David McAllister
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De-Gothicising the Victorian Gothic graveyard
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This chapter considers the anti-Gothic ideology that led to the mass closure of graveyards in Britain in mid nineteenth century, the opening of new cemeteries that were designed to combat Gothic affects, and the reclamation of these now decaying spaces for the Gothic mode at the fin de siècle. It begins by showing how burial reformers of the 1830s and 1840s drew on associationist psychological theories to argue that Britain’s decaying urban graveyards were an unacceptably Gothic presence in the nation’s modernising cities. I show how they were identified as damaging sites of both physical and psychological pollution: breeding grounds for disease and superstition, and exemplars of a Gothic inheritance that a progressive new era wished to reject. Social reformers argued that if Britain was to move forward as a nation – socially, morally and financially – its graveyards must be replaced by aestheticised cemeteries: spaces in which ‘the imagination is robbed of its gloomy horrors’, according to one enthusiast, by excluding and disguising decay. The chapter then moves forward in the century to narrate the failure of this project, through an examination of Lucy Westenra’s tomb in Dracula. Here I argue that Victorian attempts to eliminate decay made this de-Gothicising project impossible, and in itself constituted a new and superadded terror, with the vampire as a figure of this denial of decay. The chapter concludes that by the 1890s, with the ornate tombs of aestheticised Victorian cemeteries themselves falling into decay, the graveyard was reinstated as a key Gothic location.

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