Early Modern Fantasies and Fears

Module code: EN2303

Although horror and fantasy were only formalised as distinct genres in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, both have very deep roots. The early modern period gave rise to a number of texts recognisably anticipating this later literature, sharing its focus on the macabre, outlandish, uncanny and grotesque. Foremost among these texts is a string of prose narratives united by their interest in forbidden knowledge, the return of the dead, the influence of the demonic world, and in their desire to disturb and unsettle the reader. At the same time, the growth of the book-market allowed similar work to circulate at a more popular level, as sensationalist pamphlets attest to a wide appetite for stories of hauntings, possessions, and gruesome murder. Yet elsewhere utopian literature, borne out of humanist belief in the perfectibility of social order, allowed these same forces to be explored from a different angle, as its authors projected a wide variety of fantasy worlds in which problems could be combated and wishes fulfilled. Collectively, this material provides an unparalleled insight into the wider anxieties and drives of its period. It pinpoints where potential threats to social, political and domestic order were thought to stand, and what deep-seated desires were at work within early modern culture.