GOTHIC FOR HALLOWEEN
In honour of Halloween, I am posting an excerpt from Robert Blair's poem 'The Grave' with the accompanying illustration done by William Blake called 'The Gamble of Ghosts'. Blair's poem is one of the better known examples of the Graveyard Poets, widely regarded as 18th c precursors to the Gothic novel pioneered by Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, and later perfected by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins et al and brilliantly satirised by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.
Although this is Blair's most famous work, apparently it was rejected twice before it was finally published in London in 1743. Blair was Scottish and the grounds for rejection, as he related to a friend, were that he lived too far away from London to be able to 'write so as to be acceptable to the fashionable and polite'. He sarcastically observed in his letter that 'to what distance from the metropolis these sapient booksellers conceived poetical inspiration to extend, we are not informed'.
I'm a big fan of the gothic. And I was dead pleased when my first novel, Bone House, was described by reviewers as 'a fine gothic novel which burrows under the skin'. Gothic novels do just that: they burrow. They don’t rely on the startle reflex, but craftily build suspense and dread rather than trigger shock or terror. And we take pleasure in apprehension—it is a subtler experience, but chemically it takes us to a similar place, releasing a potent cocktail of adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine. So that's the DNA of fear, and it is precisely what makes, in the words of Robert Blair, your blood run chill...