‘Christabel’ as Gothic
The Abjection of Instability
in Gothic Studies
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Though pointedly raising its literary pedigree with allusions to ‘high’ literature from Percy‘s RELIQUES to Spensers FAIRIE QUEENE, Coleridge‘s ‘Christabel’ (1799-1801) still draws heavily on the very Gothic fiction of the 1790s that he condemns as ‘low’ writing in reviews of the same period. Especially Gothic is this poems alter-ego relationship between the title character and the vampiric Geraldine. This peculiar use of echoes extends the many jibes of this period that blame the many literary changes of this time (including a mass-produced effulgence of printed writing and a frightening blurring of genres) on the Gothic as a kind of scapegoat for the cultural upheaval of this era. The Gothic is, in fact, a site for what Kristeva calls ‘abjection’: the cultural ‘throwing off’ of intermingled contradictions,into a symbolic realm that seems blatantly fictional and remote. As such a site, the Gothic in ‘Christabel’ haunts the poem with unresolved cultural quandaries that finally contribute to its unfinished, fragmentary nature. One such quandary is what is abjected in the Gothic relationship of the heroine and Geraldine: the irresolution at the time about the nature and potentials of woman.

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