies MA student and am used to jargon-infused volumes on literary matters, so it was refreshing to find this much more approachable text at my university library. My only (very minor) gripe with this book is that it does not look as thoroughly into the roots of American horror ficti For someone who has not read much more than a few Gothic novels and one or two contemporary horror novels, this book was incredibly informative about the scope and history of this genre. Currently, I am a Literary Studies MA student and am used to jargon-infused volumes on literary matters, so it was refreshing to find this much more approachable text at my university library. My only (very minor) gripe with this book is that it does not look as thoroughly into the roots of American horror fiction as I would have liked it to. For example, one of the authors covers Poe with broad strokes, but sort of skips around the turn of the century to arrive at Lovecraft's doorstep without any mention of Ambrose Bierce or R.W. Chambers, who are two significant influences on Lovecraft's work and psychological horror at large. As someone who is working on a thesis about Bierce, it felt sort of disheartening to not see him credited as a major influence on Lovecraft nor on the journalistic tact with which contemporary horror fiction is composed. But, I can set aside my fanatic interest in Bitter Bierce and give Horror: A Literary History a superb rating because it most definitely helped supplement my knowledge in this area and is by far a more accurate representation of this field of genre study than Continuum's volume written by Gina Wisker. (I guess we cannot always trust a scholarly publishing house to fact-check its authors...) Anyway, I highly recommend Horror: A Literary History for readers who are not as familiar with this genre as they would like to be--who want to broaden their knowledge of the history and societal function of horror fiction through the generations of mostly American and English authors.

  7. 4 out of 5

    GONZA

    It's really a great review of all the horror books ever written and my biggest satisfaction is that I've already read almost the 80% of all the books cited in this essay and I'm sooooo proud..... Now I have to start reading Joe Hill for good. Davvero un bel riepilogo con analisi di tutti i piú famosi libri horror scritti dal 1500 (piú o meno) in poi e la mia piú grande soddisfazione é che ne ho letti almeno l'80% e sono molto orgogliona. Comunque é ora di affrontare la bibliografia di Joe Hill. It's really a great review of all the horror books ever written and my biggest satisfaction is that I've already read almost the 80% of all the books cited in this essay and I'm sooooo proud..... Now I have to start reading Joe Hill for good. Davvero un bel riepilogo con analisi di tutti i piú famosi libri horror scritti dal 1500 (piú o meno) in poi e la mia piú grande soddisfazione é che ne ho letti almeno l'80% e sono molto orgogliona. Comunque é ora di affrontare la bibliografia di Joe Hill.

  8. 5 out of 5

    connie

    the several page long list of academic text recommendations at the end of this more than made up for the issues i had

  9. 5 out of 5

    Charles Graymoor

    Two Books on Contemporary Horror Literature Anyone who wants to delve into the history of horror literature will quickly find what they are looking for in libraries. Much has already been written on the subject, although this quantity contrasts dramatically with the number of historiographies and essays written on literary fiction. However, it is exceedingly difficult to find a book that deals with contemporary movements in the horror genre. Most books on the subject start with a definition of the Two Books on Contemporary Horror Literature Anyone who wants to delve into the history of horror literature will quickly find what they are looking for in libraries. Much has already been written on the subject, although this quantity contrasts dramatically with the number of historiographies and essays written on literary fiction. However, it is exceedingly difficult to find a book that deals with contemporary movements in the horror genre. Most books on the subject start with a definition of the gothic novel—using the Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) as an example: the first book to be described as such—and ending with a discussion of H.P. Lovecraft’s repertoire. I may be a bit blunt here, but as far as I know, it is only in 2016 that the first intriguing work on modern horror appeared, notably Horror: A Literary History published by The British Library. The first part of the book tells the story of classical horror literature, as described elsewhere, but the second half is devoted exclusively to the evolution of the genre in the twentieth century and is so current that it only ends with the zombie hype that is still ongoing. This collection of essays, edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes, resulted in an exceptionally well-executed project and is a must for every fan of the genre. For the first time, writers such as Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch are given their well-deserved place in the canon, the influence that the authors above had on Stephen King, Peter Straub, Anne Rice and James Herbert is explained, as well as the reintroduction of the Weird by Jeff VanderMeer, leading to the conclusion that the horror genre, despite the fierce competition it faces from serial killers and psychopaths, still manages to defend its boundaries. As I provide this blog with more content, I will not fail to bring this book up regularly. Another book that should not be missing on your bookshelf is the beautifully designed and richly illustrated Paperbacks from Hell, published in 2017 by Quirk Books. Grady Hendrix wrote it: a young American who in the past wrote experimental horror stories, such as Horrorstör (2014)—a dark take on the Ikea catalogue—and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016)—a tribute to the creepy B-movies of the seventies and eighties. He has a popular blog and is also the voice behind the podcast Scary Haunted Home School. Paperbacks from Hell is the very thoroughly researched account of the mass market horror literature and pulp craze in the 1970s and 1980s, which began with the appearance of three unexpected bestsellers: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967), William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971) and in the same year Thomas Tryon’s The Other. The success of these novels, together with their equally legendary film adaptations, caused a tsunami of horror fiction that was often of dubious quality but just as often underestimated in value, as is often the case in the (academic) reception of the genre. Most of those novels were provided with spectacular covers, kitschy or not; a remarkable phenomenon that Hendrix discusses extensively and is responsible for the many illustrations in his book. Writers such as Stephen King—just about the only one who survived the hype successfully—Virginia Andrew and Ramsey Campbell have their part in this history, but also, for example, a novel like The Nest (1980) by Gregory A. Douglas, in which, drawing on the success of Peter Benchley’s Jaws (1974), an island suspiciously resembling Martha’s Vinyard is terrorised by giant, utterly hungry cockroaches. Paperback from Hell is a gold mine of obscure and sometimes unjustly forgotten novels, which at the time were usually published once as a mass-market paperback. Collectors exist who are willing to pay a fortune for pocket editions like this, but thanks to the success of Hendrix’s book and with the help of the small but brave publisher Valancourt Books, some of these novels were given a second life. Valancourt has in fact recently launched a series that has been aptly named Paperbacks from Hell. Thus, new editions of these rare horror novels are now available, often with an introduction by Hendrix himself and wrapped in the original cover design. It goes without saying that I’m trying to collect the entire series. In this way, I was already able to enjoy not only the unpretentious gorefest that is The Nest, but also Bernard Taylor’s The Reaping (1980): a novel that is much better written than the crappy marketing at the time suggested. Recently I also read Mendal W. Johnson’s bizarre horror story Let’s Go Play at the Adams’. This one I would like to talk about next time. Anyway, run to the bookstore in anticipation of that review and buy a copy of Paperbacks from Hell and Horror: A Literary History. Do that, and then we can finally talk thoroughly about our favourite genre. www.clsgraymoor.com

