A Gothic Fiction Playlist

Jessica Cartner is a first year BA English student at the University of Sunderland. Her interests in the Gothic are monstrous and the humane, Romantic Gothic and Victorian Gothic.

Hello everyone,

My name is Jessica. The blog admin recently inspired me to create a Gothic fiction playlist, and they provided me with this opportunity to share it with you. The pieces are not ranked, though I tried to arrange their order to make your listening a little more interesting:

Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush

Perhaps a little predictable, but this 1979 number one hit was inspired by Emily Brontë’s Gothic novel of the same name. Bush’s vocals are innocent yet ghostly, and as you sing along, you may just feel like wandering around the Yorkshire moors…

Fade to Grey – Visage

With those budding synthesisers, ethereal French and English vocals, and hypnotic rhythm, this song will haunt you for many weeks to come.

Are Friends Electric? – Tubeway Army

The robotic voice and spooky content of this song is perfect for reading or writing some Gothic science-fiction.

In the Shadows – The Rasmus

The American version of the music video for this song is very interesting, where the lead singer brings a Victorian maid into the 21st century. Out of the shadows, and into the light, you may find yourself singing this at impromptu moments.

Moonlight Sonata – Ludwig van Beethoven

For something slightly more quiet, contemplative and deeply moving, you may want to listen to this piece by Beethoven. It may be a suitable accompaniment to your reading or writing of description, especially of landscape or architecture.

Ghost – Little Boots

A frightening little song, it will make you wonder if you have overlooked anybody who may be watching over you…

Hungry Like the Wolf – Duran Duran

Do you need an energetic song for the lycanthrope in your life? Look no further than this hit from the eighties!

Disturbia – Rihanna

Is your idea of a Gothic world just a bit fantastical, or dystopian, or both? This track could suit it well, and help you to focus on developing it into language just as rich as your imagination.

China in Your Hand – T’Pau

Perfect for writing about tragic heroes, this wonderful song will remind you that dreams can easily become nightmares.

Bat Out of Hell – Meatloaf

Got a vampire in love? Then you’ll want to listen to this track with its dizzying guitars and deep-throated vocalist, who tells a story through the lyrics he sings.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) – Eurhythmics

It may state ‘sweet’ in the title, but this track is quite the opposite in its content. The music video is just as striking as the song’s lyrics, and could be a wonderful accompaniment to a Gothic story with a focus on the human psyche.

Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 – Chopin

Featured in the 1997 film adaptation of Jane Eyre, this beautiful piece is darkly romantic. Its solemn notes are contrasted with gloriously with its light ones, making for some thought-provoking listening.

Within You – David Bowie

Bowie sang this as the Goblin King in the 1986 film Labyrinth. His raspy vocals and the dramatic instrumental combine to make a rather beautifully unnerving song.

Female of the Species – Space

Oh, those femme fatales! They will engross you just as much as they entice their fellow characters. Sing along in sympathy to this song.

I hope these songs and piano pieces can accompany your reading of Gothic fiction, or inspire you to write your own!

What would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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Burn’s Night Brilliance: Talent and Tartan

MA English student Janet Cooper and Publications Officer Chloé Campbell tells us about Spectral Visions, Burns, The Borders, the launch event of Spectral Visions Press


The 30th January, 2015, marked the launch of Spectral Visions Press, the University of Sunderland’s new publishing house, with Burns Night celebrations. This was yet another spectacular Spectral Visions event, celebrated in style. What started off with key note speakers in the afternoon, ended in a late night Ceilidh, rejoicing in Scottish culture.

At 4pm keynote speeches began by Steve Watts, Head of Department of Culture, and Colin Younger, senior lecturer and programme leader for English and Creative Writing, both of whom are integral members of the Spectral Visions clan. Steve Watt’s keynote presentation, ‘My Native Land: An Introduction to the Borders’ captured the audience’s attention, providing an interdisciplinary perspective into Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Drawing on geographical, anthropological and biographical viewpoints, Steve took the enthralled audience on a journey across the wild border between Scotland and England, outlining and examining Scott’s narrative ballad.

