Author Victoria Dalpe (Parasite Life) will be teaching The Beautiful Grotesque: Exploring the Beauty and Monstrousness of Horror for Frequency this fall. We spoke a bit about why she chose horror, her thoughts about the genre, and her hopes for the class. (Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for space.)
What drew you to horror as a writer? Is it something particular to the type of stories you want to tell, to the way you want to tell stories, or something else entirely?
Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I’d been attracted to the darker things in life. My personality always had me covering my eyes then peeking through gaps in my fingers. That place is where horror lovers live.I think horror is a genre that allows you to play in the what-if scenarios: what if I were in danger, what if I had to fight my way out, what if the worst thing that I could imagine happened… how would you react? Who would you be afterward? There is a catharsis that comes after the movie ends, or the book closes when you remember you are safe. Like roller coasters or haunted houses, it’s almost like we crave being frightened in controlled environments. It helps us stay grounded I think. It’s healthy.
This class will look specifically at the female experience of horror. Many of us are familiar with the image of the final girl in slasher films. Are there other roles, relationships, and contexts connecting women and horror that we’re less familiar with?
The final girl is super important to a certain type of horror, specifically slasher horror, and there is some wonderful film theory on her, and why she exists, like Men, Women, and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover which came out way back in 1992. But the discussions about her are often about male viewers. The final girl is less about women’s empowerment and more about men being able to comfortably sympathize and identify with a woman character.
What my class aims to focus on is totally different. Essentially, I want to look at horror stories written by women about women. The stories I’ve chosen are themselves more domestic, more surreal, more psychological. Is the danger coming from the outside or inside the main characters themselves? The stories I’ve chosen deal with the role of the husband or male character as part of the threat. They also deal with women and their relationships to their homes and the perceived safety or threat therein.
As an author in New England working within the weird fiction genre, how do you grapple with H. P. Lovecraft’s complicated legacy in your work and personally?
Lovecraft had some heinous views. There is no denying that. His work is oft-cited as extremely influential for its blending of genres (sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.) but refusal to be any one of them. He was a lover of science and did not feel his audience was owed easy resolutions at the end of his tales. He was also a racist in his personal life, which we know from his exhaustive letters.
I love the genre of weird fiction and its ability to blend with other genres and to be its own thing, I love the huge and mysterious worlds and monsters Lovecraft created in his fiction. In my own work, just by being a woman, I am bringing something different to his work. My mythos stories are about giving birth, about outsider characters encountering the fantastical, about dealing with grief and loss. Lovecraft’s work was dry, there were few women characters, his male characters had little depth, and most stories were told from a distance. So, when I write mythos, I like to bring women and emotion in. In life, he was an eccentric, frail man who held in him a lot of fear. I can appreciate the work he put out and also frame him as a flawed figure, for his time and for ours.
Could you recommend a story, essay or poem for people who are interested in taking your class that relates to its content in some way?
There are so many amazing women writing horror/weird fiction these days. There have also ALWAYS been women writing horror, in fact, if you consider Mary Shelley essentially invented the genre with Frankenstein. Women have always been writing and reading the scary stuff, and ghost stories especially have often been the territory of women.
An awesome story that is disturbing and surreal, would be “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link, available to read free. Some further reading: Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House; Tananarive Due’s books are incredible and terrifying, including The Good House, My Soul to Keep and The Between; Joyce Carol Oates’ collection; Helen Oyeyemi’s White is For Witching; Gemma Files’ Experimental Film; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste. My novel, Parasite Life, fits in as well.
There are still seats available for The Beautiful Grotesque. Register here!