Friday, 19 December 2014

What to watch: "Penny Dreadful"

The cast of "Penny Dreadful"
What began in the mid 1800’s as stories which were intended for young men at a price of a penny, evolved into a spectacular cinematic display of gothic horror, which is where, “Penny Dreadful got it’s start. Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” is a mind-sweeping and alluring tale of some pretty fascinating characters. Their stories delve into our imaginations, hearts, and souls as their lives unfold throughout the serious various episodes. 

The show takes the viewer back to Victorian London. The backdrop of the show evolves around the murders of Jack the Ripper, and other various tid bits of historical drama of the times. The center of the story evolves around Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Sir Malcolm Murray (Sir Timothy Dalton). The underlining story is one of heart break, yet a reality for many during this time. Forbidden love affairs and the impact of mental illness and its influence on spirituality and the supernatural unknown. This first season revolves around Vanessa’s demons and how she overcomes them to help Sir Malcolm with his mission to find out what happened to his daughter Mina.  Interestingly Mina is also the name of one of the main love of the vampire Dracula in folklore.

Additionally, the show, historically does a very good job of depicting how mental illnesses was treated during this time, and also how it was so misunderstood, both the supernatural and medical aspect nature of treatment is shown. The show also explores how sexual trauma can impact ones view on reality and ones around them. For Vanessa, it is all too real for her and perhaps the source of her illness.

But what is the story, the genre that “Penny Dreadful” falls into? Gothic horror.  The history of Gothic horror or romance grew its roots deep before Victorian society emerged to the forefront. It began with the works of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which combines genres of romanticism, fiction, and horror. It became the foundation of the literary genre that reached its height of popularity in the mid 18th and 19th centuries. Other authors such as Ann Radcliffe, the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelly, Edgar Alan Poe, and even Charles Dickens, were all gothic horror romance novelists who later help shape the genre to what we know of it today.

In examining Walpole’s 1764 novel in which the genre is attributed, it introduces into literary society something new. It held a host of new elements that were pleasing in sorts of terror, and held an extension of literary romance, which was relatively new to this period in which his novel was introduced. His novel also introduced parody and melodrama, also including self-parody. All are fundamental elements of all Gothic genres.

Most importantly, the term “Gothic” was applied to this new form of literature simply because these were the architectural style of the buildings in which the literature had its stories take place. They were the backdrops for these dramas to unfold.

After Walpole’s introduction of the genre in England, others followed. In France the genre was called “roman noir” and in Germany it was called “schauerroman.” Walpole’s overall intent was to combine elements of medieval literature, which in his mind it was too fanciful, and then with the modern novel. To him the modern novel was too strict and confining. The combination of the two is what he intended the story of The Castle of Otranto to be.

Walpole also introduced the basic structure for these novels. The basic plot introduced included a threatening mystery, an ancestral curse, many trappings or hidden passages (This is quite apparent in the later story of “Jane Eyre” by Emily Bronte.) and off fainting heroines. There also became a demand for romances with superstitious elements, that at times were void of “didactical intention.” Some argued that this had no place nor was it acceptable as a modern piece of literature.

Walpole’s novel is essential because even though named a forgery at one point, it was a story with history and fiction, that at times contradicted the main principles of the enlightenment. It also brought to light the relationship with “fake” documentation and folklore. Which were very recurrent themes in Gothic literature.
Eva Green as Vanessa Ives

Many influential authors helped shaped the genre. One was Ann Radcliffe. Her works introduced the basis of having a brooding gothic villain, whom later became the “Byronic hero.” Her stories also introduced a theme called “supernatural intrusion,” which eventually throughout the story, gets traced back to a natural cause, called “explained supernatural.” All her works became best-sellers despite the highly educated of society calling the works “sensational entertainment.”  She also provided an atheistic value for the genre with “On The Emphasis of Supernatural” which is poetic work. It examines the relationship and correlation between horror and terror in Gothic fiction.  Later, the genre was strengthened by many of the major romantic poets such as Poe, who made many contributions to the Gothic genre in terms of darkness and the unexplained.

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