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  • Cited by 17
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: May 2006

10 - British Gothic fiction, 1885-1930


The skin, and the flesh, and the muscles, and the bones, and the firm structure of the human body that I had thought to be unchangeable, and permanent as adamant, began to melt and dissolve.

Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan (1890; Machen, House of Souls, p. 236)

I will begin with four Gothic scenarios from the British fin de siècle. Marooned on an obscure island, the protagonist of H. G.Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) must contend with “creatures” who are “human in shape, and yet human beings with the strangest air about them of some familiar animal”(p.40). Prendick, unable to classify these anomalous entities, feels a “queer spasm of disgust,” a “shuddering recoil,” in their presence (pp. 25, 31). In The Great God Pan, the body of the dying Helen Vaughan loses its human specificity in a series of rapid transformations as it “descend[s] to the beasts whence it ascended,” dissolves into “a substance as jelly,” and then takes on “a horrible and unspeakable shape, neither man nor beast.” The doctor who attends Helen is convulsed with “horror and revolting nausea” at the sight of her terrible metamorphoses (Machen, House of Souls, pp. 236-37). The narrator of William Hope Hodgson’s The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1907) leans over the water and looks into the eyes of a “thing” with a “white, demoniac face, human save that the mouth and nose had greatly the appearance of a beak.”