Men, Women, and Landscape in American Horror Fiction

  • Dara Downey


Downey traces resonant images that connect Sarah Orne Jewett’s “The Queen’s Twin” (1899) to Stephen King’s shorter fiction and Wharton’s “Bewitched” (1925) to Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (1979). What unites these texts is the repeated evocation of feminine supernatural forces associated with and opposed to the landscape in complex ways. This chapter argues that narratives in which a male character is menaced by both a howling wilderness and the stifling attentions of a potentially murderous woman are essential building blocks for American horror texts. It explores the complexities of the triangulated relationship between men, women, and landscape, in light of the masculinist stereotypes associated with the “myth” of the American Frontier. Downey argues that such narratives veer uncomfortably close to celebrating misogynistic violence.


  1. Alcott, Louisa May. 1863. A Pair of Eyes, or, Modern Magic. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 17 (421): 69–71; and 17 (422): 85–87.Google Scholar
  2. Chandler, Marilyn. 1991. Dwelling in the Text. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  3. Crow, Charles L. 2009. American Gothic. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.Google Scholar
  4. Faragher, J. M. (1979). Women and Men on the Overland Trail. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Fetterley, Judith. 1998. ‘Not in the Least American’: Nineteenth-Century Literary Regionalism as UnAmerican Literature. In Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Critical Reader, ed. Karen J. Kilcup, 15–32. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  6. Fryer, Judith. 1976. The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth Century American Novel. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. 2002. The Home: Its Work and Influence. Oxford: AltaMira Press.Google Scholar
  8. Jewett, Sarah Orne. 1899. The Queen’s Twin. In The Queen’s Twin and Other Stories, 1–37. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co.Google Scholar
  9. King, Stephen. 1978. Night Shift. Kent: Hodder and Stoughton.Google Scholar
  10. ———. 2004. Skeleton Crew. London: Time Warner.Google Scholar
  11. Kirby, Kathleen M. 1996. Indifferent Boundaries: Spatial Concepts of Human Subjectivity. London: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  12. Kolodny, Annette. 1975. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  13. Lewis, R.W.B. 1955. The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Lockwood, J. Samaine. 2015. Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lovecraft, H.P. 1993. Crawling Chaos: Selected Works, 1920–1935. Edited by Colin Wilson. London: Creation Press.Google Scholar
  16. Neumann, Erich. 1955. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Ringel, Faye. 1995. New England’s Gothic Literature: History and Folklore of the Supernatural from the Seventeenth Through Twentieth Centuries. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.Google Scholar
  18. Savoy, Eric. 1998. The Face of the Tenant: A Theory of American Gothic. In American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy, 3–19. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Slotkin, Richard. 1998. The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 2000. Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  21. Smith, Henry Nash. 1978. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Straub, Peter. 1988. Ghost Story. London: Futura.Google Scholar
  23. Thomas, Jennice G. 1991. ‘Spook or Spinster?’: Edith Wharton’s ‘Miss Mary Pask. In Haunting the House of Fiction: Feminist Perspectives on Ghost Stories by American Women, ed. Lynette Carpenter and Wendy K. Kolmar, 108–116. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.Google Scholar
  24. Thoreau, Henry David. 1864. Ktaadn. In The Maine Woods, 1–86. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Turner, Frederick Jackson. 1920. The Significance of the Frontier in American History. In The Frontier in American History, 1–38. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  26. Wharton, Edith. 1975. The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. London: Constable.Google Scholar
  27. Williams, Susan S. 2006. Reclaiming Authorship: Literary Women in America, 1850–1900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dara Downey
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishTrinity College DublinDublinIreland

Personalised recommendations