Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-r5zm4 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-22T21:16:04.990Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Chapter 3 - ‘Who's the Baddest Witch in Town?’: Adaptation, Female Agency and Monstrous Representation in American Horror Story: ‘Coven’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2024

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
Mark O'Thomas
Affiliation:
University of Greenwich
Get access

Summary

Introduction

In ‘Go to Hell’ (S03E11), the penultimate episode of American Horror Story: ‘Coven’ (2013–14), nineteenth-century New Orleans socialite and serial killer Madame LaLaurie is disguised as a heritage worker and gives a tour of her ancestral home. Asked by a member of the crowd when they will get to see the attic torture chamber used to inflict punishment on her slaves, she tries to dodge the question before attempting to clean up her bloody past, denying the existence of the torture chamber and claiming that the room was used for storage and ‘the firm but humane correction of Madame LaLaurie's domestics’. After the tour, she is confronted by the witch Queenie, who retorts, ‘I see you finally got that makeover, guess you figured you could make over a little history too’, to which LaLaurie responds, ‘on the contrary, I’m here to set the record straight, this historical site was nothing but a house of lies before I came back’. As this sequence illustrates, the stakes surrounding history and which versions of historical events are given legitimacy are immense. In addition to cultural institutions such as museums, archives and heritage sites, historical fiction dramas such as ‘Coven’ has provided audiences lacking formal training as historians with an accessible means to engage with the past. However, historical fiction also raises questions regarding how fictional representations of history interpret the past, as well as which versions of historical events make it to the screen.

This chapter will consider the figure of the witch constructed by ‘Coven’ through a multi-methodological approach that draws from television studies, adaptation studies and early modern history, seeking to contextualize representations of female agency and monstrosity within relevant televisual and historical contexts. As co-authors, our respective research interests have been influenced by the disciplines of media studies and history. By examining discursive struggles between historians and media scholars, this chapter seeks to engage with representations of history on screen beyond discourses of authenticity and fidelity. The first section of this chapter will consider how American Horror Story has adapted witchcraft history and witch belief in ‘Coven’, arguing that rather than being ‘lost in translation’, such beliefs have entered ‘into a broader public domain of critical reception and audience review’ through their circulation as public history (Greig 2019, 99).

Type
Chapter
Information
American Horror Story and Cult Television
Narratives, Histories and Discourses
, pp. 49 - 60
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2023

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×