Following Steve’s spirited liminal, literary expedition, a dramatic performance commenced in the lecture theatre. English and Drama students Jenah Colledge, Chloe Cremins, Katie Watson and Brett Bain executed a striking dance performance of Robert Burns’ famous poem ‘Tam o’Shanter’, complete with atmospheric lighting, audio, and a reading of the piece. The audience appeared enraptured by the interesting performance, which was greeted with applause and many compliments.

Following the break from academic displays, Colin Younger engaged the audience in his keynote presentation ‘Burns and the Supernatural’. In true Spectral Visions fashion, Colin presented the bewitched audience with a stimulating and captivating commentary on the gothic motifs present in Burns’ most celebrated works.

The evening festivities then began in the Bonded Warehouse, a quirky and charming bar based on the University campus, with sweeping views of the River Wear. The upstairs room was reminiscent of a barn conversion with its rustic exposed beams, but more importantly, it held a good sized dance floor, perfect for the animated ceilidh!

Popular folk band Alisdair’s Misfortune initiated the party and connected with the audience, whilst playing traditional and lively music throughout the night. The Newcastle-based group have since won the prestigious Danny Kyle Award at this year’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, which perfectly compliments their award-winning sound and spirit, which was entirely evident at the Burns Night festivities.


Guests arrived in full spirit and there was tartan-a-plenty! Such a vintage collection of tartan attire truly belonged in a fashion show. Guests were invited to take part in traditional folk-dance led by the band members and this really started an evening of fun to be had by all.

The band, with its inspirational sound and its positively successful attempts to involve the audience, created an ambience of entertainment and merriment. Of course, the band wasn’t the only talent of the evening; this was a University of Sunderland event after all! You could hear a pin drop when an enchanting singer Victoria Smith sang an a capella rendition of ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’, an emotive and flawless performance which reflected the sentiment in Burns’ loved poem.

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This remarkable recital was soon followed by readings from Dr Robert Strachan Stephens, whom delivered original poetry from his own collections, Troll Tales and the Fables of Aesop in Scots Verse, in true Scottish spirit. The crowd were in awe during the performance by the extremely gifted poet, as he executed his Scottish poetry with passion and wit. Following a number of readings, Robert humbly chatted to the guests as they approached him with questions and compliments.


All of the events that took place, both academic and social, were wonderfully successful due the visionaries, the lecturers, the guests, and the performers – all Talents in their own right, all in Tartan.

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Folkloric Monsters: The Global Entity

Sunderland graduate Sophie Raine explores some examples of the folkloric monster across the world. Sophie studied MA English. Her interest in the Gothic is feminism and penny dreadfuls.

'The Nightmare' by John Henry Fuseli

‘The Nightmare’ by John Henry Fuseli

The myth of our first creature is thought to have originated from Scandinavian folklore in the 13th century yet there are some who argue that there is evidence to associate ‘The Mare’ with having Germanic roots. The word may trace back to the Proto-Indo-European root ‘mer’ meaning ‘to harm’ yet there are some who argue that it is more likely to be traced back to the Greek ‘moros’ meaning ‘death’. Interesting, the mare is not typically known for killing its victims. The mare, according to the popular belief, is a goblin who enters homes at night to sit on the chests of its sleeping victims causing them to have bad dreams. This is where the term ‘nightmare’ originates from as it only came into usage from 1829; previously bad dreams had been referred to as the agent causing said dreams, in this case the mare. This goblin is often associated with the more commonly known incubus and the succubus due to their similar M.O. Quite interestingly, the legend has it that the goblin would braid the hair of the sleeping men at night resulting in what is known as ‘mare-locks’. This aspect of the legend has been seen as a way to explain the ‘Polish plait’ which was seen as a bizarre phenomenon at the time of the time.

Hyakki_YakoHyakki Yako or ‘The Night Parade of 100 Monsters’ refers to the legend in Japan that one night every summer a parade of a hundred monsters parade through the streets. It is thought to have stemmed from the popular parlour game ‘the gathering of one hundred supernatural tales’ which was played by Samurai as a test of courage. Each storyteller would extinguish a candle after they had told their story.Legend has it that after all the tales are told and the last candle is blown out, the monsters will come. If anyone is to be caught on the streets on this night, they will perish and the way to avoid this is by ritualistic chanting or the simpler option, staying at home. The myth has a long history so it is difficult to trace which story created these folklore monsters however most of the stories involve a man who is overrun with one hundred demons, usually plaguing his house, and is saved after praying to Buddha. Since this is a common theme that runs throughout these tales, the legend has been connected to the Heian period as a way of blaming the ruler unpopular ruler Kiyomori who insulted the Buddhists by moving the capital from the Buddhist-held Kyoto to his own clans stronghold in Fukuhara.

