Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Weird Tales from the Romantic Era

William Blake
Born November 28, 1757, London
Died August 12, 1827, London

For Weird Tales
"The Tiger" [sic] (poem, Apr. 1926)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Born October 21, 1772, Ottery Saint Mary, Devon, England
Died July 25, 1834, Highgate, England

For Weird Tales
"Song" (poem, Jan. 1927)
"The Knight's Tomb" (poem, Sept. 1927)

John Keats
Born October 31, 1795, London
Died February 23, 1821, Rome

For Weird Tales
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (poem, Apr. 1938)

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Born August 4, 1792, Field Place, Horsham, England
Died July 8, 1822, Viareggio, Grand Duchy of Tuscany

For Weird Tales
"Ozymandias" (poem, Sept. 1926)

Mary W. Shelley
Née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Born August 30, 1797, Somers Town, London
Died February 1, 1851, Chester Square, London

For Weird Tales
"Frankenstein" (serialized novel, eight parts, May-Dec. 1932)

Thomas Lovell Beddoes
Born June 30, 1803, Clifton, Bristol, England
Died January 26, 1849, Basel, Switzerland

For Weird Tales
"The Old Crow of Cairo" (originally "Song", July 1927)

Robert Burns
Born January 25, 1759, Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died July 21, 1796, Dumfries, Scotland

For Weird Tales
"Tam O' Shanter" (poem, May 1938)

Sir Walter Scott
Born August 15, 1771, Edinburgh, Scotland
Died September 21, 1832, Melrose, Scotland

For Weird Tales
"Wandering Willie's Tale" (story, Jan. 1926)
"The Tapestried Chamber" (story, Sept. 1926)

Despite many differences among them, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and their contemporaries were long ago lumped into a Romantic movement said to have begun in 1798 with the publication of Lyrical Ballads. The authors of that book were an anonymous Wordsworth and Coleridge. According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the Romantic movement was characterized by: 1) an emphasis on poetry and the poet; 2) poetic freedom and spontaneity; 3) treatments of nature; 4) "the glorification of the commonplace"; and 5) for readers of weird tales, an interest in the supernatural and "'strangeness in beauty'." Many Romantics also seemed preoccupied with death, none so much as Thomas Lovell Beddoes, who could almost have been a living Dr. Frankenstein. Beddoes, along with Keats and Shelley, also met tragic deaths when quite young and when living on the Continent. As forerunners to American literature of the nineteenth century, the writers of the British Romantic era, especially Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley with her Frankenstein (1818), might even be said to have fathered (or mothered) the weird tale.  

Of the major British Romantic poets, all but Wordsworth and Byron were represented in the pages of Weird Tales. If you would like something weird or supernatural from Wordsworth, you might try "Lucy Gray, or Solitude" (1799), which ends with the suggestion of a haunting. Byron authored a more powerful and dreadful poem, "Darkness" (1816), which begins with these lines:

          I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
          The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
          Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
          Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
          Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air. . . .

William Hope Hodgson may have drawn inspiration from Byron's "Darkness" while writing his novel from a century later, The Night Land. On the other hand, a world that ends in darkness is likely a shared vision among humanity.

Miscellany: Blake's short poem "The Tyger" (1790-1792) is a work not forgotten by those who read it. Alfred Bester borrowed the first two words of the poem--Tiger! Tiger!--for the title of the British edition of his science fictional and typographic tour de force, The Stars My Destination (1956), an equally unforgettable work. 

Shelley's "Ozymandias" was reprinted in Weird Tales in its September 1926 issue, about the time H.P. Lovecraft was working on "The Call of Cthulhu." As I wrote in a previous posting, in Watchmen, Alan Moore named his Übermensch character Ozymandias. What's the connection? Moore's Ozymandias uses a Cthulhu-like creature to destroy New York City.

There were of course other British writers of the the Romantic era. Charles Lamb (1775-1834) wrote an essay, "Witches and Other Night Fears" (1821), that might be of interest to readers of weird tales.

William Blake was not only a poet but also an artist. Here is a watercolor illustration, "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun," one of a series depicting scenes from Revelation. The musculature and the staves of the dragon's wings are horrifying in Blake's carefully wrought and naturalistic treatment. What model did he use to draw such a thing? What is the source for such "fearful symmetry"?
An etching by Piranesi (1720-1778), another fantasist of the 18th century.
And a painting by Fuseli (1741-1825), an associate of Mary Wollstonecraft (mother of Mary W. Shelley) and an influence on William Blake. Weird tales and fantasy art go back millenia, but they began to look more modern during the eighteenth century.

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment