When you think of Canada, it doesn’t take long for your mind to wander to the red-haired girl with the famous puffed sleeves. Her books are still wildly popular in bookstores today, and she is a constant attraction for Japanese tourists.
Anne-with-an-E Shirley managed to steal the hearts of Canadians everywhere upon publication, and she grew in popularity over the decades. It was never much of a mystery as to why Canadians took to her so quickly. She was optimistic. She was thoughtful. She was loving, and in return she was so easy to love. We cherish her as part of a childhood that Canadians seem to universally share. Her book is a beloved staple.
Even during the war years, her upbeat tale managed to inspire. Poland managed to have the story translated during the war, and she snuck her way into school curriculums globally over the decades. Like the classic Cinderella story, she transformed her flaws into her most beloved attributes. Everyone fell madly in love with her charming speeches, as well as her fiery nature.
The tragic orphan had certainly managed to find her happy ending at Green Gables, while also inspiring several sequels, a beloved mini series in 1985, and even a Japanese anime, furthering her reach across the globe. Anne Shirley was such a staple that even the Canadian tourism industry capitalized off of her story, transforming Prince Edward Island into a landscape of Anne Shirley. One cannot visit the island without stopping by and exploring Green Gables, the home where the author Lucy Maud Montgomery grew up.
Canadians love talking about Anne Shirley and the impact the series had on their own lives. Traces of her can be found in the Canadian landscape. Still lakes, bright beneath the sun. Long sweeping fields of golden hay. Cherry blossoms, in particular, hold a treasured connection to the story and character.
What the country shrinks from, however, is the long legacy of home children, the inspiration behind Anne of Green Gables. Originally plucked from a newspaper advertisement, Montgomery had been inspired by the tale of a girl named Ellen, adopted by an elderly couple when they had originally sent for a boy to take up a role on their farm.
Even from this optimistic portrayal of the adoption and happy-ever-after for the girl, there is a bleakness that lingers. Fate had chosen Ellen to find her way to this home, when so many of the home children were abused and lost, left to work like slaves in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. One wonders what happened to the sought for boy and how his story turned out. Another question leads to the girl’s experiences before she arrived to Canada, safely secured in the hold of two siblings willing to let her remain in their family, despite her gender.
The mission for Home Children brought few happy-ever-afters, and instead scattered children across the globe.
Poverty had been a common element to life in the UK. Workhouses and their legacies terrorized the lower classes, casting a long shadow of abuse. These workhouses had been designed to fix poverty. Those who could not manage on their own would be taken into the hulking buildings and reduced to numbers. Women and men were separated, and children went off to their own section. The working conditions were overwhelmingly desperate, and the prisoners of the workhouses suffered, trying to work long hours on a low-calorie diet.
Home Children was the child migration scheme that took root in 1869, directing 100,000 children towards countries like Canada and Australia. They suffered extreme hardships and had no social security network to protect them, and were overworked by the settlers of early Canada.
The original intention was to liberate children from crushing poverty and to provide brand new opportunities that they ordinarily wouldn’t find in the UK. In exchange for their labor, they would be provided with shelter and food. However, instead of being adopted into families, children often discovered that they were simply workers-in-training, and separated from the rest of the children living in the area. Tasked with work, they often suffered under the demands.
When we look at Anne of Green Gables, we often fail to see the darkness present in the text. Her comments about her past spent looking after young children and acting as the working child often slip by. She frequently experiences despair, having her own father figure die near the end of the first novel, and in later sequels watches her friend die from consumption and suffers herself a miscarriage. Grief and despair linger in the background of her bright enthusiasm, but we ignore it.
In the most recent adaptation, Anne With An E took to Netflix and brought with it a nearly faithful adaptation. However, by layering in impressive twists to the original plot, they manage to reinvent the story. The formula is all the same— a red-haired orphan girl adopted by the elderly Cuthberts, and growing up over a string of adventures. It seems simple enough, but there is a brilliance that is added to the rehearsed formula.
The writers brought forward the darkness that loomed in the backdrop of the original source material. While Home Children and their legacy remain absent from the television adaption, flashes of previous trauma flicker across the screen, and the story introduces dangerous characters willing to inflict harm. In the second episode, viewers witness a man attempting to abduct children from the train station, and how close Anne is from being whisked away and never seen again. There is something startling in the casual aspect of the scene as audiences finally acknowledge the perils Anne finds herself engaged with.
One of the main elements to the first season was the harsh financial blow that the farm suffers, representing the dark difficulties of rural farming. The family running the farm depended on yearly success, and without it, things swiftly would go dark. This newly updated story provides insight to how crippling this devastation can be.
The only traces of Home Children can be found in the original inspiration for the novel, and that brings forward a shame. Having played a massive role in working in agricultural realms of Canada, they have been written out of history books. We fail to note our shortcomings in protecting and supporting these workers. Despite being children, they were shipped out for labour purposes only, and were lost from records over time. These children experienced limited agency and only found relief from the Home Children program during the Great Depression, when excess labour was no longer needed.
For now, their grim shadows can be found in the history behind Anne of Green Gables.
It is a fact that Canada fails to properly represent the Home Children. In 2009, the Minister of Immigration refused to apologize for the plight they underwent, and the suffering that they experienced at the hands of Canadians. Only a few token efforts were made to account for their presence, such as a plaque that can be found at the Home Children Memorial and Orphanage Building in Ottawa, a lone marker of the long history that sits in the shadows of elegant trees. A year after the Minister’s refusal to acknowledge the suffering of these labourers, the image of Home Children was printed into a postage stamp, rendered down in a plain piece of art.
As we fail to account for the labour that the country benefited from, the memory of these children suffocate under our silence.
Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore just to write bad poetry.
RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women Poetry addresses the need for women to regain control and autonomy over their own bodies, and acts as a platform to represent their struggles and backgrounds. In this first part to the two-part anthology series, readers will not be disappointed with the diverse body of writers, connecting to different cultures, orientations, and races.
Published in May 2019, this anthology features forty-seven female writers, building a community within fluid poems that spread smoothly out over the pages. Engaging by how the voices promote unity in their struggles and encounters, this impressive collection will linger on in the minds of readers.
Easily shifting the balance, writers snatch at their own bodies and examine the carcasses left behind by society. This impressive literary collection features a variety of excellent work, but in particular “Training Bras” by Wanda Deglane and “Fat Girls on Trains” by Djamilla Mercurio demand for swift attention. Their concepts and experiences of bodies are immediately relatable, grabbing at attention. Often, women become disconnected from power and control over their bodies, and these two poems bring forward a whirlpool of emotions and experiences.
Women have spent decades struggling to find a platform for their voices. Pulling together groups of like-minded individuals, they have brought forward countless issues of gender experiences, and fought to be heard. Even with historical groups lobbying together for change, certain voices were sidelined and left unheard.
This anthology helps move forward. How we navigate our own lives is often an isolating experience, but this community of women pulls together their own experiences, and knits together an entire voyage of individual voices. Readers will certainly be enriched by this collection of poetry and group of women.
If you are looking for a host of voices that linger over the pages, do not hesitate in picking up RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women Poetry today.
Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.
This post was first published on SPINE Online, November 16th, 2018.
Historically, an inn has been seen as symbol of good will and hospitality. Lured in by the promise of a hot fire crackling away and hearty food, people flocked to these establishments for an opportunity to find rest and comfort. The Bender’s family Inn, however, operated an establishment of murderous intent, slitting the throats of visitors and burying the bodies in the nearby apple orchard.
1871 saw an unusual family settle down on the outskirts of Cherryvale, Illinois, right on a road that connected to two major cities in the area. The Benders were a clever family of four, taking advantage of the location and dressing their home up to entice potential visitors into staying for a night or two.
The Benders helped to spice the local gossip mill, with the two men of the family both named John and the two women of the family both named Kate. Everyone had an opinion of the group, arguing if they were a family unit or two married couples. There was even a compelling argument that the women could have been witches involved in dark rituals steeped in sin and treachery. (Tragic that no one pegged the group for a bunch of murderers.)
The glory of living in the wild west was that this was the land of both opportunity and reinvention. It was also the perfect place to set up an elaborate business in killing unsuspecting visitors.
The one-star inn was small at best, located next to a flourishing apple orchard. Visitors might have been tempted by the rich smell of apple blossoms that hung from the trees in white clusters, making the inn seem harmless. Inside the inn the room had been cleverly arranged, with a front section hosting space for dining also serving as a general store. A canvas curtain divided the space, hiding the sleeping quarters behind it.
A chair was positioned directly against the curtain. It was referred to by the Benders as the best seat in the inn and they would encourage visitors to seat themselves upon it. Perhaps the visitors who took that seat were being kind and pretended that the odd stains upon the curtain were not there. They might have also been distracted by the younger Kate, who would often entertain them as they sat.
Both of the Johns would swap positions, taking turns standing behind the curtain with a hammer waiting for the chance to strike down hard the moment the guest relaxed and let their head brush against the curtain. Once the two Johns had made their move, Kate would attack, slitting their throats with a knife.
Bodies were handled with skill and dragged into a cellar. The family would wait for nightfall to bury their victims in the orchard. The elder John would often plow the soft earth of the orchard to disguise the shape of the freshly dug earth. Most bodies had been brutalized in their murder except the body of a young girl, found beneath her dead father. A fear spread quickly that she had been buried alive.
Perhaps if the internet had existed in the 1870s, reviews could have been given. Potential visitors would have been advised of the startling behaviors of their hosts or the curious sounds of moaning from beneath the floorboards.
While no one ever discovered if the Benders were biologically related, or pagan worshippers, it was quite clear that the entire family were terrible hospitality workers.
If your heart is truly set on staying at a murderous location, however, check out this link for some ‘safer’ suggestions.
Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.
Ottawa is filled with plenty of buildings rumoured to be haunted. Visitors travel from far and wide to gaze upwards at the green roofs of Parliament, or to speculate about the supposed hauntings of some of the historic buildings downtown. Even the lengthy Rideau Canal draws tourism. In winter, it is transformed into one of the largest outdoor skating rinks. There are plenty of buildings scattered around Ottawa that attract plenty of attention, but one of the most infamous in the area is the Rideau Street McDonald’s.
Positioned by the Rideau Centre shopping mall and close to Parliament, it draws in high numbers of visitors daily. Because of low prices and having both a front and a back entrance, this particular McDonald’s location draws in steady attention.
Everyone has heard of the Rideau Street McDonald’s. With perpetual visits from the police and recurring videos trending of brawls, it is legendary. One can hardly manage to complete four years attending an Ottawa university without watching the poorly filmed video of one particularly large fight, where a raccoon is pulled from a man’s jacket.
The popularity of this McDonalds location is primarily based off of its physical location. By sitting close to Parliament and other government buildings, it is also nestled close enough to the University of Ottawa, which attracts a high number of students. With student budgets, positioning in proximity to Rideau Centre and the Byward Market, this location is clearly very attractive to consumers.
You might notice, visiting the location, that classic music unexpectedly plays over the speakers. Perhaps management is attempting to psychologically tame the savage beasts with their choice of background music? Who knows. Despite this music, however, police officers visit this location daily to handle issues involving drug use and violence.
Violence is a staple of the Rideau McDonald’s experience. Dinner with a show is a key description of this location. Guests frequently verbally assault workers and begin physical brawls that are often caught on camera and uploaded to YouTube within hours. The wise visitors travel in groups, as chaos is a constant attribute to the Rideau McDonald’s location, and can quite swiftly pull any innocent bystander into the mix.
Because of this aggressive reputation, the Rideau McDonald’s restaurant has changed their open 24 hours reputation and instead, has shifted into being open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Because of the constant need for police backup and numerous aggressive encounters within the store, they have also opted for hiring trained security. Safety has finally become a priority, after a lengthy history of assault and brutality on site.
Despite the alleged hauntings in nearby buildings like the Bytown museum or Chateau Laurier, the Rideau McDonald’s is somehow far more terrifying than a few ghosts. If you feel like you’ve missed out on the prime 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. experience, don’t worry. Plenty of wild incidents also occur throughout the day.
Leave us a comment if you’ve experienced a terrifying encounter at the Rideau McDonalds, or risked your life venturing into the bathroom down the hall.
Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.
This post was first published on SPINE Online, October 31st, 2018.
In the early 90’s Wicca, a branch of Paganism, became officially recognized as a religion despite developing activity in the 1940’s. This acceptance of a religion that actively promotes the idea of witchcraft and rituals shows that society has developed quite a bit since the time of the Salem Witch trials.
The Salem witch trials were a horrifying time that was founded in hysteria and paranoia that spread throughout the community, spurring people to isolate suspicious members and accuse them of treachery and consorting with the devil. These accusations were particularly devastating because torture and a biased justice system followed, and ended with a death sentence. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, with a high number of the accused being women, but only 20 overall were executed.
Present day Salem has changed quite a bit since the days of the witch trials. Nearly 1500 local women have publically announced their status as witches, and have helped establish a strong witch tourism trend in the area. Storefronts publically announce fortune readings and a variety offer spellcasting. This tourism feeds off of the deliberate atmosphere that Salem has promoted, by hosting a variety of events like ghost tours and parades celebrating the dead. These events are popularized with the intent in gaining economic revenue, and sustaining the area.
Witchcraft has gained popularity due to the change in popular culture. People have grown up with television shows like Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, as well as books like the Harry Potter series. Typically, witches are presented as positive members of their respective societies. The shift in trends pushed witchcraft into a popular light and in turn popularized Wicca.
However, with this tourism so fixated on the promotion of witchcraft as well as theatrical performances, the question of historic sensitivity comes to light. The Salem witch trials had represented massive torment within a community, but less attention is being focused on the historical sufferings that people faced and instead being put on celebrating Halloween inspired events to promote revenue streams.
It can be argued that this is an attempt to take and transform the brutality into something positive. The witches of Salem suffered because a powerful group of men occupied positions of power in the justice system. It can be powerful, retaking a brutal narrative and turning it into something positive that celebrates women. Women in Salem today no longer need to hide their identities and are able to commemorate these differences in lifestyle.
The Puritan church leaders must be rolling in their graves as women actively participate in their community based off of witchcraft and rituals. Salem witchcraft attracts a wide variety of tourists who want to participate in the customs and traditions, and also engage with the festive events that Salem hosts.
The power of the original Salem witches clearly lives on in Salem today, as generations later they are still remembered. If you’re interested in checking out some tourism related to these events, check out the official website for Salem.
March is the month of surprise snow storms, excessive Irish drinking, and some time to check out some magnificent books. If you’re pondering what your next great read will be, have no fear. We Voices keep up-to-date with both classics and the newest releases in the book world.
Toni Morrison was the divine mind behind Beloved, the beautifully creepy story about a family and their life after abolished slavery, chronicling the experiences of a black woman named Sethe. Beloved focused on not just her days as a slave and her time living as a free woman, but also the mental trauma that she endured. Morrison infused Beloved with the heavy theme of infanticide, representing the true historical actions of many slave women.
Morrison was also the writer behind many other great books like The Bluest Eye and Paradise, and in February 2019, she came out with a brand new book, The Source of Self-Regard. As a collection of essays, speeches, and meditations, she evaluates social issues with keen awareness as well as giving insight to her work as a creator and artist.
If you’re interested in some deep reading to get you through the chaotic snow drifts of March, I strongly recommend giving Morrison a look.
A possibly biased opinion, but Shirley Jackson was the foundation of modern Gothic literature. With her creepy inspiration, she published a massive collection of short stories along with five novels in her lifetime. Her most popular novels were The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but The Sundial was one of the most deviously clever novels.
What set this book apart from others was the thoroughly unlikeable cast of characters living in a grand house, driven mad with paranoia and potential prophecies of end times.
Jackson appreciated fine architecture. Her work is full of grand mansions that are overwhelming in physical details and personal histories. The Sundial revolved around the large mansion of the family, and turned into their prison as they began to fear the world ending, due to a supposed ghostly apparition claiming that the family would inherit the Earth in a year’s time.
Fearful of destruction, panic from the real world Cold War infused itself into the plot. The family retreats into this mansion like a bunker, preparing for world’s catastrophic events. They begin to burn their possessions to make room for necessities like first aid kits and rations, and slowly descend into madness.
Winter might seem like the end of the world, but you can at least take comfort in Jackson’s delightful dialogue and dramatic plot lines.
I always appreciate a fantastic debut novel, especially when it is so masterfully creepy.
Telling the story about a woman obsessed with her famous neighbour, Laura Sims describes a delicate boundary between admiration and obsession with a master touch. Living just houses away, there is no privacy to be found in this story. The narrator obsessed over not just the woman but her garbage and looks, adopting similar lipstick and clothing to become the woman.
The theme of stalking in literature has become immensely popular due to the Lifetime-turned-Netflix series You, and we have become much more aware of the privacy concerns. We’ve possibly all tried to cyber stalk an ex-partner online, or have been stalked by others, and we have grown startling used to cat-fishing. Looker is a new spin on the issue because it removes romantic obsession from the story, and infuses the desire for friendship and basic relationships.
Friendship is often an undervalued theme in literature, and Looker revealed the danger that can exist between two different people, without the inclusion of a sexual element.
An excellent contribution to the thriller genre, Sims manages to include jealousy and real world infertility struggles into her work. We should all be keenly anticipating her next novel.
Famous for her poetry, Maggie Nelson draws inspiration from real events that impacted her own family when her Aunt Jane Mixer went missing and was found murdered in the 60s.
Her work The Red Parts had been written after her collection of poetry based on Jane, titled effectively as Jane. The poetry shed insight of true crime and the issues of inherited grief, and contained enough research that it became heavily valuable to detectives who picked up the case. She was communicating frequently with the lead detective, sharing her personal research and providing careful insight to certain elements of the case.
Due to limited resources at the time, Mixer had been a cold case before DNA had grown highly useful. With new technology and options available, her case was reopened and connected to two different DNA sources, allowing justice to be legally given.
The Red Parts is a personal examination on the experiences on living exposed. Mixer had originally been suspected to have been a victim of the Michigan Murders, but elements of her case had separated her from other bodies. Because of the mystery behind her disappearance and reappearance in a graveyard, her family suffered trauma and confusion. Death becomes more terrifying when a sister and daughter are found strangled on top of a grave, with her possessions pooled around her.
Nelson cleverly gave testimony as a stranger to her dead Aunt, but it shows how deeply Mixer’s murder impacted her own life, and her relationships with her family. An excellent nonfiction look into the corners of the true crime world, Nelson weaves poetic language into her prose.
Recently widowed Elise is sent to her husband’s country estate, and is tossed into a Gothic landscape filled with unsettling wooden figures that slowly multiply over the course of the book. Carrying on in the same vein of other excellent books like The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca, this book is highly recommended to readers who love the feeling of anxiety twisting in their stomachs.
She’s recently released a new novel in the past year, and I highly recommend browsing through her work. She establishes historical scenery and fixates on proper representation of women as both victims and villains.
Modern (and successful) takes on the Gothic genre are incredibly rare, but Laura Purcell managed to successfully transform the element by including brand new material like wooden mannequin dolls. With a dead cow left on the doorstep of the country estate and unreliable narrators, this is a brilliant read that you will fly through. You’ll be pondering over the true villain for days afterwards.
Is anything more haunting than a postwar mansion slowly crumbling away?
Sarah Waters spins a haunting tale about the Hundreds Hall, a once impressive and massive estate that is now falling to pieces. The garden is overwhelmed with weeds and the house is becoming a challenge to maintain with limited income by the Lady of the house and her two grown children. Doctor Faraday becomes quite close to the family of Hundred Hall, and begins to pry apart the ghostly secrets within the walls.
This book is definitely the opposite of a classic ghost story. Waters uses this novel to reveal the historical downfall of the entire class system post war, with the infusion of a possible ghost running around. With delightful atmosphere and lengthy dialogue sections, this book is fairly lengthy, but a perfect read to get you through the month of March.
If you are a fan of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, you will adore the tense and unreliable narration, and the vivid characters springing to life across the pages. Waters has written many great novels that focus on different areas of history, but this is one of her most vividly researched pieces.
Don’t be a victim during the final stretch of winter’s cold, icy grip. Set yourself up with either some fictional tales of ghosts or brilliantly written accounts of true crime, and find yourself a comfortable place to hermit.
Any books catch your attention lately? Let me know @rahel_taller.
This post was originally published on SPINE Online, October 10th, 2018.
Rattling doors and crying porcelain dolls are the stuff that ghost stories are made of. Ottawa as a city is a fantastic area filled with activity and heritage. However, one of Ottawa’s most unique attributes is its long history of ghosts. With so many heritage buildings located in the city, it isn’t strange to consider their morbid history. The Bytown museum, located next to the similarly haunted Chateau Laurier, is rumored to be haunted by Duncan McNab, a previous supply manager.
Despite being dead for over 150 years, his spirit remains active within the museum. The Bytown museum is known for cold spots and the peculiar sound of footsteps that persistently follow workers and visitors.
Originally designed to act as a storehouse for supplies, it eventually underwent a drastic transformation in the 1950s, turning into a museum that would host the history of the Ottawa area and the Rideau Canal. However, despite any alterations that the building underwent, ghosts seemed to cling to the building. The Bytown Museum has gained notoriety for its haunting, bringing in a host of paranormal experts and even the local haunted walks of Ottawa, all seeking to unveil the secrets of the building.
The Bytown Museum is famous for more than just cold spots and the sound of footsteps, though. Porcelain dolls have often appeared to be crying, items move freely of their own accord, and strange experiences with orbs of light that flash in rooms. Rumors say that the museum isn’t haunted by a single ghost, but at least two, due to an encounter with Lieutenant-Colonel John By having controlled a computer within the building, bring up his name again and again on a document. By was an engineer who supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal and the founding of Ottawa (originally known as Bytown).
However, an argument can be made that the ghosts are neither McNab or By, but rather the hundreds of Irish workers who died during construction of the canal. With little ceremony and burial rituals, bodies had often been disposed of freely. Not until 2004 was a plaque commemorated to mark their passing. Irish workers had taken jobs digging the canal due to the limitations they faced during their time, and they suffered from illness, exhaustion, and hunger while working on the canal. Death rates were high and it wouldn’t be unlikely for a spirit or two to be restless still. The Bytown museum is perched beside the canal and could play host to the Irish. As Tony O’Loughlin said, canal workers were “despised in life and forgotten in death”.
Who knows what or who is behind the disturbances in the Bytown Museum. It could be a disgruntled previous worker as a manager, or it could be dozens of restless souls, rattling at the doors and stomping across the rooms.
Check out the museum here: https://bytownmuseum.com/
Both Olivia Gatwood and New American Best Friend were a gift given to humanity. Her first book of poetry was published in 2017 and was an expertly crafted collection of work. In particular, Gatwood focuses on the elements of being a woman and living in modern America. In particular, her series of odes are particularly breathtaking in their raw honesty and presentation.
We did not deserve Gatwood when she slammed her way into popularity with her viral videos like “Ode to My Bitch Face” and “Ode to the Women on Long Island”, and we certainly did not deserve her new collection, Life of the Party. This collection expands on what her earlier work started, and further projects her voice into covering topics like violence and victimhood. Gatwood excels in writing about womanhood and sexuality, and has a huge audience desperately waiting for her next collection to be released.
As an educator in sexual assault prevention, her work has been showcased in publications like Poetry City U.S.A and Winter Tangerine. Gatwood’s recordings have garnered thousands upon thousands of views, and her voice easily carries not just words artfully strung together, but manages to convey entire stories that expand far past the pages of her writing.
Life of the Party is deeply inspired by true crime, and Gatwood presents her own perspective on very real situations. America has recently been cracked open and had its dark underbelly forcefully exposed by a multitude of women in the past few years, and her voice further aids to the progress being made. Our obsession and romanization of murdered women is often fixated on by the cold reality that we currently live in. There is danger in being a woman, and especially a woman of color.
The appearances of murdered women on movies and television shows is a constant theme. They act as an object to dwell on, and they also serve to support male leads and their lives moving forward. Dead bodies and the act of murdering has become a romanticized dark area in pop culture, which influences how we perceive violent acts. Staggering numbers of teenagers today admire serial killers and their activities, transforming them into heroic figures while ignoring the bodies behind their statistics.
Books based on true crime have become popular. They analyze crime scenes and present information to the general public, making information accessible. However, often books distance themselves from the identities of the murdered women and victims, and these books slowly lose sensitivity. Like a moth to a flame, we gravitate and devour these books.
When I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara was published posthumously in 2018, we were obsessed. There is something so heartbreakingly compelling about reading the stories of victims and their families living in the aftermath. McNamara had compiled her research and built the foundation of the book with her outlines, previously written articles and a few fully fleshed out chapters. Efforts by ghostwriters ensured that the book was published and McNamara’s voice continued, telling the history of the Golden State Killer.
The book rose into popularity throughout bookstores across North America and was the 2018 winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards. McNamara managed to restore the voices of the victims inside their own narratives. This artful act of compassion and respectful journalism managed to fixate an entire audience of readers who firmly then turned their attentions to the legal actions against Joseph James DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer, that unravelled throughout that year. Because of McNamara’s efforts, we were able to remember the victims behind DeAngelo’s actions properly. Nothing was glamorized, and McNamara directed out attention to the staggering reality of cold case files as well as both the effective and ineffective abilities that DNA has on solving the ‘unsolvable’.
The connection between Gatwood’s electric poetry and McNamara’s carefully researched writing is obvious. These women are fixated on restoring narratives and weaving a complex story. Without women like these two, we would not experience such carefully pieced together work, and we as a whole would all suffer. When women die, they either become invisible and voiceless, or they are dragged out on display. We need women willing to restore voices and narratives, but also to provide compassionate storytelling.
There’s a reason women carry their keys in their hands and don’t go jogging at night. We also avoid discussing the complex differences between murdered white women and murdered women of color. We dislike engaging in discussions on the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, but we are certainly fascinated with Robert Pickton and his activities. Pop culture builds an image of strangers murdering women, but statistically, women are more likely to be abused by men that they had an already existing relationship with. We need to look beyond media representation and look at the bigger picture, and who is truly impacted.
The conversation around murdered women is heavily limited and censored. Thankfully, we have writers and educators willing to lend their own voice and provide a platform for new thinking.
We are certainly marking down the days to the release of Life of the Party, and you should be too.
Random House will be releasing Gatwood’s Life of the Party August 27th, 2019. You can get your hands on the paperback for $17.00. Until the summer, though, you can catch more of her thoughts @oliviagatwood as well on the podcast that she co-hosts, called Say More.
One of the first media depictions of a woman victimized into insanity was the 1940s film Gaslight. In it, a husband manipulates his wife into thinking that she was slipping into mental instability. Perhaps this is what has sparked our interest in the role of a woman in the thriller genre.
In modern society, women are taught to lock their car doors and to avoid roaming the streets at night. They learn to make weapons of their keys, held tight between fingers and into claws like something from a Wolverine comic. The media reminds women to be skeptical of their drinks at bars and to be careful of hemlines. They are taught to value running shoes over stilettos in running from their attackers, and are trained to have 911 ready on their phones.
The thriller genre, known for exciting plots and chilling suspense, allows women to be confronted with the perpetual danger of their existence. Girls do wind up dead in the ravines and the woods. Their bodies spark national inquiries, directing attention to their lifestyles and relationships. They appear murdered on isolated beaches and inside their homes. The cold reality of women is that once they die, they lose their status as a person, and instead shift into a puzzle.
What makes the thriller genre so wildly compelling for women is that it confronts them with a cold reality. They are either victims, terrorized and stalked, or they become the villain. Take Amy from Gone Girl. Leaving a string of calculated false clues, she manages to gaslight not just her spouse, but an entire audience suddenly invested in her life. An original twist to the concept of toxic relationships, she compels the world of journalism and law enforcement into believing that she is a victim, and her husband is holding a smoking gun. She is powerful in her ability to bamboozle detectives, stringing her relationships along until she has created the perfect trap.
In comparison, The Woman in the Window and The Girl on the Train present narrators caught up in proving a murder did occur, risking their own lives to get answers. In reality, women are constantly dismissed for a myriad of reasons. They are emotionally volatile, distressed with mental instability, or a lone voice opposing the many. Both narrators suffer from extreme gaslighting that makes them slowly unravel, convinced that they have begun to descend into crazed paranoia and insanity.
Women like plunging into the depths of thrillers, exploring the dangers behind their lives. Average internet privacy concerns are examined critically in You, allowing the reader to watch the victim slowly become cornered. In Rebecca, the idea of the victim is constantly altered, switching between the dead wife and the protagonist. Which woman can endure in the story? Which woman can survive, living in toxic relationships and surrounded by menacing figures?
Thrillers are the modern take to fairy tales. Children are taught the value of avoiding strangers in Snow White. They learn that danger exists in the dark corners, and the thriller genre helps to give women their own voices. These are authentic experiences wrapped up in a fictional package. Thrillers tell stories about women; they are mothers and daughters, artists and lovers, as well as complex characters in their own right.
Women want to survive. They want to defy the statistics. Perhaps that is what draws their attention to the dark corners of the bookstore, honing in on the dark covers and gloomy movie posters. Thrillers promise to examine toxic relationships and gaslighting, letting readers identify the signs in their own relationships. The books come to terms with living with anxiety and PTSD, which allow for readers to connect with their own personal experiences.
In reality, dead women act as props. Media can cross-examine their relationships and scream foul when they are exposed with skeletons in their closets. Under close scrutiny, any woman can carry an abundance of flaws that can outlive their lives. The thriller genre, as a whole, restores a woman’s identity and allows them to exist as complex creatures, be it villain or victim.
Interested in some great reads? Check out Alice Bolin’s series of essays in her book Dead Girls or plunge into Woman in the Window before it hits the big screen in 2019.
Only men would become actual cannibals in order to avoid encountering hypothetical cannibals.
The Essex was not the only whaling ship in history to be demolished by a whale. It was, however, the inspiration for Moby Dick, a classic ocean tale of the perils of whales. The Essex was also the true story of three crew members vanishing to Australia, a Captain with a pocket of bones, and a berzerk sperm whale.
Arguably, the entire crew suffered from limited brain capacity. In 1820, after facing serious damage to the ship during their time at sea, they managed to settle upon Charles Island to repair The Essex and hunt plenty of tortoises to stock their food supplies. While they were on the island, they also managed to set the island on fire, due to the dry season. With the entire place burning away in a mass of black smoke, they took off eagerly for their good fortunes to be found hunting whales.
They cemented their reputation of becoming the alleged reason for the extinction of the Floreana Tortoise and the Floreana Mockingbird due to their inability to control a singular fire.
Perhaps it was foreshadowing that their travels would suffer from extremities. The island was still burning away in their shadows, a dark omen for their collective futures.
