[The following is a reprint of a column which originally appeared in the October 27, 2005, issue of Hellnotes.]
You’re going to a dress-as-your-favorite-horror-writer Halloween party, and you don’t want to go as one of the usuals, such as H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe. You might consider doing yourself up as Nathaniel Hawthorne or Guy de Maupassant. Hawthorne, Maupassant as horror writers? They and several other authors are not generally regarded as horror writers but have penned one or more memorable tales of terror.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a Scottish novelist and poet known for his tales of adventure – and for one of the masterpieces of horror, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Stevenson was born in Edinburgh and traveled extensively. He spent years exploring the South Pacific, where he befriended the king of Hawaii and visited the leper colony at Molokai. Stevenson settled in Samoa, where he became a tribal leader, known as Tusitala, which means “storyteller.” His fiction of the islands is important for its record of life in the South Pacific in the late nineteenth century. Jekyll, about a doctor trying to separate good from evil in a personality, was influential in the growth of the study of the subconscious. Stevenson wrote two other weird stories. “The Body Snatcher” tells of corpse theft and murder and appeared in 1885 in the Pall Mall Christmas Extra. “Markheim” (1887) is about a stranger who is thought to be the devil but is actually an angel. Stevenson also wrote a number of dark tales, which, with all his supernatural works, are collected in The Suicide Club & Other Dark Adventures (Tartarus, 2004).
Guy De Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) is considered the greatest French short-story writer. He penned over 300 stories, with about 40 considered horror. He also published six novels, three travel books, and a poetry collection. He drew on his life experiences in his writing. Maupassant was born in Normandy, France, of noble lineage. He entered law school in Paris but left to serve in the Franco-Prussian War for a couple of years, after which he spent eight years in civil service. During this time, he entered the literary circle of Gustave Flaubert, through which he met Emile Zola, Ivan Turgenev, and Henry James. In 1880, he made his publishing debut with the poetry collection Des Vers. Later that year, his first story was published, “Boule de Suif” (“Ball of Fat”). This masterpiece is a morality tale showing you can’t judge people by their appearances. His most famous horror story is “The Horla” (1886), in which the protagonist is vexed by an invisible, vampire-like being, leading him to madness and suicide. “The Inn” (1886) tells of the caretaker of a remote, snow-bound inn, who descends into madness. Maupassant also wrote stories about ghosts, a severed hand coming to life, changing epitaphs on tombstones, and corpses. Mental disorder is the theme of many of Maupassant’s stories, perhaps reflecting his own developing mental illness. On January 2, 1892, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat and was committed to an asylum, where he died the following year.
Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York, the son of Henry James, Sr., a well-known intellectual, whose friends included Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. James traveled back and forth to Europe in his youth, and briefly attended Harvard Law School. He moved to Europe in 1876, first living in France and then in England, and became a British subject in 1915. He wrote 20 novels, 112 stories, 12 plays, and a number of literary reviews. James published his first short story, “A Tragedy of Errors,” in 1864, which launched his literary career. From 1866 through 1872, he was a regular contributor to Nation and Atlantic Monthly. The latter magazine serialized his first novel, Watch and Ward, in 1871, which is about a bachelor who adopts a young girl with the intention of eventually marrying her. His first horror story, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” (1868), deals with revenge from beyond the grave. His other supernatural tales included “The Last of the Valerii” (1874), “Sir Edmund Orme” (1891), “Owen Wingrave” (1892), and others. His horror masterpiece, “The Turn of the Screw” (1898), is a ghost story about a governess in an isolated mansion who tries to save her two charges from evil spirits. This story has had multiple interpretations, including by James himself. He died in England in 1916, leaving two unfinished novels, The Ivory Tower and The Sense of the Past.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, a descendant of one of the judges in the 1692 witchcraft trials. Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where his friends included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future president Franklin Pierce. From 1825 to 1836, Hawthorne wrote stories for magazines, but anonymously or pseudononymously. His first novel, Fanshawe, which was based on his college life, was published anonymously and at his own expense in 1828. He collected his stories under his name in 1837 in Twice-Told Tales. Among these tales were some weird stories, including “The Prophetic Pictures” (1837), about paintings that foretell the future; and the witch story “The Hollow of the Three Hills” (1830). The second edition of this book, published in 1851, also contains the fantastic “Legends of the Province House,” the ghost story “Howe’s Masquerade,” and others. Another collection, Mosses From an Old Manse (1846), contains several stories of the supernatural, including “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), a tale of devil worship, and “The New Adam and Eve” (1843), a post-apocalyptic story. The second edition of the collection (1854) also contains a witch story, “Feathertop; a Moralized Legend” (1852). The Snow-Image and Other Twice-Told Tales (1852) includes “The Snow-Image” (1851), about an animated snowman, and “The Man of Adamant” (1837), a ghost story. Hawthorne’s most famous novels were The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851). The latter tells of an evil, haunted house that was cursed by a man hanged for witchcraft. This novel was based on the family legend of a curse that was placed on the Hawthornes by a condemned “witch” at the Salem trials. Hawthorne died in 1864 in New Hampshire while on a trip to the mountains with Franklin Pierce.
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