Tucked away on the dark and dusty shelves of libraries around the world are pages packed with murder: tales of lands where only the most wicked of creatures dwell. Yet year after year, hands pass over the spines of these treasures, leaving more cobwebs on their covers than in the stories themselves.
The battle of due recognition in the literary horror/thriller/suspense genre has been a tough one for women writers. And while authors like Ann Radcliffe, and, later on, Daphne du Maurier wrote novels which stand as cornerstones of the Gothic horror genre, many female horror writers have gone under appreciated.
Today we look to some of the women writers who lead the genre of the sick and twisted, admiring their short stories, poetry, and prose. Here is a short round up of the women you may not know yet, but once you do, they’ll surely haunt your bookshelves evermore. These women range from the beginnings of horror, representing classic horror novels, to today, writing some of the most popular and bestselling horror of the modern day.
1. Daphne du Maurier (pictured above)
Born in London in 1907, Daphne du Maurier was the daughter of the prominent actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont. She grew up among creative types, and her blooming passion for literature and writing was nurtured by family and friends. As her career grew, she was categorized as a “romantic novelist” though, today, she fits best among the Gothic writers. du Maurier found success on the big screen as well: many of her novels were adapted for films including Jamaica Inn (1939), Frenchman’s Creek (1944), Hungry Hill (1947), My Cousin Rachel (1952), and, of course, Rebecca (1940). Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) was based on a treatment of one of du Maurier’s short stories, as was as the film Don’t Look Now (1973). The Doll is one of 13 of du Maurier’s “lost” stories, described as, “gothic, suspenseful, and macabre.” She wrote it when when she was only 21.
2. Silvina Ocampo
Thus Were Their Faces: Selected Stories
Born in Buenos Aires in 1903, Silvina Ocampo’s writing career began with Viaje Olvidado (1937) and continued to flourish with three books of poetry, novels, and a shot at playwriting as well. Ocampo fell into the shadow of her good friend Jorge Luis Borges, the acclaimed Argentinian writer, and her eldest sister who was the founding editor of the journal, Sur. When Ocampo’s work started gaining traction in the literary world, it often fell into the category of the fantastic and surreal, focusing on ideas such as space and time, children, and metamorphosis. Her style often veered toward the unusually cruel, which, at the time, was not often well received by critics. In fact, in 1979, Ocampo was denied the Argentinian prize for literature on the basis that her work was “far too cruel.”
3. Sylvia Townsend Warner
Unmarried and unassuming, Laura Willowes seeks an outlet beyond the uptight London streets. After fleeing her brother’s home in an act of rebellion and clarity, Willowes finds her place in a village of witches. Thus is the premise of the 1926 novel Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. The well-received book traipses through haunting scenes with Satanic undertones, and it bends and challenges societal norms. Unfortunately, however, many missed the truly contemporary and modern thinking lying between the lines. In one thank you note to friend and fellow author David Garnett, Townsend Warner wrote, “Other people who have seen Lolly have told me that it was charming, that it was distinguished, and my mother said it was almost as good as Galsworthy. And my heart sank lower and lower; I felt as though I had tried to make a sword, only to be told what a pretty pattern there was on the blade.” Townsend Warner went on to write a number of short stories and other novels during her literary career including, Summer Will Show (1936) and The Cat’s Cradle Book (1940).
4. Ann Radcliffe
The Mysteries of Udolpho
Though she is considered one of the founders of Gothic literature, very little is known about Ann Radcliffe’s personal life. Author Christina Rossetti attempted to write a biography about Radcliffe, only to abandon the project due to lack of information. Her literary life, however, consists of six novels, a book of poetry, and some non-fiction. She set the tone of her writing style with The Romance of the Forest (1791) and inspired Gothic writers with The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Sir Walter Scott, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jane Austen have all pulled from the “Radcliffe School” in their work, and she’s even been credited with influencing the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky. “I used to spend the long winter hours before bed listening (for I could not yet read), agape with ecstasy and terror, as my parents read aloud to me from the novels of Ann Radcliffe. Then I would rave deliriously about them in my sleep,” Dostoevsky wrote. Radcliffe was a proponent of terror over horror, stating that terror aims to stimulate readers through imagination and perceived evils, while horror closes them off through fear and physical dangers.
5. Shirley Jackson
The Lottery and Other Stories
Best known for her short story The Lottery (1948), Shirley Jackson has been credited with influencing such writers as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson. Throughout Jackson’s career, she faced reactions from fans that her male counterparts may never have encountered. Many insisted that the darker aspects of her work were a product of “personal, even neurotic, fantasies.” Jackson preferred to allow her books to speak for themselves, veering away from the spotlight as often as she could. She was quoted as saying how pleased she was that the Union of South Africa banned The Lottery because: “she felt that they, at least, understood the story.” Her succession of Gothic novels began in 1951 with the publication of Hangsaman, and, in 1959, when The Haunting of Hill House was published, it became regarded as the “quintessential haunted house tale.”
6. Marjorie Bowen
Black Magic: The Rise and Fall of the Antichrist and Other Works
British supernatural horror writer Marjorie Bowen was born in 1885. She produced more than 150 volumes of work, though they may be difficult to come by, as much of what was published appeared under pseudonyms. Joseph Shearing, George Preedy, Robert Paye, John Winch, and Margaret Campbell were the bylines of Bowen’s original works. She wrote mystery novels inspired by true crimes. The books that saw the most commercial success fell under the pseudonym Joseph Shearing. It wasn’t until the late 1940s that the general public came to know the true author of these haunting tales. She has been described as “one of the great supernatural writers of this century” and “one of the best of our modern novelists.”
7. Tananarive Due
My Soul to Keep
Tananarive Due has been terrifying her readers for over 20 years, from her African Immortals series to standalone horror novels like The Good House. Although some of Due’s novels land more in the speculative/fantasy genre than horror, each entry offers something particularly horrifying. In My Soul to Keep, the first book in the African Immortals series, Jessica discovers a major secret after her marriage to David. Namely, that he’s part of an Ethiopian sect that traded their humanity for immortality—and now the group that gave them immortality is calling him back to Ethiopia. Jessica, David, and their child battle for their lives amongst terrifying creatures and strange characters.
8. Elizabeth Hand
Waking the Moon has become a cult classic over the years thanks to its specific and engrossing take on Gothic fantasy. Her fantasy-tinged horror has thrilled readers over the years. Wylding Hall is the most straightforward horror offering from Hand, and it’s sure to satisfy. When the lead singer of a band goes missing during a recording session in a crumbling castle, the other bandmates are left confused and terrified. Years later, they come together once more to try to find Julian.
9. Carmen Maria Machado
Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado’s only written short stories so far, but what we’ve seen has left us deeply impressed. 2017’s Her Body and Other Parties gained a lot of internet buzz. But these stories aren’t just the next trendy collection. From body horror to dystopian plagues, Her Body and Other Parties has it all. The strange, sexy, and spooky stories will leave you haunted. We’ll be waiting, not so patiently, for Machado’s next work.
Featured photo: Alchetron