Speaking the Unspeakable: Women, Sex and the Dismorphmythic in Lovecraft, Angela Carter, Caitlin R. Kiernan and Beyond

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One night I had a frightful dream in which I met my grandmother under the sea. She lived in a phosphorescent palace of many terraces, with gardens of strange leprous corals and grotesque brachiate efflorescences, and welcomed me with a warmth that may have been sardonic. (1936 )I close my eyes and I see her, Jacova Angevine, the lunatic prophet from Salinas, pearls that were her eyes, cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o. (2003 ) H.P. Lovecraft is known for shying away from representations of women, as well as anything overtly sexual. His women are likely to be abject constructs, and the sex he refers to something evil, demonic, a pact with a Satanic creature, with the fishy folk, or white apes, each example of miscegenation leading to a threat to humankind. The insipidity, problematic allure, and treacherous fecundity of the women in Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927 ; SHL) set the tone for Lovecraft’s treatment of women and their sexual culpability in his tales. There is a filial legacy of Lovecraft’s work. Many male authors, including Robert Bloch and Neil Gaiman, have extended, built on, his writing, taken further the tropes, settings, stories and sometimes, like Gaiman in “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” (1998 ) and “Only the End of the World Again” (2000 ), they have also taken a comic turn. But perhaps surprisingly there is also an emerging legacy in work by women writers, notably Angela Carter and Caitlín R. Kiernan, and most recently in the collection She Walks in Shadows (2015 ), which invited women to be inspired by, respond to, and re-imagine Lovecraft’s work. Not all of these writers merely expose him for a misogynist. Some seek the back-story to the women who spawn the offspring of the creatures from the deeps, from the stars, from a Lovecraftian pit of the weird. Some extend and morph the plotlines or provide a future for the women in Lovecraft’s tales. Some take Lovecraftian tropes and explore them in different, contemporary contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Directions in Supernatural Horror Literature
EditorsSean Moreland
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9783319954769
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


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