Gothic

Dale Townshend, The Orders of Gothic: Foucault, Lacan, and the Subject of Gothic Writing 1764-1820

Dale Townshend, The Orders of Gothic: Foucault, Lacan, and the Subject of Gothic Writing 1764-1820. New York: AMS Press, 2007. ix+365pp. $87.50. (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0404648541; ISBN-13: 978-0404648541).

Reviewed by
David Sigler
University of Idaho

Some ten years ago, Diane Long Hoeveler suggested in Gothic Feminism that a wave of Foucauldian studies, attuned to the broad discursive and institutional transformations underway at the end of the eighteenth century, might be poised to supplement a tradition of psychoanalytic studies of the Gothic (53). Dale Townshend’s monograph, The Orders of Gothic, courageously takes up this challenge, and, like Hoeveler’s study, it refuses to discard psychoanalytic insights just because Foucauldian ones prove illuminating. The Orders of Gothic offers a compelling combination of Lacanian and Foucauldian approaches, while grappling with an enormous range of Gothic writing to deliver fascinating reinterpretations of signal texts. The study is clearly written and accessible—even, I suspect, for readers mildly allergic to the specialized vocabularies of Lacan and Foucault—and for the most part it maintains the integrity of its diverse theoretical investments. It marks a significant and welcome contribution to the current critical conversation on the Gothic.

Jerrold E. Hogle, The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny

Jerrold E. Hogle, The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xv + 261pp.  $69.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-29346-1).

Reviewed by
Steven Bruhm
Mount St. Vincent University

"What accounts for the continuities and the discontinuities in the history of this shifting but ongoing phenomenon?," Jerrold Hogle asks of The Phantom of the Opera (xi).  "What 'cultural work'--what symbolic shaping of the way we think in the West--does The Phantom of the Opera keep doing for us in its original form and in the wider variations on it?" (xi).  Beginning with these questions, Hogle gives us a subtle, nuanced, and lucid excavation of the social and psychological undergrounds that Leroux's Erik and his "progeny" throughout the twentieth century inhabit.  These undergrounds, Hogle argues, "turn out to be deep-seated anomalies in Western European life--crossings of boundaries between class, racial, gender, and other distinctions--that are quite basic to, but commonly shunted off as 'other' than, the social and individual construction of a rise middle-class 'identity'" (xii).  Put another way, the Phantoms are "sublimations" of cultural anxieties, displaced into a monstrously other figure yet resonant and legible as that which white Western culture needs to solidify its sense of itself as a developed and healthy people.

E. J. Clery, Women’s Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley

E. J. Clery, Women's Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley. Devon, U.K.: Northcote House, 2000 viii + 168 pp.  $21.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7463-0872-8).

Reviewed by
Harriet Kramer Linkin
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces

The explosion of interest in Gothic literature during the past twenty-five years has resulted in a tremendous group of books, especially among scholars working on women's Gothic literature or the female Gothic (notably Bette Roberts's 1980 The Gothic Romance, Julian Fleenor's 1983 collection The Female Gothic, Kate Ferguson Ellis's 1989 The Contested Castle, Eugenia DeLamotte's 1990 Perils of the Night, Michelle Massé's 1992 In the Name of Love, Terry Castle's 1995 The Female Thermometer, Anne Williams's 1995 Art of Darkness, and Diane Hoeveler's 1998 Gothic Feminism). Emma Clery's Women's Gothic makes a rich contribution to the field that is both distinctive and innovative in looking exclusively at women's Gothic literature to argue against the simplicity of a separatist tradition that differentiates the male Gothic from the female Gothic. Rather than read women's Gothic works as "parables of patriarchy involving the heroine's danger from wicked father figures, and her search for the absent mother," the classic approach that positions the "'Female Gothic'" within the "notion of a distinctive women's tradition" (as Ellen Moers usefully defined "Female Gothic" in her 1977 opus Literary Women), Clery productively turns the issue of valuation upside down to ask "what happens if we lay aside our assumptions about women's writing and look again at women's Gothic? What we find there suggests the need for another story: wild passions, the sublime, supernatural phenomena, violent conflict, murder and torture, sexual excess and perversion, outlandish settings, strange minglings of history and fantasy" (2). That is the story Clery seeks to tell in Women's Gothic as she offers lucid, concise, and finely researched overviews of the works of Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Joanna Baillie, Charlotte Dacre, and Mary Shelley for Isobel Armstrong's "Writers and Their Work" series (which currently includes over one hundred brief studies of authors and literary movements).

Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation

Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 40. Cambridge University Press, 2000. xii + 255pp. £37.50/$48.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77328-8).

