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A History of Horror

The Timeline

13th C     14th C

15th C     16th C

17th C     18th C

19th C

1900s     1910s

1920s     1930s

1940s     1950s

1960s     1970s

1980s     1990s


Horror in Theatre


Vlad Dracula

The Inquisition

The Danse Macabre


Hieronymous Bosch


Paradise Lost

The Marquis de Sade

Gothic Novels

Byron, the Shelleys and Frankenstein

The Monk

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

E.T.A. Hoffmann

Francesco Goya

Penny Bloods

Lewis Carroll

Shirley Jackson

Robert Bloch

Richard Matheson


Modern Horror

On the Page

On the Screen

Australian Genre


Tabula Rasa

The Horror Timeline

By David Carroll and Kyla Ward

First Appeared in Tabula Rasa#1
An earlier version appeared in Burnt Toast#13

Part 1: Pre-20th Century


An order comes out of the Vatican, authorising the commencement of an Inquisition to re-establish the orthodoxy of the faith. The charge of heresy soon becomes entangled with the charge of witchcraft, and in this form took until the seventeenth century to die away. [Article]

1307 - 1321

La Comedia, or The Divine Comedy as it came to be known, of Dante Alighieri is written in Italy. This semi-autobiographical poem sets forth one of the most influential descriptions of Hell in the literature, though Dante's vast and intricate plan has, in the public eye, been superseded by Milton's vision [1667]. Even less well-known are the two sections after Inferno that complete the poem, Purgatorio and Paradiso. [Article]

Nothing ere I was made was made to be
Save things eterne, and I eterne abide;
Lay down all hope, you that go in by me.
-- trans. Dorothy L Sayers


Vladislav Basarab of Transylvania gains the crown of Wallacia for the first time (until 1462, and again briefly in 1468). From his father he earned the nickname 'Dracula', son of the Dragon, but he earned for himself the name Vlad the Impaler, for his favourite method of execution. Despite a large amount of slander by his political opponents, many of the tales of his cruelty were true (he is said to have killed over 40,000 people in his reign). He was also a staunch defender of Christendom from the Turkish threat. [1897]. [Article]

1470 - 1516

The Dutch artist Hieronymous Bosch in this period produced paintings of religious theme and nightmarish impact -- the best known is The Garden of Earthly Delights. They came to the attention of the Inquisition after his death, but powerful patrons protected the collection. [Article]


The first edition Danse Macabre is published in Paris by Guyot Marchant. The verses and illustrations are taken from the murals adorning the Cemetery of the Innocents. The first set of couplets, by an unknown author, deal with death coming to the forty stations of men. The matching verses for women are credited to Martial d'Auvergne. [Article]


The first edition of the Malleus Maleficarum is produced in Germany by the Dominican inquisitors Hienrich Institoris (aka Henry Kramer) and Jakob Sprenger. Literally 'the Hammer of Witches', it codified the form of belief in witchcraft that spread, through fourteen editions by 1520, throughout Europe. It contributed enormously to the witch craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries in which thousands of people were tortured and killed. [Article]


Hans Holbein the Younger, in his lifetime regarded as one of the greatest and most productive artists of Northern Europe, publishes forty-one 'Dance of Death' woodcuts in Les simulachres & historiees faces de la mort [61]. [Article]


An incredible series of gruesome plays jostle each other on the stages of England. The first is traditionally Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1585) followed by Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine (1587), Dr Faustus [1587-1589] and William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (1594). Shakespeare's Hamlet (1600) and Macbeth (1605) are also morbid little pieces of some note. Cyril Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy (1607) and John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (1613) are the latter examples, and indeed the last examples of death portrayed in front of an audience in European theatre until Victor Hugo's Hernani in 1730. [1790-1825]. [Article]

1587 - 1589

A semi-fictional biography of a Johannes Faustus, scholar and reputed magician, is published in Germany. Christopher Marlowe reads the English translation and creates his play The Historie of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor Iohn Faustus. This is the prototype of the Mad Scientist, who sells his soul for knowledge [1818]. The tale was more or less directly retold by Goethe in 1808 and Charles Maturin in 1820. Goethe's version was adapted as an opera by Charles Gounod, libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, in 1859. [Article]


