"Medusa's Daughters" - Book Review of an April 2020 Release

in #bookreview4 months ago

Funny enough, I actually found out about this book via Instagram, one of the meccas for keeping up-to-date with current literature should you curate your feed well enough. The title was what first drew me; I'm immediately entranced by any mere mention of a theme from mythology being used to suit the writer's own needs. If you've read my poetry, you might be nodding along in agreement right now. I am nothing if not obsessed with my interests. If not already for the interesting title, the cover was what drew me next. The bold use of magenta alongside classical style sketches is exactly the aesthetic I appreciate. It wasn't before noticing all of these surface factors that I finally stopped to read the book's description.

"Medusa's Daughters: Magic and Monstrosity from Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siecle", edited with great skill by Victorianist Theodora Goss, is a stylistic compilation of short stories and poetry by women at the end of 1800s, all selected for their Gothic undertones that embody the essence of magic and monstrosity, much like Medusa. The selections all pertain to a few central themes Goss discusses in the book's introduction, as well as containing a strange and curious quality that overtook and revitalized Gothic literature and made significant advances in the ideas of fantasy and horror.

A unique quality of the women across the pages of this book is their unwillingness to repent, their belief in themselves: startling to the world that was being left behind at the time these works were written. Full of monstrous women defying patriarchy norms and the codes held by the traditional century's end writers, "Medusa's Daughters" delights in the witches, changelings, ghosts, dryads, and strange unknowns that run rampant in its pages.

Goss identifies twelve central themes that weave throughout this collection and mark a larger education about women's place in the changing world, remarking also on the dichotomy of the "monstrous woman", that she may be at once a threat and what Goss refers to as "the angel in the house". These themes include: "the silencing of women", "the violence of patriarchy", "the danger of femininity", "the witch and/as the goddess", "the deadly female gaze" (Medusa, anyone?), "the problem of love", "the changeling as outsider", "the return of the (un)dead" and the "the victorious fairy-tale heroine".

In my opinion, this collection was both exactly what I needed to be reading right at this particular moment, and was also phenomenally selected and organized. I never felt that the flow was disrupted, or that any of the selections weren't befitting of the overall theme. From the first short story ("The Egyptian Cigarette" by Kate Chopin) to the last ("A Haunted House" by Virginia Woolf), this collection both educated and entranced, as much fit for the casual reader as it is for the avid learner. By including a hearty mix of well and lesser known writings, Goss keeps her reader until the last, and presents what we may have otherwise ignored by enticing us with promises of curiousity, splendor, and perhaps, an acute reflection of ourselves in the yellow wallpaper.

A side note: This book is also published by Lanternfish Press, a mid-sized press local to the Philadelphia area - where I currently live! Makes me love it even more, as I admire the work that comes from Lanternfish and was able to order this directly from my local bookstore, the lovely Spiral Bookcase (www.spiralbookcase.com) and have it delivered despite the current situation. A win for everyone involved!


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