Red As Blood: Women & Gothic Romance
Lovely readers — I attended a panel at #WisCon that made me cry out with perverse desire. It was called Red As Blood — a panel on women and the Gothic genre. Loosely organized, it revolved around the interesting desires and situations that comprise Gothic joy and perversity.
“A young woman meets an interesting, mysterious man in a giant, lonely house. It turns out he may have bad intentions. Sometimes she wants him to have bad intentions.”–Emily Cataneo.
What I liked about this panel was that everyone on the panel–authors and fans alike, really obsessed over what I obsessed over, and had exactly the same attitudes that I had. Everyone on the panel was raving over Crimson Peak–especially Tom Hiddleston, especially the house and clothes — AND
…especially the end where two women fight it out with knives in bloody nightgowns.
Everyone didn’t care if there was no logical reasoning behind certain events in their favorite Gothic novels or movies. Our love of Gothic is not about reason.
Then what is it about? It’s about a feeling of creeping doom, of impending horror. But no ACTUAL horror, mind you. If horror is that moment of curdling screams and blood splatter on the wall, then the gothic genre is about hearing that scream from a far distance and discovering the blood splatter on the wall by prying open a secret passage. (Preferably 5 to 20 years after it got there.)
The gothic genre is about secrets. About dread. About creeping horror — yes! But it’s a psychological horror.
Now let’s talk romance in these novels. For my joys I hit the Goodreads best Gothic romances page. There you will find not only the old classic authors like Anne Radcliffe and Victoria Holt but also Gay Gothic Romances, and Gothic romances with witches!!!!
Now, when we turn to Gothic film, the problem is that they are often horror films and take things just a leeeetle too far for my taste. Sigh. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about gothic romantic films:
The Gothic romance film is a Gothic film with feminine appeal. Diane Waldman wrote in Cinema Journal that Gothic films in general “permitted the articulation of feminine fear, anger, and distrust of the patriarchal order” and that such films during World War II and afterward “place an unusual emphasis on the affirmation of feminine perception, interpretation, and lived experience”. Between 1940 and 1948, the Gothic romance film was prevalent in Hollywood, being produced by well-known directors and actors. The best-known films of the era were Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), and Gaslight (1944). Less well-known films were Undercurrent (1946) and Sleep, My Love (1948). Waldman describes these films’ Gothic rubric: “A young inexperienced woman meets a handsome older man to whom she is alternately attracted and repelled.” Other films from the decade include The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and The Heiress (1949).
The Gothic romance films from the 1940s often contain the “Bluebeard motif”, meaning that in the typical setting of the house, a certain part is either forbidden to be used or even closed off entirely. In the films, the forbidden room is a metaphor for the heroine’s repressed experience, and opening the room is a cathartic moment in the film. In addition, the layout of the house in such films (as well as Gothic novels) creates “spatial disorientation [that] causes fear and an uncanny restlessness”.
In 2015, director Guillermo del Toro released the Gothic romance film Crimson Peak. He said past films had been “brilliantly written by women and then rendered into films by male directors who reduce the potency of the female characters”. For Crimson Peak, he sought to reverse this cinematic trope.
And did he EVER! If you adored Crimson Peak then here are some treats for you. Here’s my fun review of Crimson Peak for one, along with some other movie recommendations below. First of all, I highly recommend Suspicion–a Cinderella story in which we and the heroine are gradually brought to realize that a) she’s no Cinderella and b) this is not a happily ever after.
But if you want to get your gothic horror movie on–here’s a list from Indiewire to check out. Some of them are fabulous. Rosemary’s Baby is excellent. Picnic at Hanging Rock is really mysterious. It’s like the missing girls floated off into some alternative realm after enough feminine corset squeezing and hair braiding to last a lifetime. Gaslight is excellent. As I mentioned above, Suspicion is one of my all time favorites. The Shining is fabulous — but something I’d put on while doing another task so I could walk away as needed…(I’d put the premise of The Shining this way: What’s the scariest monster of the 70’s? The absent dad figure suddenly returned to be a ‘part of the family’. Shiver. Ugggggggh!) Les Diaboliques was good, Notorius is sublime. This list also made me want to see The Haunted with Kate Beckinsale as well as The Tomb of Ligeia…
THE GOTHIC ANTI-HERO OF ALL TIME? It’s gotta be Micheal Fassbender. As I’ve commented before, Fassy seems to be all alone in his films. That alone-ness is exactly what we want in a gothic anything. In the latest-greatest remake of Jane Eyre, he is utterly riveting. At once flesh and blood with his long mutton chop whiskers, he seems like a Victorian that doesn’t wash everyday, that sweats, that chews his food. There is something very real and authentic about him–especially when it comes to his presence around women. Nevertheless, for all that he still seems like a very quietly haunted man who will NEVER be happy. What I realized watching his performance is that Jane Eyre is a tale of warning: don’t fall for the man you work for. Don’t let him seduce you. Don’t succumb to the temptations he leads you towards breadcrumb of attention by breadcrumb of attention. He has bad intentions and nothing good for you will result. Fassy’s breathtaking performance is a seduction: rather slow and tender, but also deliberate enough to make one realize how wrong it all is. His inscrutable mind is clicking behind the command of his words, looks, and touches the entire time.
Tom Hiddleston is an incredibly close second for my all time fav goth anti-hero. His charismatic flavor however, connotes the possibility of a happier ending. If Fassy is the haunted man in his giant spooky house at the beginning of the movie, then Hiddles represents that peek of sunshine, that thin slice of spring — expressed only by a few blades of grass and one lone daffodil at the end of the movie. There is something a little softer and more pliant about Hiddles the lover. He represents hope and escape from psychological hell into some sunnier, more mild and quietly happy place. Tom seems like a man who needs an other to pair with him. While Fassy, a more coporeal lover in the moment of temptation, perhaps–seems to stand alone in his blank emptiness to the bitter end.
What do you think, readers? Sound out below in the comments section — and I’m all ears for good contemporary gothic romance reading rec’s.