Friday, April 29, 2016

Sensational Treats

Because I am adamantly opposed to its neoconservative politics, I very rarely have reason to look at The Weekly Standard (a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication), much less recommend its contents. However, I enjoyed its recent piece about 19th-century English novelist Wilkie Collins. In it, Sara Lodge observes that
Collins wrote over 20 novels, but today is chiefly remembered for two: The Moonstone (1868), arguably the first English detective novel, and The Woman in White (1859), a breathless mystery involving spousal abuse and attempted homicide, doubles, incarceration, madness, and a ground-breaking narrative method in which we hear from several different narrators in turn, as if they were witnesses in court, and piece the "truth" together from their fractured accounts.

These novels electrified 19th-century Britain and America. Indeed, the genre of which Collins was the presiding master became known as the "sensation novel." Thomas Hardy complained that such fiction contained "murder, blackmail, illegitimacy, impersonation, eavesdropping, multiple secrets, a suggestion of bigamy, amateur and professional detectives." The sales figures attest that being shocked was a guilty pleasure that thousands of Victorians relished.

Where the Gothic novels of the previous century had depicted horrors that occurred in the monasteries and castles of Roman Catholic Italy and France, Collins pioneered a domestic Gothic that played out in ordinary, contemporary British streets and houses: what he dubbed "the secret theatre of home." His novels suggest the possibility that we are all impersonating someone and we are all hiding something. Freudian psychoanalysis would develop these insights, arguing that what is
unheimlich (uncanny) is precisely that which is heimlich (domestic). We are the monsters of whom we are afraid.
You will find Lodge’s whole article here.

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