The allure of gaslight


I don’t know what it is about gaslight fiction. I love reading it, and I love writing it. I think it goes back to when I read Jekyll and Hyde at uni. I peeled back the layers of the story through the social history of Victorian Britain and I was hooked. I think its got something to do with the duality of a society that covered up the legs on pianos and at the same time enabled, if not encouraged, a debauched under-society of prostitution, opium dens and every kind of depravity imaginable. That was for the men, of course. The women lived a life apart, on the whole, tied to house and family duty, either unaware, or deliberately ignorant of, the darker world beyond their front doors, just around the corner.

Edinburgh, where Robert Louis Stevenson was born, epitomised this duality, with its facade of wealthy, respectable houses masking all kinds of nastiness just a street or two distant. It’s this grey area, where the two worlds meet, that I’m drawn to. I am fascinated by liminal places, doorways, portals (real or imagined) and hidden entrances to ‘other’ places. There’s also the age-old battle between good and evil, an evergreen source of inspiration for writers. But again, the murky greyness is far more interesting. The flawed hero, the gentle woman who ends up as the mad woman in the attic.

But why gaslight particularly? For me, there’s a feeling that goes with either reading, writing or watching gaslight. It’s like eating a Belgian truffle rather than a dry biscuit, or handling velvet rather than sackcloth. There’s a sumptuous indulgence, almost a forbidden pleasure, in the language and the atmosphere.

Of course, there’s the esoteric side to it, especially when writing. The chance to bring the spirit world into the real, to hint at mysteries long buried, evils that rear their heads again to claim new victims. Wonderful stuff like that. In a gaslight story it seems natural to include ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. The Woman in Black was totally believable to me, because of the setting; the grey, drab, atmosphere. The same story wouldn’t have worked for me in a modern setting.

I am addicted to Lovecraftian language. I try not to use it, but I love reading it. It’s language you can swim in, it has deep texture and rolls like waves across the page. It undulates and pulses with barely described horrors. (See how easy it is to slip in to the mindset?)

Creaks and groans, things that slither and slide in the darkness. Un-nameable things from a dark past, conjured by some mad necromancer. The stuff of nightmares? Maybe. But let me dream on.


About Alexa

I have just started writing again after a break of some years. I write mostly non-fiction, although I love story writing. My first Steampunk novel has been sent into the big wide world to make its fortune (or not). I hate mowing lawns, love growing flowers, and spend a fair bit of time shifting mole-hill detritus from the lawn to the flower borders. I have a degree in English Literature and Theology, and a passion for science that I wish I'd discovered when I was young enough to choose it as a career path. I have two sites on Wordpress. 'Born-again sceptic' - my personal views on the science/religion debate, and 'Writing and other stuff' an eclectic mix of things that interest me ( the title says it all).

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