Paradise Lost is John Milton's epic poem of the fall from Heaven, the English poet dictating his work to his daughters after being left blind in 1652. A strict Puritan, Milton still questioned Christian orthodoxy, and it is his depiction of Satan, his realms and his struggle against omnipotence that give the poem its power. Paradise was regained in 1671. [Article]


Not the largest or most gruesome of the witch trials (Bamberg, Germany, 1623-1633 comes to mind), the events in Salem, Massachusetts are definitely the most famous. A group of young girls began to claim local women were bewitching them. The first arrest was a slave Tituba who provided all the details that could be wished to capture the imagination. Prominent theologians such as Cotton Mather provided legitimisation, and things ran on from there. [1235], [1953]. [Article]


The first major work of what became known as the Graveyard Poets is published with Thomas Parnell's A Night-Piece on Death. The group focussed on the melancholy and mortality of man, an introspective style that finally led into the wilder fantasies of the Romantics. Other examples include Robert Blair's The Grave (1743), Thomas Warton's The Pleasures of Melancholy (1747) and Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray in 1752. [47]

1720 - 1740

The heyday of Bach, during which he writes his massive Toccata and Fugue in D minor, little realising that this gloomy little organ piece will appear as the sound-track to a James Caan movie (Rollerball in fact, Norman Jewison, 1975). Even without this filmic application, this piece is quite capable of evoking funereal atmosphere within the first few notes of that ominous central motif. -- Tristan Riley


The Austrian Government commission a report on various peasant customs, prompted by mass hysteria in the village of Medvegia. The report, supervised by Johannes Fluckinger, goes into great detail about vampire activity in the area, and is quickly spread through international journals and fashionable society. It caught the public imagination, and the attention of scientists and philosophers, for decades to come, in both England and the Continent. [Article]


The Castle of Otranto is written by Horace Walpole -- considered the first Gothic novel. It was followed by such creations as (the tedious) Vathek (William Beckford, 1786), The Mysteries of Udolpho [1794], and certain satires, notably [1818]. 'Gothic' was heavily influenced by the excesses and writings generated by the 'Inquisition' [1235]. 'The Gothic is a literature of decay. This is a moral judgment; for after all, the matter of the Gothic tale is a great structure succumbing, crumbling, sinking into all perversions of the architectural, human, vegetable and animal' [35]. [1795]. [Article]


Gottfried August Bürger writes the poem Leonore, a popular treatment of the folk tale motif of the lover who comes back from the grave; 'And now are you afraid?' and, incidentally, 'Denn die Todten reiten schnell' [1897]. It was translated into English by William Rosetti in 1844 under the title The Hunt.


The Japanese student of literature and critic Uneda Akinari, publishes Ugetsu Monogatari, or Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Drawing inspiration from popular myth, this collection of romantic and chilling stories includes 'The House Amidst the Thickets', 'The Chrysanthemum Trust' and 'The Carp that Swam in my Dreams'. 'The House', in which a soldier comes home from the war to find everything exactly as he left it... exactly, formed the basis for the 1953 film Ugetsu, by Mizoguchi Kenji.


Henry Fuseli, the then professor of painting at the British Royal Academy, paints The Nightmare. He was considered insane by most of his contemporaries.


Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade, better known as the Marquis de Sade, writes Les 120 Journées de Sodome, ou l'Ecole du libertinage (The 120 Days of Sodom), 'the most impure tale that has ever been told since our world began' [93] whilst incarcerated in the Bastille -- though the uncompleted novel wasn't properly published until 1931. The combination of his (hardly unusual) licentious ways and love of literature produced an extraordinary fusion that saw him persecuted throughout life, and beyond. If nothing else, he certainly had a philosophy (and no, he never met Sacher Masoch). Other novels include his most readable, Justine, ou les Malheurs de la Vertu (Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue, first version in 1791) and its sister volume, l'Hisoire de Juliette, sa soeur (ou les Prospérités du vice) (Juliette, or the Triumph of Vice) in 1797. He has featured as a character in various, usually bad, novels and films such as 'The Skull of the Marquis de Sade' by Robert Bloch (filmed by Freddy Francis in 1965); and there are an almost surprising number of adaptations of his work. Most are somewhat obscure, and only Pier Paolo Pasolini's masterly adaptation of Sodom, released under the title Salòo le centoventi giornate di Sodom in 1976, has risen to any public attention. [Article]