They managed to maintain their course, relying on navigation equipment and seasoned crew members to guide the ship to whale hunting grounds. The Essex, like other whaling ships at the time, was a large ship with smaller whaleboats that could be attached. These boats would allow crew members to hunt the whales from a smaller vessel, harpooning the creatures with far more ease.
The worst luck to have been experienced by this boat was an unprovoked sperm whale becoming visible to crew members. Despite no direct confrontation from the crew, it attacked the boat, ramming into it hard. As the boat began to take on water while crew members floundered, struggling to stall the damages, the whale returned, charging the ship at a faster pace.
Devastated, the boat began taking on water far quicker as supplies were being directed to the whaleboats. Navigation equipment was split between two boats, leaving the third one void of any guiding materials. Limited food and water rations were supplied, making dehydration a nasty force to combat as many crew members would find themselves reliant on drinking salt water or their own urine.
With The Essex rendered hopeless, they began sorting out their options. Stranded on the ocean with limited supplies, they felt it unwise to set off for the nearest land, which happened to be the Marquesas Islands and the Society Islands, due to the rumors of wild cannibals populating those areas. Instead, the better decision appeared to be setting off for South America, which would require travelling a far greater distance.
However, they soon learned that the whaling boats were not meant for vigorous use. They began struggling from the water intake and would often be obliged to bail water out. This distance was massive, and upon sighting a barren island, three men found it better to abandon the boats and settle upon the island.
No longer the hunters, the dwindling crew had become victims of their game. After one crew member died, the surviving members settled upon his body, becoming what they each had so greatly feared: cannibals.
As their numbers continued to decline, the men found themselves sucking marrow from the bones of deceased crew members. Eventually, the rate of death was not fast enough and they began a lottery to propose who would be the next meal, which was a rather popular custom for seamen. No longer were they able to wait for their rations, but now they found themselves obliged to hurry the process.
The three boats, during their long voyage, eventually drifted apart. One of the boats had sunk, leaving no survivors. The second boat, manned by a crew member named Chase, was able to flag down an English ship that they had come across. The other surviving boat that contained the Captain was found full of bones. The Captain himself was discovered delusional and stuffing bones in his pockets, terrified of the men that were rescuing him.
The three men who had fled the gloom of the whaleboats in favour of a seemingly barren island managed to survive on bird eggs for four months, before an Australian ship happened across them.
The moral of this story is that hunting large creatures with men capable of setting islands on fire is rarely a great idea.
If you’re interested in learning more about aggression in sperm whales and possible reasons for the behaviour of the whale that attacked The Essex, check out this link, or take a look at this article by Gilbert King to learn more about the ship.
When considering the horror genre, our attention often swivels to the large sections in bookstores occupied by the still growing collection of Stephen King. He’s the writer behind classics like Misery and Carrie, and has inspired so many films based off of the words he originally wrote.
Nevertheless, if we creep back to the years before King’s influence, we arrive at Shirley Jackson, the original inspiration for much of the current genre.
The Gothic genre flourished from her care. Responsible not just for six novels, she also wrote an extensive collection of short stories and two autobiographies, along with other nonfiction works. Her popularity was built off of her ability to startle, using clever symbolism and dark undertones to rattle readers. She revolutionized American literature during the 1950s and 60s.
All of her work was complex. Each story had layered meanings and could be analyzed further, to peel back each element in order to reveal the smooth inner workings that made her writing great. However, the novel that truly sparked her career as a novelist was The Haunting of Hill House.
This book was filled with the turmoil from the relationships she had with both her husband and her mother. Her husband, Stanley Hyman, was known for his frequent sexual relations with other women. In contrast, her mother was an obsessive woman, hellbent on dominating Jackson. Despite her infusion of her painful relationships, this was the first novel that she wrote that achieved immediate financial success upon publication.
Telling the story of a haunted home referred to as ‘Hill House’, Jackson created a slow build of characters finding themselves caught up in the influences of the house. Eleanor Vance, the protagonist, spiralled into a descent of madness throughout the book before killing herself. The house dominates all who enter, and takes who it will. Hill House was a chaotic architectural landscape and bleak history wrapped up into a haunting tale.
Published in 1959, Jackson’s book focused on the theme of terror and revolved around a cast of characters who had taken to staying at Hill House to look for scientific evidence about the existence of the supernatural, due to the long sordid history of the house. She intentionally ensured that the house lacked any physical appearances of ghosts, and instead fixated on the psychological realm of fear, except for a single brief scene where Eleanor is confronted with a pastoral vision of her own desires. Instead of ghostly figures lurking, Jackson was intrigued by how a branch would strike a window during the dead of night and the fear that it would spark. Her book delved into finding the irrational as well as the rational in that emotion, and how it managed to manipulate the different characters.
1963 brought the grim novel to film. Retitled as The Haunting, it was a cinematic masterpiece. Cleverly filtered to remain dark and haunting, the house visually dominated the screen. Jackson’s original story was translated to screen with mostly minor changes, and the house took a defined shape under the influence of MGM and Robert Wise. Wise followed Jackson’s lead and never once revealed any physical images of a ghost. Instead the house was filled with harsh physical angles and dreadful artwork, and set to the uneasy tune of a house settling loudly. The atmosphere produced enough gloom to make anxiety twist in the stomachs of the viewers.
