Copyright 2009 by John Brooks. This material is copyrighted, and any further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without the permission of the copyright owner.
Monstrosity; Monstrous; Monsters; Horror in literature; Dracula, Count (Fictitious character); Frankenstein (Fictitious character); Jackson, Shirley, 1916-1965. Haunting of Hill House; Stevenson, Robert Louis, 1850-1894. Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Stoker, Bram, 1847-1912; Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851;
Horror literature hinges on one unique characteristic rarely found outside of the genre: monstrosity. Although monstrosity is often criticized for being designed to elicit specific responses (terror, horror, and revulsion) from readers for the sake of catharsis, uncritically and without a loftier in mind, it remains largely unexamined in terms of its literary value. Monstrosity is an abstract convention which has been approached in several ways. However, its purpose and function in horror literature have been neglected because the genre tends to be critically dismissed as a pop phenomenon. A number of theories on monstrosity may be applied to this study, but until an argument which addresses monstrosity as an integral property of horror literature is presented, the genre cannot be evaluated properly. By refining applicable, existing theories on monstrosity in conjunction with horror fiction, an innovative method of evaluating the genre can be established. This method could be limited by the vagaries of interpretation, since horror draws on anxieties personal to readers, but a crude system for studying monstrosity in terms of function and purpose can be established to provide a new point of view from which horror fiction can be analyzed. Such a system might profitably divide all monstrosities in horror literature into two categories: monsters, extrinsic manifestations of monstrosity, physical beings judged on the basis of aesthetics, and the monstrous, intrinsic manifestations of monstrosity, psychological phenomena judged on the manner of manifestation. This separation between monsters and the monstrous is valuable because it allows us to approach horror literature in an improved way by reading it accurately through the monstrosity it hinges on. Since monstrosity is a representation of the fears of humanity, understanding it is crucial. McNair Scholar project. Faculty Advisor: William Wandless,