How does this painting affect you?


I’m sure many have seen this 1781 painting, “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli. I encountered it in Art school a long time ago, and needless to say, it is unforgettable. Disturbingly unforgettable.

It tells a story of unrequited passion. Henry Fuseli had fallen madly in love (lust?) with a woman by the name of Anna Landholdt who is supposedly the woman in the painting, while the demon represents Fuseli himself.  He had written the following about his feelings for Anna:

“Last night I had her in bed with me—tossed my bedclothes hugger-mugger—wound my hot and tight-clasped hands about her—fused her body and soul together with my own—poured into her my spirit, breath and strength. Anyone who touches her now commits adultery and incest! She is mine, and I am hers. And have her I will.…”
(Ward, Maryanne C. “A Painting of the Unspeakable: Henry Fuseli’s ‘The Nightmare’ and the Creation of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein'”)

Yes, this painting supposedly inspired Mary Shelley to write the scene in which the wife of Dr. Frankenstein was found dead: “She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down, and her pale and distorted features half covered by hair.”

And it inspired the writing of Edgar Allan Poe in “The Fall of the House of Usher”: “irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm”.

The woman’s father refused to give his approval for the union and married his daughter off to someone else. Goodness, Mr. Fuseli. No wonder her father refused your proposal. Can such devouring passion be good for anyone? It speaks to me of a highly disturbed personality, confirmed by the painting. Would anyone want their child to marry an individual who wrote and painted like this? I wouldn’t. Of course if my child made that decision herself, or himself since I have a son, my opinions would be irrelevant. Too bad for us parents who live in the 21st century and can’t shackle our children to our way of thinking! Too bad for us but not for them I suppose!!! And would we really want to in the end?

Why is this painting so disturbing? I love Gothic literature like Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, but this is different. I think it evokes a fear of literal monsters, not the human kind, which puts it in the realm of fantasy. Or does it? People like to read about monsters: dinosaurs, giants, ogres, etc. Is it because these things do not really exist, and we are safe in the fear evoked by these stories because they could never really take place? Or is it because in some primal way these monsters are familiar? Yikes, going into forbidden territory here. Sure, they don’t look like us humans…on the outside anyway. But might they embody thoughts that we have all had, and suppressed? Nightmares that we put aside so we can function in our daily lives? Thoughts that we identify in other people and shudder to think they might exist in our minds?

I invite you to share your thoughts on this. How does this painting affect you? Why do people enjoy reading about monsters, watching monster movies? Those of us that do anyway. And they don’t have to be ogres and giants; think Marvel’s Apocalypse, Venom, Mystique from X-Men, DC’s Poison Ivy. Think Aliens, King Kong, oh and all the vampires and werewolves out there! Why are we so fascinated by monsters?




A Living, Breathing Red.

Crimson Peak

While my inspirations for Gothic romance are the classics: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and more, I Really enjoyed the Gothic romance movie, Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro. Of course the fact it had three of my favorite actors didn’t hurt!

CAst Crimson Peak

Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasokowska…and Gothic romance. What’s not to like????

The plot: Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska, is our heroine, the proverbial, Gothic damsel in distress. She is perfect: small, delicate, arouses protectiveness in anyone. She is repeatedly visited by her mother’s ghost who warns her against the mysterious “Crimson Peak,” which she later realizes is another name for Allerdale Hall in England, the Gothic mansion she moves to with her new husband, Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston, and his sister, Lucille, played by the unsurpassable Jessica Chastain. Nothing is right at this mansion. First, the red clay it sits on, all the more shocking because it oozes like bright red blood out of snow, is slowly devouring it; hence the name Crimson Peak. Second, the gorgeous man who swept Edith off her feet all of a sudden acts cold and distant towards her. Third, his beautiful sister seems to hate her. We find out later that Thomas and Lucille have been carrying on an incestuous relationship, and that he married three other rich women before Edith to gain access to their money, after which the brother and sister poisoned them. In the spirit (!) of crimson, Edith is visited by ghastly red ghosts, starts coughing up blood, and realizes that she also is being poisoned. What wasn’t part of the plan, however, was Thomas falling in love with Edith. Jessica Chastain, fabulous in every role she has ever done, transforms beautifully into a jealous lunatic sister who murders her brother rather than lose him, and is herself killed eventually by Edith. Of course there’s more, go see it!

What I was impressed by was the whole crimson theme. The snow was red, the ghosts were red, and not just a regular red, but a powerful, bloody red that attacks the senses and makes your skin crawl. It reminds us of what we are inside, a throbbing, pulsing, living red, a thought that completely goes against our humanity because, except in the form of a rare steak on our plate, which has nothing to do with what’s inside us (!), we cannot relate to it and would rather not think about it. Unless, of course, we are in the medical profession, or sadistic, people skinning murderers, or perhaps butchers. And It was different in that ghosts are not usually presented as red; bleeding maybe, translucent maybe, hazy blues or grays, purples, blacks maybe  but not all over red like that. So in that respect I thought it was more like a monster movie. But whatever it was, it was very entertaining, and, as always, a joy to watch these three great actors.

Here is an interview of the cast.

“Ghosts I love because they represent so many things and I like to use them in a different way than they are used in horror movies where they are just scary and creepy. I want to also use them as characters that could be good…ghosts represent the past.”
– Guillermo del Toro

Love his 2006 Spanish dark fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth as well.