1790 - 1825

For a brief thirty years horror flourished again on the British stage [1580s]. Three theatres, Drury Lane, Covent Garden and the Haymarket, played host to such dramatisations as Fitz Ball's The Devil's Elixir, Matthew Lewis' The Castle Spectre, James Planche's The Vampire [1819] (introducing a new form of stage machinery, 'the vampire trap'), and Milner's Frankenstein, or The Man and the Monster [1818]. These productions were 'expensive, spectacular and decidedly bloody', but none were staged after 1825 when 'the devil was no longer in fashion' [16]. [Article]


Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho is the most famous work from one of the most prominent Gothic authors. A prose poet, she proved to be a great influence on Lord Byron [1816] and Walter Scott, in contrast to both Matthew Lewis [1795] and Horace Walpole [1765] who were 'ancestors of a whole school, finding its culmination, perhaps, in the supernatural and macabre stories of Poe [1833] and Charles Brockden Brown' [34]. Radcliffe introduced the 'poetical landscape' into the modern novel, and her popularity was immense. Other works include The Italian, or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797) and The Romance of the Forest (1791). [Article]


The Monk, 'charged with all the adolescent sexual intensity of the 19-year-old who wrote it' [21], is published anonymously. It is the most readable of the Gothic novels to the modern reader and, as the Marquis de Sade puts it, 'is superior in all respects to the strange flights of Mrs. Radcliffe's imagination' [93 -- Reflections on the Novel (1800)]. There were calls for the book to be banned, particularly once the author's identity was made known, one Matthew Lewis, playwright and member of parliament. Ann Radcliffe [1794], whose work in part inspired it, was so horrified she wrote The Italian (1797) in reply. A film was made in the early seventies by Ado Kryou, and Paco Lara's version came out in 1990. It wasn't very good. [Article] [Clippings]


The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand, thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

-- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

'His genius had angelic wings, and fed on manna', said William Hazlitt of Samuel Taylor Coleridge [45], though opium would have been closer to the mark. Other works by this British poet include Kubla Khan (1798, the famous (if not necessarily actual) interrupted transcript of a drug-induced dream) and Christobel (1801) [1872]. Coleridge is also known for being one of the premiere critics of English literature, and is credited with the 'rediscovery' of the original, unbowdlerised Shakespeare. [Article]


'Wake Not the Dead', by Johann Ludwig Tieck, becomes the first known English vampire story when it is translated from the German.


Between the 15th and 17th of June Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Dr. John Polidori stay at a villa by Lake Geneva. Quite possibly under the influence of laudanum, they declare they will each write a ghost story. From this meeting both the Vampire sub-genre and science fiction itself are created in English [1818], [1819]. The story of that night has been told a number of times on film, most notably in Ken Russell's Gothic (1986). [Article]


Ernst Theodor Willhelm Hoffmann (known as ETA for his regard for Amadeus Mozart) publishes Nachtstücke (or Night Pieces), containing his best known grotesque tales, such as 'Der Sandmann' and 'Tale of the Lost Shadow'. He was a great influence on the German Expressionists of the early twentieth century [1910s]. [Article]


Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein -- or the Modern Prometheus is published, the first science fiction novel [1816]. It will also have a great influence on horror though the popular image of the monster is taken from the multitude of films [1910], [1930s], [1948]. Like much of the contemporary literature it was quickly adapted for stage [1790-1825] but it wasn't until 1991 that it became an opera, with Richard Meale and David Malouf's Mer de Glace. [Article]


Nightmare Abbey is written by Thomas Love Peacock, a send-up of the genre the author saw as an 'encroachment of black bile' [11]. It contains caricatures of Mary and Percy Shelley, Byron and Coleridge, and is extremely funny.


