Shirley Jackson, The Lottery and Other Stories (1948)

Ever since I finished reading the stories in this collection, I’ve been trying to articulate the effect they’ve had on me. It’s easy enough to appreciate Shirley Jackson as a superb writer who had absolute control of her material, but when it comes to discussing the content of the stories, I find myself struggling because they seem to say so much and I always end up with more questions than answers.  If I had to try and sum it up, I suppose I’d say these stories explore the high price attached to the modern western construction the “self” as something that must be constantly defended against the “others” it attempts to exclude and deny.

Jackson is very much a gothic writer and one trope that appears in a lot of the stories, and is often associated with the gothic, is that of “the double”.  Her use of doubling produces a sense of what Sigmund Freud would call “the uncanny”, that is, the deeply unsettling feeling that something which should have remained secret and hidden has come to light. Like seeing oneself reflected in a distorted mirror, the uncanny double makes the familiar world appear disturbingly strange. In ‘The Renegade’, we find a middle-class housewife doubled with her “chicken killing” dog. The doubling of woman and dog reflects her position in the family in a very unsettling light, but in so doing makes the horror of that position finally visible. Meanwhile, in the story ‘Charles’, the doubling of a supposedly perfect child with his monstrous other shatters his parents’ illusions. Adult denial about the nature of children is a theme in several of the stories. My favourite use of doubling occurs in the chilling story ‘Of Course’ in which a family is confronted with some alarming new neighbours. But this new family is (of course), an uncanny mirror held up to the supposedly “normal” family, the flipside of the deadly, conventional, suburban lifestyle that the story’s protagonist is herself living. The neighbours are horrifying because they are not really so very different.

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Happy Halloween

We are spending it quietly this year, just staying in and watching The Haunting of Hill House.  We haven’t even carved a Jack O’ Lantern (that’s one my sister did a couple of years ago), but Andy doesn’t think there’s much point unless you can display it on your porch, which is difficult to do when you live in a second floor flat.

Still, here are some Halloween links:

The most amazing pumpkin carvings you will ever see

From Final Girl, some awesome horror movie posters

And for a Halloween read, how about The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

This Week’s Culture Round-up

From Eclectic Eccentric, a review of Matthew Lewis’s 1796 lurid, gothic, horror, The Monk

Andy reviews The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is one of my favourite horror stories. The 1963 film adaptation is also excellent if you’re looking for something to watch on Halloween.

From io9, the first lesbian science fiction novel published in 1906.

From Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations a selection of bleak alien landscapes

From Tor.com a post about Joanna Russ’s final novel, On Strike Against God with some great feminist quotes.

Another from Tor.com, Did Ursula Le Guin change the course of SF? 

Margaret Atwood has just published a book of essays about science fiction. From The Guardian, Margaret Atwood: the road to ustopia and a review from Slate.

From The Zoe-Trope, a critique of the way the term ‘Mary Sue’ is being used to denigrate female characters, You can stuff your Mary Sue where the sun don’t shine

A video tribute to Blade Runner

From Bitch Flicks, The Madwoman’s Journey from the Attic into the Television – The Female Gothic Novel and its influence on Modern Horror Films.  Bitch Flicks is currently doing a series on women and horror film.

From Genevieve Valentine writing at Strange Horizons, a review of The Fall

Markgraf  from Bad Reputation went to see The Three Muskateers . I recommend reading his review before spending any money on this film.

From Cracked, Great movies from the villain’s point of view.  I think my personal favourite is Terrible Shepherds!

And another one from Cracked, The 6 most mind blowing things ever discovered in space

Jane Eyre (2011)

Having enjoyed Susanna White’s 2006 television adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, I was interested to see what director Cary Fukunaga would bring to this new feature length version.