Cinematically, this gave the house a massive presence that relied more on clever film strategies and less on superficial props. In comparison to the newer remake of the book as a 2018 Netflix series and the use of physical figures in the backgrounds, The Haunting had massive success playing with the anxiety of the viewer through subtle lighting and dramatic angles.
Jackson had been spurred to write a ghostly tale and had turned her focus to finding imagery of houses and mansions to spark her interest. The Haunting of Hill House was not the first novel of hers to fixate on dominating houses. The Sundial and We Have Always Lived in the Castle were two other grim tales that fixated on grand mansions and were each paired with equally lengthy family histories.
Perhaps she had been inspired by her own family history for these books as well. Her great-great-grandfather was a notable architect in the California area and helped to establish many outstanding mansions. Houses were in Jackson’s own blood.
Another source of inspiration for the dark Hill House was from the very real Winchester House, where the widow of a gun magnate had a labyrinth of a mansion built to protect her from all the vengeful spirits that she believed to be haunting her. The chaotic layout was said to confuse any spirits, ensuring that she was safe. Jackson took advantage of the real life architectural nightmare and incorporated the clever details into her own work, layering in the odd turrets and maze like hallways. Hill House was a feat of clever architecture, and had to take the shape of an endless labyrinth.
Wise chose the formerly known Ettington Hall for an exterior film location for The Haunting. Filled with a dark history of tragedies and plenty of potential for ghosts, the building terrified the actresses thoroughly. With the leering stance it took from the deliberate low angles filmed, it is easy to appreciate the hulking stance of the shadow drenched mansion. Wise had found the perfect location to represent Hill House. Perhaps a ghost of a girl would pass by one of the windows, overlooking the film set up.
While Jackson’s love for houses stood out in this novel, her haunted relationships certainly lingered both on page and on screen. The protagonist, Eleanor, frequently wishes for stability and a home. The domestic world is out of reach, and she is consumed by her desire for a place of her own. The Haunting represents this passionate wish by using her inner monologue to reveal Eleanor’s satisfaction in settling in as a member of the group, and her eventual swerve into maddening obsessiveness in remaining at Hill House.
Perhaps the most startling scene is when Eleanor, terrified, reaches out for someone’s hand. Noises and uneasy shadows cause devastating fear that takes control of her senses. Transfixed by the shadows across her wall, she feels intense pain from someone holding her hand. Originally under the assumption that her roommate Theodora, another guest at Hill House, was at her side, but all fans of both the book and film will recall the grim realization when Eleanor realizes that no one is holding her hand.
Jackson’s overwhelming loneliness and emotional isolation in her marriage may have translated into her work. How often did she look across the dinner table and face a husband who had become a stranger to her? How often did the fear of his sexual activities with other women follow her? Perhaps the hand that would reach for her own had become unfamiliar but yet so very wanted.
Eleanor’s complex relationship with her mother mirrored her own. Jackson’s own mother sent toxic letters to her daughter and despaired upon Jackson’s writing and appearance. The protagonist of the story spent years acting as caretaker to her invalid mother, shackled to her. It is not until the mother’s death that she is able to slowly take flight and wait for her own opportunity to find a life for herself. Maybe this was Jackson’s most secret wish. If her mother died, she would finally be freed from the burden of their correspondence and the endless criticism. She could fully find her own identity and not be smothered with negative remarks about her appearance.
The Haunting managed to translate much of this turmoil onto the screen. Wise managed to adapt the novel with a few alterations, and portray a growing unease throughout the course of the film. Feeding off of fear, the novel builds and creates a sharp terror that viewers will feel and certainly dread.
The movie was the perfect adaptation. Despite a follow up remake in 1999 and a completely rewritten version of the novel made for a Netflix series, The Haunting caught the strangeness perfectly. The expressions of fear across actors faces were exaggerated by the use of camera lenses and Eleanor’s inner thoughts seemed to echo over the film, creating an almost dreamlike quality to them. The Haunting allows for the viewer to slip into the slow build of madness which is why it still manages to hold up, even to this day.
The Haunting allowed viewers to feel small beneath the hulking size of Hill House. By making minimal changes to the original material, Wise produced a masterpiece that would hold up in comparison to the later remake. The Netflix series acts as a distant cousin to the original intention of Jackson, and is comparable in name only. Jackson provided a bleak setting filled with historic tragedy and gave Wise a selection of characters that sprung to life on the screen.
Often, we look towards Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft for their extraordinary take on American horror literature. They dominate sections of shelves with their impressive bodies of work and stand out against movie posters. Hopefully, nonetheless, we can begin to turn our attention to Shirley Jackson, the woman often shuffled between fiction and horror sections of bookstores, and who revolutionized the genre with her unnerving terror.
Interested in more Shirley Jackson and the film?
Bernice M. Murphy complied an excellent selection of essays, titled “Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy”. Or, check out Ruth Franklin’s A Rather Haunted Life.
Tania Hussain’s piece explains the inspiration behind Jackson’s Hill House and is a great look into the transition from original material to Netflix series along with Paula Guran’s two articles: “Delight in What I Fear” and “Shirley Jackson & The Haunting of Hill House”.
If you’re more curious about The Haunting and the work put into making it a cinematic masterpiece, check out Andrea Passafiume’s article here to learn more about the film techniques.