Edgelands in fiction: works on the wild side

From blasted heath to Yorkshire moor, the whole island of Ireland to ghost estates, Annemarie Neary traces the evolution of the wilderness in fiction Annemarie Neary: the financial crash of 2008 offered a surprising gift to the writer on the edge of every town Wild places have hosted literary psychodramas ever since Lear took to the heath. The buttoned-up Victorians loved a wilderness – the wilder the better. These places were an essential attribute of the Gothic, the terrain of the unquiet soul. Dante Gabriel Rossetti referred to the moors above Haworth, to paraphrase him slightly, as “Hell…(with) English names”. When Britain’s National Trust acquired Slepe Heath in Dorset, the supposed inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s Egdon Heath, its spokesperson characterised the place in terms of atmosphere – it was, he said, “a place to lose yourself in”. Losing yourself is, of course, the whole point of fiction. And if the writer is aiming to destabilise readers, to conjure a sense of dissonance and unease, where better to take them than a wild place? The 19th-century Irish Gothic writers made the supernatural a proxy for all manner of unnameable terrors, a feature of some recent fiction with a ghost estate […]

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