The last folkloric creature I am going to be looking at is the infamous Manananggal from Filipino folklore. The word Manananggal comes from the Tagalog word ‘tanggal’ which means ‘to separate’. The Manananggal is a usually-female creature, depicted as a vampire-like monster who is able to severe its upper torso and grow wings so she can circle ahead of towns and villages finding her prey, which happens to often be sleeping, pregnant women. Similarly to vampires, the Manananggals find garlic and salt repelling as well as daggers, light, vinegar, spices and the tail of a stingray, which is often in the form of a whip. It is thought that Manananggals have black chicks in their throats which are the source of their power, and that the creature cannot die until the chick is removed which is done by burning the Manananggal upside down in a tree or spinning her around to make her nauseous, therefore causing her to regurgitate the chick. A less arduous way of killing the Manananggal is to locate the legs and sprinkle ashes or garlic onto them.

Like many other monsters, sociologists have argued that the Manananggal was created to Manananggalcause fear in the community. The story can be traced to Spain, where the story was spread to reinforce religion and to the Americas where it was used to incite people to report strangers on their land. During the election month in 1992, Manila was reported to have been terrorised by one of these creatures who had been seen roaming at night and allegedly attacked a woman in Tondo; this became headline news to the extent where it replaced all election updates. A local woman was accused of being the Manananggal and her home was attacked by angry members of the community. She claimed to the camera crew that she was not in fact the monster and that she had also been attacked, showing her missing toe as evidence of this. She was then interrogated by a ‘vampire expert’ who confirmed she was the Manananggal and her missing toe was evidence of her failure to shape shift properly. It was eventually proven that she was not a monster by a reporter who showed her a sting ray tail and when this had no effect on her, her name was cleared. Due to the election campaign running alongside this bizarre news story, many English-language commentators and other academics compared the Manananggal with the politicians of the time as both feeding on the fear of the people in the community.

Monsters exist as a global entity and it is interesting to note that, however different these monsters from Scandinavia to the Philippines may appear, they all arise from the same social problems and collective fears of a community. Often, as seen with the Hyakki Yako in Japan they can be used as political or religious warnings to those who have oppressed them or, in other cases, warnings to those who try to break free from the shackles of oppression or injustice. The case of the Manananggal sighting in Manila in 1992 is a clear example of how a community can create a monster; the local woman had lost her toes to illness and was a known social recluse which made her an obvious scapegoat for the Manananggal sighting. It is a shocking reminder of what monsters fear can create.

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An Interview with Dr Dale Townshend

Stephanie Gallon interviewed Dr Dale Townshend. Dr Townshend is a Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Stirling and the director of the renowned MLitt The Gothic Imagination. He also worked in collaboration with the British Library for an exhibit on the Gothic. His published works include: Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination and Ann Radcliffe, Romanticism and the Gothic.

Q: You recently teamed up with the British Library to celebrate 250 years of the Gothic with an exhibit. What was the aim of the exhibit?
Yes, indeed. Over the past 2 years or more, I have been working with Tim Pye, Tanya Kirk and Greg Buzwell, all of the British Library, on a major exhibition entitled Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. The aims of the exhibition are numerous. First, we wished to tell the ‘story’ of the Gothic aesthetic, its developments and its changes across time, from the eighteenth century through to the present day, to a general, non-academic audience, thus seeking to capitalise on the considerable cultural interest that the Gothic garners in our Dale+Townshend+Profile_970_180x180_CONTENTtimes. In doing this, we also sought to showcase some of the British Library’s extraordinary Gothic holdings, from letters and manuscripts of Gothic import, to images, sounds and editions of rare Gothic works. A large part of this endeavour sought to acknowledge, and commemorate, the 250th anniversary of the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in late 1764, this marking the formal ‘advent’, in fiction at least, of what has turned out to be British culture’s long-term love-affair with all things dark and spectral. By strange coincidence, the year 2014 also marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ann Radcliffe, undoubtedly the most influential writer of Gothic romance in late eighteenth-century culture; consequently, there is much in the exhibition that serves as an ‘homage’ to ‘the Great Enchantress’ Though much of the exhibition, in keeping with its host institution, celebrates the distinctly British nature of much Gothic writing, we were also keen to showcase some of the important Gothic texts, films and writers from other national traditions.

