Contents
  Notes &
Permissions
  Preface & Acknowledg-
ments
1:
Introduction
2: Horror in Literature and the Literature of Horror
3: The Marvelous Horror Thriller
4:  The Fantastic/Uncanny Horror Thriller
5: The Aesthetics of the Horror Thriller: Stoker's Dracula
6: The Pure Fantastic Tale of Terror
7:  Anticlosure: Poe's "Ligeia"
8: The Entrapped Critic:
Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
9: The Master's Trap:
James's The Turn of the Screw 
10: Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy
11: Terror and the Sublime
Sources
Index

 
 
Preface & Acknowledgments
 
PREFACE

But the apparent delight with which we dwell upon objects of pure terror, where our moral feelings are not in the least concerned, and no passion seems to be excited but the depressing one of fear, is a paradox of the heart, much more difficult of solution.

     John Aikin and Anna Laetitia Barbauld, "On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror"
 

     There are works of literature designed to terrify their readers, contriving in special ways to reach out with not so tender "claws" and to "draw blood." Not all tales of terror truly terrify their readers. In fact, it would seem to be against the interest of a work of literature to really terrify its reader if by terror we mean the fear that harm will come to oneself. If a reader should feel terror while reading, then the reading would most likely end. For example, I have acquaintances who have been unable to watch Psycho through the shower murder. I often meet people who report that they were unable to finish a story by Stephen King or H. P. Lovecraft. My work on The Delights of Terror began when I realized that I had encountered works that not only seemed designed to terrify me, but whose design was so artful that even though I feared harm to myself, I did not flee, but struggled until I had successfully read them. Three such tales are: Edgar Allan Poe's "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of Usher" and Henry James's The Turn of the Screw.

     In the beginning, these texts haunted me. For more than a decade, starting with my first careful readings in graduate school and continuing through years of teaching them, these tales disturbed me whenever they were before my consciousness. The central problem was that there were at least two contradictory readings for each story. On the one hand, these were tales of supernatural intrusions into the lives of their narrators. The narrators were terrified and mystified by these intrusions, and we readers were to be horrified by their adventures. By horror, I mean the fear of anticipating and witnessing harm befalling others for whom we have some sympathy. On the other hand, these were not supernatural stories at all, but the ravings of hallucinating narrators. Each time I read one of these stories, reviewed the established criticism, and read more recent criticism, I would see new features of the works emerging and try to shift my position to some solid ground. I eventually discovered myself to be on a kind of circle of interpretation. The secret (the work) would sit enigmatically in the deep center of the pool, and I would skip from stone to stone around the edge, trying to achieve the final view, but without success. Then one day I found myself, as if by magic, sitting quite safe at the center with the secret. There was still no final view, but I was not "drowning" either; my problem seemed solved.

     I began thinking about writing this book on the day I discovered "Ligeia" to be beautiful. For years "she" had haunted me. Then, one day, the tale returned in memory transformed, mysterious still, but coalesced. This transformation awed me. My awe was extended because the other Poe story and James's short masterpiece had also haunted me, and these works also returned to me transformed. To complete the reading of three works simultaneously with none of them before one's eyes is the sort of event that a literary critic wishes to share with others. This book is, in part, an attempt to put my experience into words.

     However, in the process of thinking about how to explain this effect, I found myself explaining other tales of terror of different kinds. There seemed to be a need for a systematic attempt to explore the aesthetics of the tale of terror. What sorts of tales of terror have been written? What sorts of pleasure do they offer the reader? In view of the persistence of horror genres and of the pervasiveness of horror as an effect in modern classics, these questions are especially important. This book has become, then, an attempt to articulate the ways in which the tale of terror frightens us, when it does, and the ways it can delight, even when it frightens.

     Here at the beginning, I want to raise a question implicit in the following chapters for which I have no answer yet. To explain the pleasures of terror, I have had to explore some of the central ideas about how we form our human identities. My research led me to the edges of but not far into psychoanalytic studies of feminine identity. Drawn by the exciting ideas emerging in this field, I read a little further as this book was going to press. My reading suggests that there are probably significant differences between the ways men and women respond to tales of terror. The explanations I offer seem general enough to be true for both sexes, even though I use the conventional masculine pronouns in my descriptions. Nevertheless, I suspect that my accounts are destined to be qualified and, I hope, extended by further research and thought from a specifically feminine perspective.
 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I owe thanks to many people and organizations.
     For permissions to reprint materials: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., for permission to reprint Mary Rothbart's chart, "Schematic representation of affective response to sudden, intense, or discrepant stimulation," from A. J. Chapman and H. C. Foot, eds. Humor and Laughter (1976), p. 39; Arizona Quarterly for permission to reprint material from my essay, "Terror and Empathy in Faulkner's Sanctuary" 40 (1984): 355-64; Gothic for permission to reprint material from my essay, "Poe's 'Ligeia' and the Pleasures of Terror" 2 (1980): 39-48; Salem Press, Inc., for permission to reprint material from my article on Charles Brockden Brown, which appeared in Critical Survey of Long Fiction, 1: 312-24. Copyright, 1983, by Frank N. Magill.
     For grants that helped me purchase materials and time and that helped me consult with colleagues at other colleges and universities: The National Endowment for the Humanities; The Lilly Foundation; The Mellon Foundation; and Coe College.
     For moral and intellectual support, for reading and commenting on portions of the text, and for unfailing kindness and mercy when I needed them: Charles Cannon, Neal Woodruff, and the faculty of the Coe College Department of English.
     For reading the manuscript at various stages and for extraordinarily helpful comments and suggestions: Hamlin Hill, Andrew Debicki, William Veeder, Barton Levi St. Armand, and, especially, J. P. Telotte and Susan L. Patterson. Ann Lowry Weir and the staff at University of Illinois Press were unfailingly courteous and helpful. For most of these people, thank you is the only reward for their generous assistance.
     For laboriously typing early versions of the manuscript: Diane Howard and Peachie Carey.
     For making sure I kept my intellectual feet on the ground and for always being a friend: Ed Gerson.
     For inspiration and humane teaching: Sheldon Sacks.
     For loving me in spite of my insistence upon solitude on all those summer mornings when they wanted me with them: Linda and Gabriel. I did my best for them.
 

Contents
  Notes &
Permissions
  Preface & Acknowledg-
ments
1:
Introduction
2: Horror in Literature and the Literature of Horror
3: The Marvelous Horror Thriller
4:  The Fantastic/Uncanny Horror Thriller
5: The Aesthetics of the Horror Thriller: Stoker's Dracula
6: The Pure Fantastic Tale of Terror
7:  Anticlosure: Poe's "Ligeia"
8: The Entrapped Critic:
Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
9: The Master's Trap:
James's The Turn of the Screw 
10: Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy
11: Terror and the Sublime
Sources
Index