Reviewed by
Anne Williams
University of Georgia

Ever since professional criticism of the Gothic emerged in the early decades of the twentieth century, this literature's relationship to high Romanticism has been a vexed question. Although early critics such as Eino Railo (The Haunted Castle, 1927) took it for granted that since Gothic motifs and archetypes appeared in "Romantic" poets such as Coleridge and Keats, the two modes were fundamentally akin. It was the newly professional critics of the equally emergent "Romanticism," however, who established, usually by simply ignoring their favored poets' use of Gothic conventions, that Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" had nothing in common with Lewis's Wandering Jew, for instance, or that Keats's Gothic edifice in "The Eve of St. Agnes" was no Udolpho (though Keats himself had commented on the "fine Mother Radcliff [sic]" names he had chosen for his characters). And as feminist critics have more recently demonstrated, another latent motive for marginalizing Gothic works lay in their associations with women both as writers and as readers.

Michael Gamer's fine study directly confronts this critical amnesia or repression. In exploring the historical roots of the literary phenomenon we now call "Gothic," he exposes not only the ways in which this concept emerged around the turn of the nineteenth century in Britain, but he also argues provocatively that "the reception of gothic writing . . . played a fundamental role in shaping many of the ideological assumptions about high culture that we have come to associate with 'romanticism'" (2), and that the "Gothic's reception tells us much about how readers . . . organized and attempted to make sense of gothic as a 'new' kind of writing" (3).

James Watt, Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764–1832

James Watt, Contesting the Gothic: Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764-1832. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 33.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.  x + 205 pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-64099-7).

Reviewed by
Diane Long Hoeveler
Marquette University

In a valuable new study of the gothic, Watt claims that he wants to "take issue with received accounts of the genre as a stable and continuous tradition." His stated intention is to depict the gothic as a "heterogeneous body of fiction, characterised at times by antagonistic relations between various writers or works" (i). Given the mass of critical studies published in the past five years or so on the gothic that adopt a historicist perspective, such as Emma Clery's The Rise of Supernatural Fiction, 1762–1800 (Cambridge University Press, 1995), this is not as original or startling a claim as Watt seems to believe, but Watt's book does bring some exciting archival material to the project, and for that reason alone the book is new and grounded in historical material we have not seen before. His stated foci are: 1) "Walpole's attempt to forge an aristocratic identity"; 2) the "loyalist affiliations of many neglected works of the 1790s"; 3) the "subversive reputation of The Monk"; 4) "the ways in which Radcliffean romance proved congenial to conservative critics"; 5) the status of Scott within the gothic; and (6) the "process by which the Gothic came to be defined as a monolithic tradition" (i).

Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës

Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. 250 pages. $40.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-271-01809-7).

Reviewed by
Deborah Kennedy
Saint Mary's University, Halifax

Dand to criticism in the field. Concentrating on gothic novels written by women, Hoeveler traces patterns within the genre, ranging from the work of Charlotte Smith in the late eighteenth century to that of the Brontës in the nineteenth century, with two chapters on Ann Radcliffe forming the core of the book. Hoeveler's phrase "gothic feminism" might sound like an oxymoron, but she uses it to define the way that women writers created fictional worlds which in some way addressed the problem of their physical and social vulnerability. For Hoeveler, gender and the body become the overriding concerns of these texts. While one may not always agree with her attempt to find one key to unlock all of these novels, Hoeveler is a gifted literary critic. Her work is informed by recent theory, and she conscientiously cites a whole range of articles and books on gothic literature. But Hoeveler always keeps the novels themselves at the center of her discussion. One can see why she was first "entranced" by Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (xvii), and her detailed and engaging commentary makes one want to read these novels again.

Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation

Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). x + 224pp. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-231-10816-8). $16.50 (Pap; ISBN: 0-231-10817-6).

Reviewed by
Dennis Berthold
Texas A&M University

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1992), Toni Morrison calls for greater attention to the place of race and slavery in classic American literature: "The contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination" (5). Teresa Goddu's book answers that call by grounding nineteenth-century American gothicism in the history and politics of American racialism. In America, Goddu argues, the gothic stands as an elaborate code for slavery, race, and oppression, including the oppression by the new capitalist marketplace and its consequence, rampant literary commercialism. Goddu's fundamental aim is to historicize the gothic, to situate it within a particular social and political milieu and show how "American gothic literature criticizes America's national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation's claim to purity and equality" (10). By rendering Julia Kristeva's notion of the "abject" (or "horror of being") into concrete, historical narratives, American gothic tales expose the American nightmare even as they mask it with the modes of popular fiction and fantasy. Goddu moves the gothic from the margins to the center of American literary history, and to the already considerable literature studying the gothic's psychological role adds an argument for its social function.

Subscribe to RSS - Gothic