Tag Archives | gothic

Medical History and the ‘Monster’

Medical history so often includes intersections and byways that seem to take us into folklore, fiction, and the Gothic imagination itself.

While researching “monstrous” births from the early 1800s, I came across the following reprint of Kirby’s wonderful and scientific museum: or, Magazine of remarkable characters. The story tells of a child “covered with long hair” and “grovel[ing] upon the ground.” This young man is fastened to a post like a dog and is described as “wild and ferocious.” [i] In birth histories from the medieval period to Abrose Paré’s Monsters and Marvels (in the 16th century), you frequently see tales of “dog children” or frog children, goat children and the like. And yet, this later narrative has been embellished with tone and phrasing made famous by the Gothic narratives like Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otronto and Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. The “gentleman” who reports the scene in Kirby’s insists that “he never say so wild and wretched a spot as the situation of the poor hut where [the dog boy] resides” and that “a most horrible mystery seems to hang over the whole.”[i] Just as in early Gothic fiction, the landscape becomes a repeated trope of wretched wildness, and the “mystery” has to do not only with the lad’s strange comportment, but with his paternity.… Read the rest

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Varney the Vampire’s Feast of Blood

Varney_the_VampireThe fictional vampire may have made his debut at the Algonquin Round Table, but he flourished alongside the cave-dwelling cannibals and homicidal maniacs who introduced the British working class to the magic of reading. The 1845-1847 penny dreadful Varney the Vampire was penned by none other than James Malcolm Rymer, who created the character Sweeney Todd. Victorian Gothic writes:

James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire has been described as the worst book of the 19th century. Introduced in 1845, the completed serial consists of over 600,000 words of tedious dialog, aimlessly meandering storylines, maddening repetition, and enough kernels of genius to consistently inspire horror fiction into the present day. Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Russell T. Davies and Freidrich Wilhelm Murnau are just some of the writers and filmmakers who have been indebted to concepts originated in the pages of Varney, making it easily the most influential vampire story that nobody reads.

The first full-length work of vampire fiction, Varney appeared in the penny press some 36 years after the original short story sketches by Lord Byron and John William Polidori, and decades before J.

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