Somewhere along the way, I became Sourcerer’s resident horror blogger. I blame it on a fascination with the macabre, an odd enjoyment of things that go bump in the night—as long as they’re safely put away by the end of the show, film, or book.
And I spent a lot of time studying monsters, studying Victorian and Edwardian and Gothic literature. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw many, many changes, especially in science and medicine, and literature of the period reflects the way that science and superstition battled one another during this age of modernity and discovery.
During this era, postage stamps were introduced, making mail carriage more standardized; daguerrotypes were introduced, and by the turn of the century, so was the handheld camera; anesthetics were developed, and new understanding of disease spread led to new surgical techniques, disease treatment, and sanitation.
Enter penny dreadfuls, 19th century publications, often serialized over periods of weeks or months. An increasingly literate population and new means of production allowed for inexpensive book publication on the mass market level. Woodcut illustrations often accompanied the 8-16 page serials, lurid and dark. Titles ranged–but this is where we first find Sweeney Todd, and it is where we find the germs of Frankenstein, Dracula, and many other monsters that have become ubiquitous since their inception.
Last year, Showtime ran the first season of John Logan’s Penny Dreadful series, a show that imagines what Victorian London would’ve been like with characters from various penny dreadfuls wandering about.
Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his monster (Rory Kinnear), and Mina Murray Harker (Olivia Llewellyn) are all connected by their relationships with Malcom Murray (Timothy Dalton) and the mysterious vampire-hunter-and-powerful-medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green). Oh, and there’s Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), a werewolf sharpshooter, and his consumptive prostitute girlfriend, Brona Croft (Billie Piper).
Season one centered around the relationships between the characters—establishing how each fits into the overall story by creating a back-story in which Vanessa is Mina’s former best friend who is working with Sir Malcom to rescue his daughter from the vampire who has stolen her away. Both Ethan Chandler and Victor Frankenstein are hired as part of Malcom’s team. Dorian’s place is a little less certain–we see him with Vanessa a few times, but we don’t yet have a full connection between him and the other characters.
Some of the most stunning scenes in the first season involve The Grand Guignol. The theater was an actual theater known for producing penny dreadful style horror
shows, though it was actually in Paris. The theater set works fantastically for meta-commentary on the show: we watch the audience’s faces, and yet—we are the audience.
In season 2, we are set to see more of Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), who will be the season’s main antagonist. The trailer for season 2 also promises that we’ll see characters who didn’t come into contact with one another last season interacting–and we’ll get to see what Brona Croft is like as the Bride of Frankenstein.
Season 2 of Penny Dreadful begins on May 3. You can catch me blogging the season here on Sourcerer again—and watch for a review of the new Penny Dreadful Clue when it’s released in July!
This post is by @parttimemonster of Part Time Monster and Sourcerer contributor. For more A to Z geekery, check out Part Time Monster!