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ian Burrell

    Tracing the development of horror in literature from its earliest manifestation before the concept existed to the early twenty-first century and the current resurgence of the weird and growth of zombie literature this book provides an informed overview. With the extensive bibliography, both of the key short stories and novels in the development of the genre as well as critical works, there is much to inspire the reader. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in horror.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Samuel Reece

    An educational journey spanning three centuries. We witness its evolution from eighteenth century gothic to present day splatterpunk. This book has opened up my reading list.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ire

    2.5

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex Jones

    A quick and enjoyable trip through the history of horror lit.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Something that appeals greatly about this book is the British lens on a genre that has been dominated by America for the last century. This also covers in depth the early phases of the genre. When we arrive in the modern era, it gives equal time to the films that have transformed the genre without overshadowing the literature. I found the earlier sections educational, but less gripping as I wandered through the winding halls of Castle Orantro. Once we moved into the most recent 100 years, I real Something that appeals greatly about this book is the British lens on a genre that has been dominated by America for the last century. This also covers in depth the early phases of the genre. When we arrive in the modern era, it gives equal time to the films that have transformed the genre without overshadowing the literature. I found the earlier sections educational, but less gripping as I wandered through the winding halls of Castle Orantro. Once we moved into the most recent 100 years, I really started ripping through this book. I was underwhelmed by the post-millennial section, as I thought there was way too much real estate dedicated to Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, and H.P. Lovecraft (!) who may be seeing new or remastered works since the turn of the millennium, their transformation of the horror genre has largely already occurred. Those pages could have highlighted a few more luminaries and rising stars. Sadly, there was also only a passing mention of eBooks, and barely a glance at the internet.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    Well-made introduction into the history of the genre written through the lenses of several contributors, each one assigned another part of history. These texts are introductory, so they don't dive really really deep, but they give a good impression on themes, tropes and the relevant authors writing them. The only issue I had were the in itself terrific "further reading" lsits, whichs usefulsness would be greatly enhanced if they got all the mentioned novels and stories added and not only a chose Well-made introduction into the history of the genre written through the lenses of several contributors, each one assigned another part of history. These texts are introductory, so they don't dive really really deep, but they give a good impression on themes, tropes and the relevant authors writing them. The only issue I had were the in itself terrific "further reading" lsits, whichs usefulsness would be greatly enhanced if they got all the mentioned novels and stories added and not only a chosen few.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Turtletrio

    This is a sweeping overview of the development of the horror genre written by several academics (200 pages covering the 1700 to modern day). Initially the brevity of the writing was a little annoying, since I often wanted more detail. However, the art of condensing the breath of material while still making sharp insight and interesting thematic connections won me over.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Burley

    Scholarly, but not too academic, overview of horror literature that's, if anything, too brief. Enjoyable, and informative with lots of good suggestions for further reading. Scholarly, but not too academic, overview of horror literature that's, if anything, too brief. Enjoyable, and informative with lots of good suggestions for further reading.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ava

    Definitely going to recommend this to anyone who wants a comprehensible yet fairly comprehensive history of Western horror lit.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    809.39164 H8169 2016

  20. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kim

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alice In Gothic Land

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ash

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Bush

  25. 4 out of 5

    Di

  26. 5 out of 5

    Spade_on_head

  27. 5 out of 5

    Leanna

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bob

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

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