Dr. Polidori's The Vampyre is published in the New Monthly Magazine, 'the first vampire tale of any substance in the English language' [1]. Originally attributed to Byron, the lead character is in fact a caricature of the poet. A theatrical adaptation by Charles Nodier appeared in 1820, and this was further turned into an opera by Heinrich Marschner, with libretto by Wilhelm Wolbrucke, in 1828. In 1992 Charles Hart provided substantially different lyrics for The Vampyre: A Soap Opera. [Article]


In Spain the court painter Francesco Goya produces a series of eighteen frescos known as the Black Paintings, including Saturn Devouring His Children, as a response to the French invasion. He had always tended towards dark subjects, exemplified in an earlier series satirising witchcraft beliefs, and the engraving The Sleep of Reason (Produces Monsters). [Article]


Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Titanic and shocking in the extreme to the listeners of his day, Berlioz's masterwork retains the ability to conjure up just the grotesque and frightening images of nightmare and death he had in mind when he named movements of the symphony March to the Scaffold and Dream of a Witch's Sabbath. Robert Schumann described 'malformed creatures of all sorts... lamentations, howls, laughter, cries of pain... demoniac orgies... death bells' in the final movement (with not a little discomfort)'. -- Tristan Riley


Notre Dame de Paris (with its perhaps more descriptive English title The Hunchback of Notre Dame) lurches on to the scene, along with the bells and gargoyles, courtesy of Victor Hugo, a French author noted for his human dramas such as Les Miserables. [1923].


The German folklorists, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm publish the fruits of their research in Kinder und Hausmarchen. It includes 'Hansel and Gretel', 'Snow White' and 'The Bone Flute'.


The Baltimore Saturday Visitor publishes MS Found in a Bottle by the unknown author Edgar Allan Poe. Between here and his death in 1849 he publishes many short stories, including 'The Fall of the House of Usher' (1839), 'The Masque of the Red Death' (1842), 'The Pit and the Pendulum' (1843) and 'The Cask of Amontillado' (1846). He has some claim to be the father of the detective story, and has described himself as 'insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity' [86]. He was the first significant proponent of the fiction that would dominate the next century. [1960].


The Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson publishers his first anthology, Tales Told for Children, including such delights as 'The Red Shoes' (with a haunting pair of severed feet), 'The Little Mermaid' (Disney gave it a happy ending) and 'The Snow Queen'.


With the Industrial Revolution and a suddenly-educated (and over-crowded) public, horror adapted into a more visceral and immediate field. The result was the Penny Blood (known as Penny Dreadfuls to their critics) and the stage equivalent, the Penny Gaff. The earliest and most influential of the publishers was one Edward Lloyd, who started with Thomas Prest's The Calendar of Horrors in the '30s, and then evolved the more recognisable form. Prest was also responsible for Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber (first published as The String of Pearls in 1847, and performed on stage in the same year. [1980s]), the only character created in the period still being used. Varney the Vampire, or, the Feast of Blood, by James Malcolm Rymer, 1845, has had some influence on the vampire sub-genre and a possible companion piece, Wagner the Werewolf was written in 1846 by George Reynolds. 'It was thought at the time that "Penny Dreadfuls" were the origin of all youthful crime, and parents not only banned them, but, when discovered, burned them without mercy' [8]. [Article]


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is published by Lewis Carroll (actually the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), followed by Through the Looking Glass in 1872. Not horror in themselves, the novels have had some influence on the genre, particularly in the 1980s [12]. [Article]


A depressive and alcoholic young composer, Modest Mussorgsky, produces his masterwork. Ivanova Noch' na Lïsoy gore, popularly known as A Night on Bald Mountain, describes the adventures of a man who, stranded on St John's Mountain on Walpurgisnacht, observes the witch's sabbat.