Q: How do you think Gothic has remained popular and relevant for 250 years?
This is a difficult question to answer, but critics often link the return of the Gothic in any given historical context to a sense of economic and political decline. By this way of reasoning, Gothic returns perennially because it has a lot of cultural work to do, registering and articulating moments of cultural and historical crisis or anxiety. But there’s also the often overlooked matter of sheer entertainment-value: Gothic is, and always has been, so popular because of the type of singular entertainment that it offers its readers of audiences, the shock of horror or the thrill of terror that remains particular to the mode. On the other hand, the answer might be a lot more prosaic than this: Gothic is so popular because it is a mode that never fails to sell. Perhaps the issue remains, fundamentally, one of pure economics. Still, it’s nice to think that there is something a lot more significant about its relevance and popularity than that. Perhaps our task as critics is to show precisely how and why this is so.

Q: What was your favourite part of the exhibit to research?
Being deeply interested in the eighteenth-century, I thoroughly enjoyed working in the early parts of the exhibition – that is, those portions that tell the story of the Gothic from Horace Walpole through to the 1820s, though reaching back, where relevant, to Shakespeare and other earlier eighteenth-century figures. The Victorian material, too, I found fascinating, particularly the rare penny dreadfuls that the exhibition has on display.

Q: Which part of the exhibit do you think is the most interesting to the general public and why?
I would guess, though it’s hard to say, that the modern material – that is, the twentieth century and beyond – is the most fascinating to many people, if only because this is the material with which they might already be most familiar. I think it’s important to access viewers at the point of absolute familiarity, and once you have done this, to lead them back down an historical line of reasoning that shows the point of origin for some of the most familiar Gothic tropes and figures. To my mind, this is precisely what the exhibition succeeds in doing. Though most viewers are familiar with such iconic Gothic figures as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula or Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein’s Creature, fewer, I think, would be au fait with, say, earlier, Romantic and Victorian manifestations of the vampire figure, or even with the extraordinary textuality of Mary Shelley’s novel itself. So, perhaps the more modern material provides visitors with a point of access to a Gothic history that, in the end, proves to be more complex and more intriguing than they had initially imagined.

Q: Your main research field is Romantic Gothic. Can you give us a brief summary of what Romantic Gothic is and what makes it different to other forms of the Gothic?
By the phrase ‘Romantic Gothic’ I mean, simply, various forms of Gothic textuality that were produced in what we now think of as the ‘Romantic’ period in Britain, that is, roughly from the 1760s to the 1830s. But more particularly, I am interested in the ways in which the cherished distinctions between the ‘Romantic’ and the ‘Gothic’ often appear to be unsustainable. In other words, despite the extent to which they have structured literary history since the mid nineteenth century, the terms ‘Romanticism’ and the ‘Gothic’ often reveal themselves to be literary-critical fictions that are based on little more than the ‘Romantic’ poets’ disavowals of the Gothic, and, as such, terms that repress or deny the extent to which ‘Romantic’ poets themselves often experimented and engaged with the aesthetic mode that we would now designate as ‘Gothic’. For early nineteenth-century poets themselves, it has to be said, the term ‘Gothic’ would have meant a range of other things that are quite remote from current literary-critical usages – Englishness; certain formal considerations — and this, too, is intriguing to consider within the context of ‘Romantic Gothic’. Angela Wright and I are about to publish a collection of essays entitled Romantic Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion (2015), in which we and a number of other critics explore some of these issues.

Q: You’ve published research on Ann Radcliffe. What do you feel was her biggest contribution to the Gothic genre?
Where do I start? In a word, I think that she lent to the Gothic a certain critical respectability. While contemporary critics often decried Gothic romance, the ‘trash of the circulating libraries’, in the most hostile of terms, Radcliffe enjoyed considerable praise and recognition in her day. Though her status was somewhat overlooked in the Victorian period, Radcliffe, to my mind at least, galvanised the ‘conventions’ of Gothic to a far greater extent than Walpole did in The Castle of Otranto. My hunch is that, without Radcliffe, Gothic would have seeped away into relative obscurity in the last three decades of the eighteenth century; Radcliffe, however, brought it alive again, and actively created the cultural taste for horrors and terrors, spectres and sprites. I could go on about this for ages, you understand.

