by C.S. Kane:
Doing research for a book isn’t always easy. I found this to be specifically true whilst planning my debut novella Shattered. The story revolves around Stacey Sheldon, a young student who finds herself in the terrifying grip of nightmares and panic attacks in relation to the seemingly shadowy history of her attic apartment. So, with the dark plot-line conceived and the requirement for research around the issues of mental health, paranoia and anxiety rearing itself I decided to delve into the world of literature and explore how women, particularly those portrayed as “mad” are traditionally represented within the genre.
Initially, I was drawn to look at Victorian literature. In fact, within the narrative of Shattered, Stacey Sheldon’s thesis is centered on Henry James’ classic novella The Turn of the Screw.The Victorian era saw a heightened obsession with anything or anyone considered to be insane. Asylums brimmed with men and double-fold women. Many were suffering with mental disorders, conditions such as epilepsy and brain injury and there were also those people who were committed at the bequest of family members because they were speaking out of turn or causing scandal. The most notable case of this I came across during my research was that of MP Buwler-Lytton who had his novelist wife Rosina Buwler Lyton certified as insane after she spoke against him. After public outcry she was released and her work A Blighted Life (1880) describes her experiences of being labelled insane. This work proved to be the epitome of the famous term “the pen is mightier than the sword,” interestingly coined by none other than her husband, as she continued to attack his character.
Fictional characters such as Mrs Rochester in Jane Eyre, the formidable Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and the two female characters labelled as insane in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie, all undoubtedly left their mark on the psyche of contemporary readers. The Governess from The Turn of the Screw proves to be a subversive depiction of the traditional madwoman trope as it ultimately left to the reader to decide. It calls for the reader to examine how thy would react if they saw or thought they saw similar visions. By putting the reader in such a position the stereotype is complicated and undermined.
Writing about a character that is struggling with the stress and anxiety of seeing gruesome visions was difficult. I definitely didn’t want to create a stereotypical “madwoman in the attic”. Stacey Sheldon lives in a world where awareness of these issues is prevalent. As she questions herself the challenge emerges. A psychological thriller that blurs the lines between what we believe to be real and the reality of how what we see can effect us. It was interesting to create a character in the context of modern society that is simultaneously being labelled as unstable by others and also questioning herself thanks to the image of insanity created through historical and literary stereotypes.
However, it is thanks to the heroines deemed “unhinged”, the “madwomen” of gothic horror, those that would have their voices heard despite the grotesque brutality they experienced, those that fought their captors who attempted to lock them away in a bid to silence them and those that burned into the consciousness of readers so that their names echoed through the canons of literature, that I was able to attempt to approach the issue as a professional female writer who is determined to have her strange and twisted narrative heard. I don’t believe that these characters should be simply be labelled ‘mad’. I believe they are the thinkers, the rebellious and their screams demand to be listened to.
Shattered will soon be available on Amazon Kindle or via publisher DarkFuse.
This interview is part of DarkMedia’s official Women in Horror Recognition Month coverage!