This is a rough excerpt from the introduction of a book on Victorian werewolves I am writing right now. It should be finished sometime around March 2013. (I have way too many projects to give it my full attention this year)
It has been suggested that the vampire legend, largely created by Bram Stoker, is the most enduring and famous creature mythos to emerge out of popular Gothic literature. While this may be true the lowly werewolf must also be given a place of distinction. The literature of the Victorian era werewolf has nowhere near the enduring popularity of the Vampire, nevertheless during the period the werewolf was at least as popular with a score of books and short fiction to testify to its enduring legacy. In this book I will seek out the werewolf in its many forms and discuss its origin and evolution in the modern world. I will break down werewolf mythology into several themes. The first will be the Supernatural curse. The second will be the “New Woman” werewolf or the wolf-woman as seductress. The third and final category will be the exotic werewolves of the Americas and India.
The supernatural curse appears throughout the werewolf literary genre. In the earliest werewolf stories these curses are almost always self inflicted such as in Reynolds’s, “Wagner the Wehr wolf” here the curse is the price Wagner pays the devil for his immortality and riches, in later works such as Kipling’s, “The Mark of the Beast” the curse is involuntary placed on the bearer because of his desecration of an Indian temple. I will discuss the varied methods by which the victims and often willing participants are transformed into a beast.
An intriguing aspect of the Werewolf during the Victorian period is the appearance of the female werewolf. When we think of female shape shifters wolves are often the last things to come to mind. There are literally thousands of books depicting women turning into cats or catlike creatures but not wolves; however the female werewolf was much more popular in European mythology and Victorian literature than in our modern literary tradition. The female werewolf while rare was a staple of several authors such as Clemance Housman and Frederick Marryat. Housman was a writer, illustrator and a leading feminist of her day. She wrote several werewolf short stories and one novel. Her stories fit more in with the traditional folklore than some of the other Gothic horror novelists.
The idea of the werewolf is not just limited to Western and EasternEurope. The wolf-man is a universal human concept appearing in the folklore of almost every human society. During the Victorian period the West was being exposed more and more to the variety of world cultures. We can see this variety expressed in the werewolf fiction of the era. From Kipling’s Indian werewolves to Beaugrand’s Native American skinwalkers we see the werewolf in a multitude of aspects. The Victorians were fascinated by exotic cultures and exotic locales this made the foreign werewolf all the more intriguing as it paired a myth that people were familiar with to a more mysterious setting.
The classic werewolf literature of the 19th century has been long overshadowed by the werewolf of Hollywood. The original mythology is much more creative and innovative than the stock portrait of the werewolf that has been fostered on our modern sensibilities by popular film. In the Gothic horror novel we find a werewolf that is more than just the rapacious beast that comes out at every full moon. Instead the Victorians gifted us with a character as nuanced as the vampire and as full of pathos as Shelley’s Frankenstein. Modern authors would do well to seek out this classic creature and forget what Lon Chaney Jr. taught us about the Wolf man.