"Longings and Desires", a Slate.com book review by Amanda Katz:
[Sarah] Waters, who was born in Wales in 1966, has carved out an unusual spot in fiction. Her six novels, beginning with Tipping the Velvet in 1998, could be called historical fiction, but that doesn’t begin to capture their appeal. It is closer to say that she is creating pitch-perfect popular fiction of an earlier time, but swapping out its original moral engine for a sensibility that is distinctly queer and contemporary, as if retrofitting a classic car.[more inside]
Her books offer something like an alternate reality—a literary one, if not a historical one. There may have been lesbian male impersonators working the London music halls in the 1890s, as in Tipping the Velvet, but there were certainly not mainstream novels devoted to their inner lives and sexual exploits. Waters gives such characters their say in books that imitate earlier crowd-pleasers in their structure, slang, and atmosphere, but that are powered by queer longing, defiant identity politics, and lusty, occasionally downright kinky sex. (An exception is her last novel, The Little Stranger.) The most masterful of these books so far is Fingersmith, a Wilkie Collins-esque tale full of genuinely shocking twists (thieves, double-crossing, asylums, mistaken identity, just go read it). The saddest is The Night Watch, a tale told in reverse of a group of entwined characters during and after World War II. But among many readers she is still most beloved for Tipping the Velvet, a deliriously paced coming-of-age story that is impossible to read in public without blushing.
A website has been launched to preserve the history of Danvers State Insane Asylum. The Asylum, which opened in 1878 in Danvers, MA (site of the Salem Witch Trials) and closed in 1992, was featured in the horror movie Session 9, and may have been the inspiration for HP Lovecraft's Arkham Asylum. Its Kirkbride Wings, which once held the institution's living quarters, now house a 400+ unit apartment complex. [more inside]
Louis Wain became one of the most famous British illustrators of the late Victorian and Edwardian era after trying to cheer up his wife Emily by drawing portraits of their pet cat, Peter. In addition to publishing a popular children's book about kittens, he was a founder of the U.K's National Cat Club who was instrumental in promoting the Cat Fancy movement, which encouraged Britons of all classes to view cats as lovable pets instead of household pests. Unfortunately, after Wain's wife Emily died of breast cancer, Wain gradually went mad due to psychosis and late onset schizophrenia, ending up in London's notorious Bethlehem Hospital (the etymological origin for the word bedlam). While at Bedlam, Wain continued to draw, but his cat portraits transformed into pure geometric abstraction and psychedelic fractals, but some see harbingers of madness in cryptically titled works, such as Early Indian Irish and The Fire of the Mind Agitates the Atmosphere. For more insight on Wain, check out this 1896 interview and this short film dramatizing the progression of Wain's schizophrenia through his art.
This post got me thinking about a couple of places on Long Island, NY, that are pretty scary. The Kings Park Psychiatric Center, for example. I've been there at night, and I tell you, knowing some of the history, it's terrifying. It's also strangely beautiful.