Weird Women of Fiction
by Madeleine Swann
Weird women writers are gremlins. They should never be watered or fed after midnight. And there are more lurking at the back of the pet shop than just Mary Shelley, Atwood and Poppy Z Brite.
These days plenty of Poppy Z Brite types stalk the corridors of weird fiction, but historically speaking women rarely seemed to discover fame as often as their male counterparts.
We all know of Mary Shelley and Margaret Atwood, but what of Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Alice Sheldon? And who are the new crazy kids slithering under the radar? It's about time we invited them for tea and biscuits.
Victorian writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper' is must-read eerie, startling feminist fiction. Edgy stuff. Haunts you for decades.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a successful writer during the late Victorian period. The birth of her first child, however, saw her nerves begin to suffer. She was prescribed 'the rest cure', a treatment she explores with terrifying detail in short story 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'
Dosed up on 'phosphates' - strong codeine - and forbidden to do anything other than lie in bed, her marbles began to jangle. When her husband finally allowed her to write again she produced her most famous story, angrily sending a copy to her doctor. It worked; he refrained from ever suggesting rest cure again.
The sixties brought free love, psychedelia and sea monkeys, but for some the change was all too slow. James Tiptree Jr. wrote dark and complex science fiction stories and was often complimented for his portrayal of women. There was a good reason for this – his real name was Alice B Sheldon.
Science fiction writer Alice B Sheldon chose the nom de plume of James Tiptree Jr.
At the time women in genre fiction weren't taken seriously, and Sheldon was quoted as saying in the late seventies, “I've had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”
She isn't the first to have hidden her gender in this way. Gabrielle Campbell, better known under the pseudonym Marjorie Bowen, released many supernatural tales as Joseph Shearing and was even described by the New Yorker as “a master of horror.” Many of her stories have since been made into films, and most people are now aware of her feminine identity.
These days things are thankfully different, and one needs only to look to the world of manga for a fix of odd. Never a culture to shy away from the strange, Japan has produced a number of lady comic writers including Clamp, an all-female collective whose comics are often adapted into anime. Yana Taboso's series Black Butler, featuring a demon employed by a young boy, has also been produced into a fully-fledged anime film.
Art: Carlton Mellick (used as cover for Bizarro Fiction Magazine)
Equally 'out there' is the reasonably new genre of Bizarro. Described as the 'literary equivalent of a midnight movie' there are a number of women disturbed enough to contribute - and yes, even run things.
Rose O'Keefe is the head of publisher Eraserhead Press and Constance Fitzgerald co-edits at the Bizarro Central website, to name a couple. Just remember, with titles like 'How to Eat Fried Furries' and 'Placenta of Love' it's possibly not the kind of story-telling you're used to.
Thus concludes our journey around some of the strong women of strange and unusual fiction. Try not to feed them as you go past, don't throw things, and remember that Necromancy is illegal. Probably.
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