Q: You’re also prevalent in studies on Gothic Shakespeare. What marks his works as Gothic? Are there any plays which are more Gothic than we expect from Shakespeare?
Well, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Shakespeare is a ‘Gothic’ writer in the sense that we use that term today. What intrigues me, though, is the ways in which he is, and always has been, germane to the Gothic aesthetic. That is, Shakespeare is tirelessly appropriated, in the eighteenth century as now, as a figure of horror and terror. His plays lend themselves as crucial intertexts, particularly the darker tragedies such as Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear; in some senses, Shakespeare’s own preoccupations with ghosts authorise ways of ‘ghost seeing’ that are still in place in Gothic novels and films today.  But I don’t think that Shakespeare is, in himself, ‘Gothic’ in the modern sense, despite the fact that his plays teem with ghosts and goblins, witches and sprites. Undoubtedly, though, he’s ‘manufactured’ or ‘produced’ as a Gothic writer in and through the incessant act of appropriation. He is as central to the Gothic aesthetic today as he was when Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto – a text that, in several respects, is impossible to imagine without Shakespeare.

Q: What’s your favourite Gothic text?
Undoubtedly, something by Ann Radcliffe. I’d be hard-pressed to choose between The Romance of the Forest and The Mysteries of Udolpho.   Or The Italian, or A Sicilian Romance, or The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, or her travelogue, or Gaston de Blondeville for that matter. I’m obsessed with the Great Enchantress.  After Radcliffe, it would be something by Henry James: either The Turn of the Screw, one of his shorter ghost stories, or even Portrait of a Lady.

Q: Jekyll or Hyde?
Jekyll. I am often as guilt-ridden and self-divided as Jekyll himself is, despite the efforts that he does through to create Mr Hyde. After all, I think that Stevenson’s novella is not about doubles so much as triples, or, beyond that, about the sheer multifariousness of human subjectivity: Jekyll, Hyde, and the crippling divisions that remain within Jekyll himself. ‘I am Legion, for we are many’.

Q: Vampires or Werewolves?
I’d have to say vampires, I think, even though they’re not my favourite Gothic trope. But this is only because most werewolf narratives make me guffaw with laughter.

The Terror and Wonder exhibit is on until 20th January at the British Library. The accompanying book is available for purchase on Amazon or at the British Library store.

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Gothic in Night on Bald Mountain (1940)

As part of our Contemporary Media and the Gothic series, Stephanie Gallon looks at the Gothic influences of a Disney short. Stephanie is an MA English student. Her interest in the Gothic is werewolf literature, feminism and monster theory. See more of her posts on the Student Profiles.

Night on Bald Mountain is the final segment of the 1940 Disney Classic Fantasia. It is something infinitely darker than what Disney has become synonymous with. There is no saccharine characters or cloying moral message. Instead, the ten minute short shows a devil figure raising the dead. The scene is infamous for its frightening concept and imagery, set to Modest Mussorgsky’s symphony of the same name, and is often cited as one of Disney’s more terrifying and adult pieces.

The scene is set at midnight when the devil atop the mountain awakens and summons the dead from the quaint, sleeping village at the foot of Bald Mountain. The mountain towers over the village, a dark and imposing reminder of the Sublime forces of nature. The Sublime was a term defined by Edmund Burke in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756). Burke noted that the Beautiful and the Sublime exist in a dichotomy, with the Beautiful representing the ideal aesthetics and the Sublime being the aesthetic which inspire both fear and pleasure in us. This foreboding Gothic monument that stands behind the picturesque village serves as a reminder that evil forces reside almost everywhere. In Night on Bald Mountain, that evil is the devil.

Fantasia movie imageThe devil in question is Chernobog, an old Slav god. His original purposes and roles have long since been forgotten. The oldest recording of him are Christian writings, who depict him as a malicious god. His name literally means black god, though this may not be how he was seen by the ancient Slavs. In Night on Bald Mountain, he is as a black giant with glowing yellow eyes and a towering wings. With his fangs and claws, Chernobog appears as a gargoyle, and as the lord and master of these spirits. He wields fire and cares little about his subjects, casting some down in to the mountain with no qualms. He spreads shadows in to the village, all with a terrifying smirk. In an interview, Walt Disney called Chernobog Satan himself.

