I finally managed to watch the finale of Penny Dreadful season two last night, and my, Rory Kinnear certainly knows how to wring every last drop of nuance out of Frankenstein’s Creature, doesn’t he? I’ve certainly enjoyed the second season more than the first, and according to Den of Geek, writer John Logan has hinted that he’ll be adding another ‘classic’ character in season three. Most people assume it’ll be Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, although DoG have also pointed at Dr Moreau and The Invisible Man as being interesting alternatives.
Really, this is where my one problem with Penny Dreadful actually lies – the supposed belief that Gothic literature begins with Frankenstein in 1818, and then does nothing as a genre for a few years until The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and Dracula (1897). The genre actually dates back to the publication of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1764, and had become so popular that it was ripe for parody when Jane Austen published Northanger Abbey in 1817.
Name checks have been given to infamous characters, both real and fictional, such as Burke and Hare, so which other characters could make an interesting addition to future episodes of Penny Dreadful?
It’s amazing how many people think the Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a real person but he was in fact a product of the original Victorian penny dreadfuls. Odd that he’s so far been neglected by the series. I’m not sure how he’d fit within a story arc but he would make an interesting background character – and these people clearly need haircuts from time to time.
Spring-Heeled Jack wasn’t a character so much as an urban legend that sprang out of the popular tradition for ghost stories, such as the Hammersmith Ghost of 1803/04. The first alleged sighting of Jack was in 1837, after a serving girl claimed to have been accosted on Clapham Common by a strange figure with claws and cold flesh. He gained his nickname from his ability to leap over 9ft high walls with apparent ease, and he did make his way into the penny dreadfuls of the era. Opinion is still divided as to who, and what, he actually was.
The famous night at the Villa Diodati that birthed Frankenstein also led to the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori, although Lord Ruthven has been hugely overshadowed by another more famous vampire from Transylvania. With his aristocratic air, this distinctly Byron-esque bloodsucker would be a welcome alternative to the rather tedious Dracula. Besides, Vanessa needs a distraction now Ethan has left for America, and Sir Malcolm has gone to Africa again.
Ambrosio the Monk
Possibly one of the reasons the writers have stuck to later characters is the fact that pre-Frankenstein, Gothic novels are often unwieldy and ponderous, and they’re largely unfilmable. The later, so-called Decadent Gothic is more reader friendly, and so we’re more familiar with the characters. That said, Ambrosio from The Monk (1796) is the prototype of Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. When The Monk was first published, it was considered so horrific that it caused a family scandal for author MG Lewis, which is hardly surprising since Ambrosio commits murder, rape and incest in the same book. No reason why he couldn’t be updated to a London priest, eager to reaffirm Vanessa’s faith for his own devious ends.
So far the writers have only plundered English Gothic tales, which ignores the Gothic literature written elsewhere in the world. Two of the genres most famous names were American, and if they’re going to include the Wolf Man, who was only really invented for the cinema, then I see no reason not to include the work of other Americans. While I think the show is weird enough without a detour into Lovecraftian shenanigans, it’s surprising that Edgar Allan Poe has so far been ignored. I’d love to see Roderick come to England seeking a cure for his sister’s condition, and premature burial hasn’t really been featured yet, despite being a major fear of the time.
The Phantom of the Opera
Given series one quietly relocated the Grand Guignol Theatre from Paris to London, there’s little reason why the masked impresario couldn’t do likewise, though I suspect he’d be more of a cameo than a recurring character due to his nature. With Erik’s flair for the dramatic and ingenious inventions, he could certainly be an interesting figure – and he’d be bound to appeal to Vanessa’s better side, given the way she showed such humanity to the Creature.
So far the only Egyptian references have been regarding Dracula’s nature, or the prophecy which foretells Vanessa becoming the Mother of Evil, but a possible use for Ferdinand Lyle’s character could be as the discoverer of Queen Tera, the Egyptian mummy from Bram Stoker’s largely forgettable The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903). The novel itself concerned fears around powerful women, which would tie in nicely with Lily’s newfound quest for dominion over man.
These are just the ones I could mention, and they don’t even take into account the other Gothic staples that could appear in passing. Someone could buy a house named Udolpho, and I’d love for someone to discover a mysterious whistle on the beach that calls up a mighty wind – and something else besides.
Who would you like to see in the next series?