Sex and Horror in Gothic fiction

November 14, 2017 | By | Reply More

A good ‘scare’ is a wonderful aphrodisiac. Horror prickles our skin, and works icy fingers through our blood. It demands a visceral reaction. How delicious is the sensation of fear: an echo of carnal delight.

It’s hard to say where pain ends and pleasure begins in Gothic fiction, in those dangerous undercurrents, on the razor edge between light and dark, where we thrill to illicit ‘penetration’ as the vampire or werewolf or demonic lover sinks its teeth into our flesh.

In the darkly seductive fairy tales of the Gothic canon, the pursuit of sex is equated with danger: be careful of where you go, and with whom: they could be a ‘monster’ in disguise. Beware the fanged beast within. Appearances aren’t to be trusted.

Meanwhile, such tales are inhabited by two types of women: the virgin (seduced, willingly or otherwise) and the enchantress (in the role of seducer) exhibiting her sexuality with such brazenness that we know she must be possessed by dark forces.

Harking back to 19th century Gothic fiction, ghosts, family curses, vampires, demons and superstitions dominated. An atmosphere of brooding unease was vital: one of mystery, pushing the reader towards their own state of ‘madness’. The most famous example is Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’: darkly malevolent and laced with eroticism. Think of Jonathan Harker’s non-consensual ‘blood rape’ at the hands of the three vampire women in the Count’s prison-castle.

He recalls, with shame and fascination, his temptation to submit: ‘… I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat… I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart.’

Stoker also gives us the sensual portrayal of Lucy in her ‘undead’ state, and the slow seduction of Mina by the Count: a domineering, unfathomable stranger. The story is filled with references (veiled or explicit) to eyes blazing with desire, to blood, to submission, to death, to longing, to violence, to the devouring of flesh, and of course, to biting and sucking!

What other story, before or since, has so perfectly combined the luxurious pleasure of horror with eroticism?

In keeping with the age in which the tale was written, sexual pleasure is to be feared and resisted rather than welcomed. However, what danger can be more alluring than that of casting aside propriety and embracing abandoned, illicit sexual appetite? It’s little wonder that Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and all its descendants have enjoyed so many decades of popularity. Such stories evoke more than horror. They explore awakening. Within the velvet embrace of arousal and heightened sensation, a cloak of ‘propriety’ is lifted, allowing us a glimpse of self-knowledge. As Jonathan Harker admits, afraid of what awaits him at the hands of the trio of vampire-seductresses: ‘I doubt; I fear; I think strange things, which I dare not confess to my own soul.’

The monsters and supernatural seducers of ‘horror’ cannot be resisted; we are forced to succumb, to embrace our dual-edged fantasies. We accept the apple and, in biting its flesh, discover that which we may wish to refute: dark dreams of voluptuous abandon, of wild promiscuity, of being ‘taken’ against our will. In Gothic fiction, there are no bounds on sexuality, all is rendered ‘permissible’ by the veil of storytelling.

‘Gothic horror’, as a genre, has a great deal of the erotic about it. It crooks its finger to entice us, and anticipation is all. We lick our lips, waiting for the ‘forbidden’, or to be ‘devoured’. We keep running, but we know we want to be caught.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant is the author of the ‘Noire’ series, set in the late 19th century, and has written various short fiction Gothic-erotic tales. She also writes romantic comedy, though always with a twist of sexual provocation. Her 1920s romp, ‘Highland Pursuits’, follows the adventures of feisty debutante Lady Ophelia.

Emmanuelle lives with her husband (maker of fruit cake) and her haggis pudding terrier (connoisseur of squeaky toys and bacon treats).

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A wickedly naughty 1920s romance.

What happens when defiant debutante Lady Ophelia Finchingfield is banished to the Highlands of Scotland?

Ophelia isn’t willing to marry just to please her mother, and certainly not to a man she finds sexually unappealing.

Removed to such a remote and unsophisticated location, Ophelia is expected to come to her senses. However, she discovers a new independence at Castle Kintochlochie, under the guidance of her sassy grandmother, Lady Morag.

Instead of being consigned to an ill-matched marriage, why shouldn’t Ophelia take over the governance of the Castle and the wider estate?

A bizarre selection of suitors are soon presenting themselves, but Ophelia remains one step ahead, until she begins to harbor feelings for Hamish, the Castle’s estate manager.

To Ophelia’s annoyance, he’s already spoken for, and glamorous French coquette Felicité has no intention of letting ruggedly attractive Hamish slip from the service of her bed.

Intrigue abounds, as Ophelia discovers that there’s more to her rival than meets the eye, and that the Castle is a hotbed of illicit cavorting.


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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

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