Penny Dreadful “Seance” Review

Alright, I’ll admit it…I’m already addicted to Penny Dreadful. Yes, I love Victorian period pieces, and as I mentioned last week in my review of “Night Work,” I am very, very fond of monsters. One of the reasons I chose the title of my blog is because I am so very many things, all cobbled together like Frankenstein’s monster. It is no coincidence that the OED lists the etymology of the word “monster” as “monere,” which means “to warn.” Monsters are here to show us things; they are here because we need them, even when we must construct elaborate hoaxes. Our monsters reflect something: they warn us of our shortcomings and remind us of our fears while allowing us to escape from the confines of what we know.

In Penny Dreadful's case, they're terrifying

In Penny Dreadful’s case, they’re terrifying

And speaking of what we know…One of the reasons that the Victorian period is so fascinating is that it was full of developments, particularly scientific and technological. Daguerreotypes were introduced in 1839, and by 1889, we had handheld cameras. Postage stamps were introduced, and the postage industry was standardized in a way that it had not been. Steam power made international trade and travel more possible than ever before. Anesthetics began to be used in medicine. New understandings of how diseases spread led to developments in surgical techniques, disease treatment, and sanitation. These developments created a world in which belief, suspicion, and science co-existed.

And the uneasiness of this co-existence led to some of the great stories we have now. In fact, one of the markers of Gothic fiction is ambivalence concerning technological and scientific advances. Frankenstein is concerned with creating life. In a notable scene from Stoker’s Dracula, Lucy has to receive a blood transfusion, and she gets blood from three different men. Conversations between the characters about these transfusions suggest discomfort with the idea of mixing blood (it is suggested that she is thrice married as she is blood-bonded to three men). Again, our monsters reflect something.

And monsters on Penny Dreadful abound, but they’re not always where we think they’re going to be.  (Warning: Spoilers below the cut.)

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Penny Dreadful “Night Work” Review

I’ve been waiting, impatiently, for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful to air. The title itself was enough to pique my interest. I’m a literary nerd, and my specialty is children’s literature. Though I mostly work with contemporary American literature now, I studied Victorian and Edwardian fiction for years, and I have a real soft spot for Gothic literature. I’m also a big sucker for monsters, and print culture fascinates me.

Penny dreadfuls encompass a lot of these things–they were 19th century publications that were serialized over a period of weeks/months, generally gory and sensational (think Sweeney Todd, who first appeared in a penny dreadful), and they were inexpensive. The publications reflected the growing literacy of the populace and new technologies that made book production and dissemination cheaper and easier.

And penny dreadfuls inspired some of the most recognizable fictional characters; they were especially influential to the Gothic genre, inspiring characters such as Stoker’s Dracula and Shelley’s Frankenstein. So when I learned that Penny Dreadful would be a period drama–and that the setting would be Victorian London–*and* that I’d get Dorian Gray, Dracula, and Frankenstein, I was superbly happy. My nerd-heart did a happy dance.

I’m even happier after having watched the first episode. (Warning: spoilers after the break)

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