The “Iconic” part of this series’ title may be misleading. Not all of the characters in this set are famous and/or popular. I doubt many currently living people have read “Amour Dure” by Vernon Lee (the pseudonym for female author Violet Piaget), but by gum, more people should! It’s a really good ghost story!
I wrote a lot of papers on female horror writers from the 1800’s when I was in college. It’s a really interesting topic to me. The horror genre is often viewed as, well, misogynistic, particularly with modern horror’s tendency to use women for pointless nude scenes before killing them off as “punishment” for being slutty, letting only the virginal “pure” girls live. It’s… yeah, it’s problematic. So it’d be really mind blowing to find out that a lot of Victorian horror writers were women, and even moreso to discover that many of them used horror stories to convey feminist messages!
A lot of Victorian horror writers were women, and many of them used horror stories to convey feminist
Violet Piaget is notable amongst these writers for writing female horror villains that basically spend their time gleefully stabbing the patriarchy and, more often than not, get away with it in the end. It’s really interesting to me that Violet, who was explicitly a feminist, used a male pseudonym. It allowed her to publish these stories where badass women kill patronizing men and survive without being suspected of saying, y’know, that women should have more rights. It’s all very stealthy – to an outsider, these stories look like another tale by some stodgy white dude about how women should never have power because they’d be evil. In the subtext, though, it’s clear that her “villains” are only such because they are only allowed to get power through nefarious means – their victims force them to the extreme measures they take.
Medea da Carpi is a perfect example of this, and not just because I wrote an awesome essay on her. Medea is born in the middle ages, and within her beats the heart of a conqueror and a world leader. Sadly, she also happens to be a woman, and as such the only future she’s allowed to have is as the wife of a world leader. Medea isn’t thwarted, however, and quickly takes control from her husband (with a couple of murders along the way, often commited by other men she has convinced to work for her goals) and becomes a powerful ruler… until the male lords under her rebel, as none of them thinks a woman deserves to lead. They kill her.
Flash forward a few hundred years to a historian named Spiridion. Our story technically begins with him, as he slowly uncovers Medea’s history while staying in Italy. Spiridion realizes that Medea, while savage in nature, kind of had a point – she was a better ruler than the men around her, even if they refused to see it, and none of the men in her time appreciated her. Spiridion eventually starts falling in love with Medea, despite the fact that, y’know, she’s dead, and we’re left to wonder whether she is truly evil or not. Spiridion later discovers that Medea’s murderer had his soul preserved in an idol until Judgment Day, as he feared that Medea would drag him to Hell otherwise, and this is where the story becomes interesting.
Because Medea comes back.
Medea de Carpi approaches Spiridion, asking him if he truly loves her. Spiridion says he does, even though he knows that all the men who have “loved” Medea have come to grisly ends. Spiridion wants to be the strong man in Medea’s life – stronger than her original husband, her lovers, or the man who killed her. In many ways he wishes to tame or dominate Medea, and when she – or her ghost, at any rate – asks him to find the idol containing her enemy’s soul and smash it, Spiridion is all too happy to do so.
Spiridion completes his task, allowing Medea to drag her murderer to Hell, and later meets Medea at midnight. The next day he is discovered with a knife in his heart and a rose at his desk.
Medea is a badass ghost – a vengeful spirit who, like the Frankenstein Monster before her, chose to become a malevolent force of death when the world rejected her for what she was. She’s a cunning and vicious misandrist who will stab the patriarchy in its heart and smile while it bleeds.