The animation is brilliantly slow and grand to move with the music. The spectres move with ethereal grace on a dark and intimidating background. There is even the disturbing image of spirits rising from beneath the gallows, floating through the hangman’s noose. The symbolism is clear: these are the souls of the damned, executed for their transgressions and raised through the devil’s hellish will. The spirits are skeletal, fiery and monstrous, soaring above the slumbering town towards their dark master. The spirits and skeletons revel at the mountain’s peak by a gaping hell-pit. Skulls and ghouls make appearances as the music builds in to a crescendo, and figures of women in flames dance provocatively for Chernobog’s pleasure. It is a scene of decadence and horror, a true spirited rendition of Gothic joy.

In the end, the spirits are sent away by the sun rise and a procession of hooded monks singing Ave Maria. Even Chernobog recoils at the holy symbols. It is not the last time Disney would use this sort of religious imagery. In the 1998 animated classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, there is the iconic villain’s song Hellfire that is illustrated with hellish hooded monks singing Gregorian chants as a backing to Frollo’s spiritual turmoil. Still, the message is clear in Night on Bald Mountain. Come the light of day, evil must return to where it came from. Chernobog returns to his home at the mountain summit, and the spirits return to their graves. All is well in the village; all are safe.

Though it is only a small segment of the movie, its Gothic influences are clear. From the macabre ghosts to the cathartic knowledge that light and goodness must always triumph, Night on Bald Mountain is a Gothic tale at its core. The animation is beautiful, the music is grand and moving, and both have an inherent darkness that makes the Gothic vibes thrive.

You can watch the full animation below.

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Spectral Visions Monthly Update: January 2015

Welcome to our new monthly post! We’ll be giving you a look at our month ahead at the beginning of every month, as well as our recommendations and news.


On the 30th January, Spectral Visions Press will be launching with a celebratory Talks and Ceilidh extravaganza! Please see our poster below for full details on Spectral Visions, Burns, The Borders


31st January marks the deadline of submissions for Spectral Visions: Grim Fairy Tales and the deadline for proposals for the inaugural issue of Monstrum. See the relevant links to see the full guidelines.


Our book of the month is Darren Shan’s Lord Loss. It is the first in the Demonata series of books, aimed at teenagers and horror fans.

It follows Grubbs Grady, an ordinary boy who soon comes to realise that demons are a very real threat to his world when his family is killed and he forced to live with a strange relative.

If you enjoy werewolves, horror and intriguing prose, we recommend you give the Demonata series a read.

We have a brief interview with Darren Shan available to read here.


Our show of the month is American Horror Story. It is the first series in the American Horror Story run, and it has scared, delighted and amazed, prompting an incredible and Gothic series.

Sophie and Holly, two of our Visionaries, have done a character analysis on their favourite characters.

To read Holly’s post on Tate Langdon, click here.

To read Sophie’s post on the Femme Fatale, click here.

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The Femme Fatale: American Horror Story and Those Deadly Women.

As part of our Contemporary Media and the Gothic series, Sunderland graduate Sophie Raine explores the femme fatale in American Horror Story. Sophie studied MA English. Her interest in the Gothic is feminism and penny dreadfuls.

Escaping the bonds of housewifery, the femme fatale has proved an enigmatic and seductive force, designed to lead men astray. The femme fatale, translated from the French as ‘deadly woman’, has been flung at our television screens or seeped in literature as a foreboding warning of the dangers of female independence. They are our Whitefells, our Camillas, they are often tools used to expose the cunning of women or the weakness of man. The femme fatale, however, is not restricted to one interpretation as individuals from different cultures, backgrounds or generations would read into this deadly woman either as an immoral manipulator and seducer, or as an independent woman fighting against the holds of patriarchy. Either way, they are a tool used to manipulate how we view gender structures and power struggles within relationships. In this article, I’m going to discuss how the character of the femme fatale crops up into the hit US show ‘American Horror Story’ focusing on series one ‘Murder House’.