Spoiler alert – you might not want to read any further if you haven’t read the novel, or don’t want to know what this adaption does to Bronte’s text

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This week’s culture round-up

I’m still on my SF reading binge and in the last week I have finished Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, which I liked very much, am still working my way through Iain M. Banks’s complex The Algebraist and have just started Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. Andy and I have started rewatching Season 4 of Babylon 5.  I haven’t watched any of the new series of Dr Who because I’m scared that it might upset me.  Anyway, here are some links to things I enjoyed on the internet:

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This week’s culture round-up

SF Mistressworks posts a review of an anthology of science fiction stories by women, Women of Womder: the Contemporary Years .  I’ve had this on my wishlist for a while and may now get around to buying it.

From Bad Reputation, Dr Who, Feminist Icon?   Ace was my feminist Dr Who companion. I thought she was amazing.

One for the Babylon 5 fans, Andy sums up her feelings about our Season 3 rewatch: Did I mention that my nose was on fire, that I have 15 wild badgers living in my trouser .  Apparently she enjoyed it.

From The Guardian, Connie Willis wins the 11th Hugo Award . I must read some of her stuff.

From Den of Geek, 10  things the movies can teach us about space travel

From Forbookssake, a post celebrating the birthday of Gothic writer, Mary Shelley, who has had a very significant presence in my life.

Here’s a new biography of creepy photographer Diane Arbus

Post-it wars in France.  Glad to see people are making creative use of their time in the office.  I’d suggest it as an activity to my colleagues … if we had any windows in our office to stick them on that is.

He’s Here! The Phantom of the Opera!

“The queer is the taboo-breaker, the monstrous, the uncanny.  Like the Phantom of the Opera, the queer dwells underground, below the operatic overtones of the dominant; frightening to look at, desiring, as it plays its own organ, producing its own music“, Sue Ellen Case, ‘Tracking the Vampire’ in Differences (1991) (p. 3).

The other day, an online conversation reminded me of my teenage love of musicals, in particular, my obsession, between the ages of 11 and 13, with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.   My cooler friends were into Les Miserables, which even I had to acknowledge had a better score than Phantom, but I’ve always had a taste for glamour,  the gothic and, of course, the queer, and on all those fronts, Phantom won hands down.

My early love of Phantom is an example of how queer kids often cultivate interests that appear acceptable on the surface  of things, but privately rewrite their meaning to meet their own emotional and erotic needs.  No one objected to my love of Phantom because an interest in musicals is considered acceptable for white, middle-class teenage girls and because they assumed that I identified with Christine and her romance with Raoul.

In fact I identified passionately with the Phantom himself, the queer figure who lurks underground (and outside heteronormativity) and who exerts a mesmerising power over beautiful women, a figure who isn’t what he appears to be and who hides a terrible secret under his mask where he bears the mark of his ‘queerness’.   The Phantom/Angel of Music/Erik allows us to face our fears of being literally unmasked and seen for what we really are.  I even had a Phantom of the Opera mask and hat.

In attempting to drop a chandelier on Christine’s bland boyfriend, Raoul (see video below), the Phantom in his role as return of the repressed, acts out a queer rage against the dominant discourse.  From a feminist perspective, (and I’m sure there must be cultural critics out there who’ve talked about this), the Phantom can also be seen as an avatar of Christine herself, since the death of Raoul would save her from the fate of a dull marriage to a painfully dull man that awaits her and will undoubtedly end her singing career.  The Phantom may be rather creepy, but at least he wants to unleash Christine’s creativity and show her what she can achieve.  In gothic and horror fiction, the queer monster often allows women to dally with possibilities beyond heterosexual marriage, but only within the context of a parasitical or vampiric relationship that threatens to destroy them.  For the queer figure, the attempt to express him/herself through the woman ultimately it leaves him/her voiceless.  If you’re interested, Rhona J. Bernstein’s book, Attack of the Leading Ladies is very good on this special relationship between the monster and the ‘leading lady’.

When I was 13, the Phantom got dumped for Madonna, and when I was 14 I took up with the Rocky Horror Show, but that’s a whole other post.  For now, here’s the original video starring an unblinking Sarah Brightman as Christine, a rather stiff and awkward Steve Harley as the Phantom, and the most amazing mullet on the guy playing Raoul.  It now looks like a particularly bad Meatloaf video, but I loved it at the time.