Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Gothic Influences of C. L. Moore

When reading Shambleau and Other Stories as part of the Puppy of the Month Club, The Frisky Pagan, Jon, and I came across pernicious accusations that C. L. Moore's "Shambleau" was essentially a space-western--with all the anti-imperialism that this implies. Since reskinning westerns as space stories was more properly an artifact of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, this appeared to be yet another instance of science fiction critics aggressively forcing old stories into modern molds to find the earliest version of the modern form, a tendency that was already old in the Campbelline era.

To refute this, The Frisky Pagan and I turned to the words of C. L. Moore herself. From "Afterward: On 'Shambleau' and Others," found in The Best of C. L. Moore:
Midway down that yellow page I began fragments remembered from sophomore English at the university. All the choices were made at random. Keats, Browning, Byron— you name it. In the middle of this exercise a line from a poem (by William Morris?) worked itself to the front and I discovered myself typing something about a “red, running figure.” I looked at it a while, my mind a perfect blank, and then shifted mental gears without even adding punctuation to mark the spot, swinging with idiot confidence into the first lines of the story which ended up as “Shambleau.”  
For those who slept through English classes in college like me, Keats and Byron were second generation Romanticists, part of a movement of poets and authors that created, among other works, Gothic fantasies such as The Castle of Otranto and Frankenstein. Browning and Morris were Victorian poets (contemporary with the American romanticists Poe and Hawthorne) that adapted the lyrical and fantasy traditions of the second generation Romanticists into Victorian sensibilities. The distinction between the two periods is minor, as "One has difficulty determining with any accuracy where the Romantic Movement of the early nineteenth century leaves off and the Victorian Period begins because these traditions have so many aspects in common." C. L. Moore had immersed herself in the classics from these men, and was familiar with the melancholy, mystery, individualism, and darkness that embodied their works and would soon be hallmarks of her own pre-Campbelline stories. And, as an avid Weird Tales reader, she would have also read reprinted works from Poe and Hawthorne in its pages. In her Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry tales, Moore would become one of the last flowers of the Gothic tradition in science fiction, writing before Campbell's twin revolutions in science fiction and fantasy removed these Romantic elements from American weird fiction.

But while this passage establishes the link between C. L. Moore and Romantic writers, a firm link between her and Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" has yet to be established by evidence. For that, the next few days will in turn examine "Rappaccini's Daughter" and Moore's "Black Thirst."

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