63d6e7ab9716719c02f153a65807daa3I would first like to look at the maid of the Harmon household, the ghostly presence of Moira, who was murdered by Constance after her husband attempted to rape her. Moira is a classic example of the femme fatale, appearing to men as an attractive scantily clad maid and to women as an old woman. Moira claims that she is not naïve to the ways of men and claims that “they see what they want to see” thus explaining why Ben Harmon sees Moira as this irresistible figure determined to lead him astray from his wife. Ben, despite his leering, constantly rebukes her advances feeling guilty over having already been unfaithful to his wife. Moira, being the true femme fatale that she is, can only lead these men into temptation if it is what they desire and whilst they feel a need to blame the seductress, it is ultimately their own vices and their lack of willpower that causes them to yield to her. Her purpose is not to disrupt happy marriages but to teach lessons to those who sexualise her, hence why the taunting of Ben ceases when he starts to finally, as she says, “see things for what they are”. There is a sense of female solidarity between Vivien and Moira; Moira does not seduce Vivien’s husband to try to ruin their marriage. It is in fact the very contrary; she is attempting to deduce if Ben is worthy of the forgiveness of Vivien for his past indiscretions. Looking through the lens of Ben, it is easy to see Moira as a seductress who wishes to ruin his marriage and his last chance with his wife however, I am inclined to view Moira as a more sympathetic femme fatale figure sent to test the will of others and to punish them for the way in which they sexualise her and manipulate her image to suit their needs.

402983_american-horror-story-hayden-mcclaine_image_620Looking at the characteristics of deadly women do we really need to go any further than Ben’s former student and lover, Hayden McClaine? Let’s be honest, the girl was a bit demonic before she was dead but I find myself sympathising with another calamity in the chaos that is Ben Harmon’s love life. Hayden is an interesting character and arguably does not fit perfectly into the strict characterisation of a femme fatale, for one she’s terribly needy for the affections of Ben, not typical of a character yearning for independence. She also is desperate to raise a family with Ben; a maternal instinct is generally not associated with the femme fatale. However, I find this dynamic between her and Ben to be typical of a deadly woman, she is in fact much more deadly than Moira who simply wants to lead Ben into breaking his vows (again, may I add), Hayden on a semi-regular basis wants to kill Ben. I say semi-regular, as she tends to falter between wanting to murder him and wanting to marry him.

If we see the femme fatale as being in direct juxtaposition with the angel of the house, then it is easy to trace Hayden’s transition between the two. Devastated by her death, and the loss of her child, she gives up all hope of having a family with Ben who has been shown to constantly use and manipulate her. Hayden emerges from death as the femme fatale, she wants to harm all of Ben’s family and take her revenge, however, her end goal is still to have a child with Ben. She takes on this deadly persona so she can have the lifestyle in death that he denied her in life by forcibly taking what it is that she wants. While she is arguably an unconventional femme fatale she does appear as a facet of Ben’s past to lure him away from his family. She takes a different approach as a living femme fatale than as a deceased one. Mainly her tactic to lure him away from his family in death becomes, understandably, more morbid and lethal to Ben. I suppose that’s what you get when you bury your ex under a gazebo.

Jessica_Lange_2Then there is the third, and possibly deadliest, femme fatale of this season-Constance. Constance fits every criteria in that she is completely independent, she raises her own children (in a round about way) and while she has a catalogue of husbands and lovers, they all prove disposable. As with the other femme fatales in this series, Constance is given a motive for her, often abhorrent, actions as we are shown she is simply doing what she must to survive, or at least that is how she sees it. She uses Larry to gain access to her home, and to kill her first child when he becomes a nuisance, she schemes to control her last boyfriend, her child Addie and everything that goes on in the Harmon household. Then, why do we love her so much? She is, for multiple reasons, an awful character but we can admire her (even if only a little) for having the gall to behave in whichever way she sees fit. She does not require anything from anyone; she is completely self-sufficient even if the means of achieving what she wants stoop into the unethical. Constance is the ultimate femme fatale as she manipulates others around her to bend to her will and whilst her entire survival is based on this puppetry of everyone else in the show, she still remains a starkly independent force against nature.

American Horror Story provides a very interesting cast of deadly women, all in some way hurt by the world of patriarchy in their grim past and all fiercely determined to get what they want, whether it be justice, independence or revenge.

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