1868 - 1869

Robert Browning writes The Ring and the Book, a macabre study of a man killing his wife, all based on a yellowing legal paper he had come upon in 1860. It is still the longest narrative poem in English literature. Browning is most noted for his dramatic monologues dealing with madness and obsession, including Childe Rolande to the Dark Tower Came [1974] and Porphyria's Lover (1842).


Sheridan Le Fanu publishes 'Carmilla' in Through a Glass Darkly, in some ways similar to Christobel [1797]. An influential story, it has also been filmed a number of times, under many different names (including Karl Dreyer's Vampyr [1931] and Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers (1970)). 'Le Fanu was more revolutionary than Poe, for he began the process of dismantling the Gothic props and placing the supernatural tale in everyday settings' [51 -- attrib. to Jack Sullivan].


This decade saw a movement in France known successively as L'Esprit Décadent and Symbolisme. The writers that typified it, the earlier Charles Baudelaire, Joris Karl Huysmans (A rebours (Against the Grain), 1884), La Bas (Down Here), 1891) and Guy de Maupassant (La Horla, 1886), produced some of the finest works of the European macabre. The movement was violently opposed to the restraint of resemblance in art, and of morals or religion in anything that would prevent the experience of l'horreur et l'extase de la vie, as Baudelaire wrote in Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil), which upon printing in 1857 was seized, and six of the poems banned. Extremes were sought, of terror, pleasure and pain. Huysman's A rebours appears by implication in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, as the symbol and instrument of ultimate foreign corruption. To explain, the poet Paul Verlaine said "It is made of a mixture of the carnal spirit and the sad flesh, and of all the violent splendours of the declining (La Bas) Empire."


After an initial set-back Robert Louis Stevenson publishes The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. It was often filmed, usually badly -- though [1908] and [1931] are worth noting. The earliest stage adaptation was T. R. Sullivan's in 1887.


One of the world's most infamous crimes occurs with the murder of at least five London prostitutes. While the police received hundreds of letters purportedly from the killer, only one is believed genuine, signed Jack the Ripper. His identity remains unknown, though theory's abound [1913].


In this decade, and into the next one, the Grand Guignol flourished on the Paris stage (and was still around a lot later). The term originally referred to a puppet (possibly the work of one Laurent Mourquet a century before), but came to refer to brief plays based around violence, murder, rape, ghostly apparitions and suicide. There was indeed a Théâtre du Grand Guignol, but the art-form was most prominent in Montmartre. London also played host to several seasons over the next fifty years, in a less intense form, notably in 1920-22. [1930s].


A popular and transitional author in the move from historical to contemporary settings for horror stories was Ambrose Bierce. This year saw the publication of Can Such Things Be?, a collection of ghostly tales following on from his grimly realistic war stories. He was also known for his black humour, as demonstrated by The Devil's Dictionary (1906, under the original title The Cynic's Word Book).


The King in Yellow collects two series of linked stories by Robert W. Chambers, and H. P. Lovecraft [1923] was a fan. As well as several names taken from Chambers' work (some taken in turn from Bierce), the direct ancestor of The Necronomicon can be found in the linking element 'The King in Yellow', a play which brings a strange doom on those who read it.


Herbert George Wells publishes The Island of Doctor Moreau, not his first work, but his most macabre. The two succeeding years see The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds, novellas of science horror. The latter has been adapted many times, the most notable being Orson Welles' memorable radio play [1938] and the [1950s] movie.


Abraham 'Bram' Stoker publishes Dracula, or The Un-Dead. [1456], [1922], [1925], [1927], [1930s], [1960s], [1970s], [1990s]. 'Dracula's Guest' is a related short story, and not necessarily a missing chapter as is widely thought. Other works by this Irish stage manager are not as memorable, and include The Lady of the Shroud in 1908, and The Lair of the White Worm in 1911, which desperately needed Ken Russell [1986].


The American writer Henry James publishes the novella The Turn of the Screw, 'the favourite ghost story of people who don't like ghost stories' [86], an early presentation of the evil child tale. It was adapted memorably as both opera (by Benjamin Britten in 1954, libretto by Myfanwy Piper), and film (Jack Clayton's dead creepy The Innocents in 1961).


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