Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson was published by Quirk Books in September of 2019. The book cataloged female horror writers from the 1600s to today, placing familiar faces — Mary Shelley, Ann Radcliffe, and Shirley Jackson — alongside more obscure writers, whose work is often out of print. Kröger and Anderson made a persuasive argument that women have long been the drivers of horror fiction. The popular history that excludes them has been revisionist at best.
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Valancourt Books, an indie publisher based in Virginia, picked up the torch from there. As they did with starting a publishing line based on fellow Quirk publication Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix, Valancourt started a publishing line focused on resurrecting the work of “the women who pioneered horror and speculative fiction,” sparking the little joy they could, beginning in 2020. So far, they’ve republished four titles, with a fifth on the way.
The books are gorgeous. While the pictures featured are the hardcovers, paperbacks are available as well. Each boasts an introduction by Kröger or Anderson that contextualizes the book within the history of horror fiction.
Nightmare Flower by Elizabeth Engstrom
The Monster, She Wrote publishing line kicked off with Elizabeth Engstrom’s Nightmare Flower, which was originally published by Tor in 1992. Valancourt has already brought two of Engstrom’s titles back into print as part of their Paperbacks from Hell series — the pair of novellas collected in When Darkness Loves Us and the serial killer novel Black Ambrosia. It’s not hard to see why Valancourt keeps publishing her. Engstrom is a magnificently talented writer.
Her stories in this collection air on the side of magical realism, but her work fits well within the ranks of the allegorical horror film boom. Often the monster or magical entity in Engstrom’s work reveals something essential about the world her readers live in, similar to the monster in The Babadook disrupting Amelia’s life in the same way grief disrupts the lives of those who have lost a loved one. Like writer-director Jennifer Kent, Engstrom uses the allegorical to bring real struggles into sharp focus.
The Women of Weird Tales by Everil Worrell, Eli Colter, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, and Greye La Spina
The next edition in the series, and possibly the most important, is The Women of Weird Tales. The stories were published in Weird Tales alongside racist cosmic horror legend H.P. Lovecraft, Conan the Barbarian scribe Robert E. Howard, and Psycho novelist Robert Bloch, among others. The common wisdom seems to be that only men were publishing weird fiction at that time, but this book refutes that. In fact, Anderson states in her intro to the collection that,“In the 1920s and 1930s, three of the women in this collection had stories listed as the most popular with readers: Greye La Spina, Everil Worrell, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman” (6).
La Spina’s “The Dead Wagon” may be the best story in the collection, which features five of her stories. It’s a classic set-up — a grandfather struggles against a curse that would land upon his first grandchild — with an excellent ending. “The Dead Wagon” is accompanied by five of Worrell’s stories. Two of Counselman’s, and Colter’s chilling ghost story, “The Curse of a Song.”
The Dead Hours of the Night by Lisa Tuttle
The Dead Hours of the Night is the first new book in the series. While some of the stories in the collection stretch far back as 1980, this is an original compilation. Tuttle, whose career is in its fifth decade, has admirers at Valancourt — who previously published her story collection A Nest of Nightmares and her beyond disturbing ghost novel Familiar Spirit — and in horror luminary Neil Gaiman, who said the collection was, “intense and character-driven, exploring women’s lives and realities, and the inherent terror therein.”
What sets Tuttle apart are her endings. The way “Born Dead” and “My Pathology” close out will rattle around your brain for months. All of her stories evolve in unexpected ways, managing to be both hilarious and horrifying at different times. If you pick up one book from the series, make it Lisa Tuttle’s The Dead Hours of Night.
The Bishop of Hell by Marjorie Bowen
Marjorie Bowen’s phenomenally titled The Bishop of Hell collects twelve of Bowen’s favorite ghost stories from her enormous catalogue. Throughout her career, Bowen blazed through books, publishing more than 150 under different pen names and in different genres.
What makes this collection special is the way Bowen manipulates the familiar form. She writes stellar traditional ghost stories like “The Crown Derby Plate,” but also finds ways to tweak the form in other entries. In the finest, “Elsie’s Lonely Afternoon,” Bowen uses dramatic irony — the audience knowing more than the characters — to disturb readers with a less than super-natural twist.
Manfroné; or, The One-Handed Monk by Mary Anne Radcliffe
Manfroné; or; The One Handed Monk — the first novel in the Monster, She Wrote series — is due out in July of this year. The book “opens with an unforgettable Gothic scene: a lascivious monk enters the lovely Rosalina’s bedroom at midnight through a secret panel, planning to rape her—but suffers the gruesome loss of his hand when he is caught in the act!”
The book’s authorship is as much a mystery as the progression of the story. There’s an obvious resemblance to the name of fellow gothic horror writer Ann Radcliffe. That leads scholars to believe that “Mary Anne Radcliffe” is a pseudonym. According to Kröger and Anderson, the author might be A. Louisa Bellenden Ker claimed she wrote the books later. But that “Most modern critics accept one of two other possibilities. Either the woman was an obscure writer who never rose to fame. Or died before she could assert ownership of the text), or the author was the feminist Mary Ann Radcliffe, who wrote The Female Advocate” (40-41).
Whoever wrote the novel, it’s available for preorder now.