This book investigates discursive structures intermittently recurring through Gothic writing, and provides intertextual readings, exemplifications of contemporaneously understood, discursively inflected, debate. By drawing on the ideas of Michel Foucault to establish a genealogy, it brings Gothic writing in from the margins of 'popular fiction', resituating it at the centre of debate about Romanticism. The book stresses that the intertextual readings form the methodological lynchpin for interpreting Gothic writing as self-aware debate on the character of the subject. Foucault's theory of discourse enables readers to gain an historical purchase on Gothic writing. The book traces the genealogy of a particular strand, the 'Gothic aesthetic', where a chivalric past was idealized at the explicit expense of a classical present. It introduces the reader to the aspects of Gothic in the eighteenth century including its historical development and its placement within the period's concerns with discourse and gender.
Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian and Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya: Or, The Moor
Matthew Lewis's The Monk begins with an apparent non sequitur. The Monk's subversion of sensibility may have panicked Ann Radcliffe into a riposte, one imposing closure on Lewis's worrying gaps, but it also prompted a reassessment of her earlier work. Radcliffe's reassertion of the denotative function of language pulls The Italian back towards naturalism, as is evident from her stress on the veridical genealogy of her text. Radcliffe's development of the female Gothic sublime and interiority may be seen as examples of self-fulfilling exercises of power within a 'despotic' context; The Italian differs in trying to analyse that context. Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya: Or, The Moor, is in two respects a female version of Lewis's The Monk. A woman, Victoria di Loredani, occupies Ambrosio's role, while the sexual politics of the Gothic are viewed from a feminist perspective.
The author argues that the readers should not understand the Gothic as a set of prose conventions, but as a discursive site crossing the genres. He argues that a suppression of this understanding of the Gothic seriously decontextualizes Christabel and its immediate ripostes, The Eve of St Agnes and Lamia. He counters the bias whereby the Gothic is read as a prose genre, a bias not shared by Coleridge, Walter Scott and Byron. They understood poetry to be the most fashionable medium for the Gothic tale of the supernatural. Christabel's status as a Gothic tale of the supernatural is universally accepted. The author argues that The Eve of St Agnes and Lamia establish a polemical conversation with Christabel and the Gothic. In this conversation the Gothic emerges as a language of subjective representation, for that nexus of tropes that includes the self, the body, boundaries, invasion, transgression, repression and desire.
Northanger Abbey is interesting because it represents the endeavour of a particularly alert consciousness to reduce the Gothic to burlesque, to satire, to a univocal status. It attempts to rescue Ann Radcliffe from the 'horrids', reading her as a 'proto-novelist'. The dominant tone of Northanger Abbey is playful, deftly ironic, sounding serious issues with a light touch. As a work of anti-Gothic, Northanger Abbey has an unavoidable interest for the Gothic genealogist. As with Gothic works, Northanger Abbey has a tendency towards the carnivalesque. It retains a Gothic core when it keeps the conflict between General Tilney's devotion to the values of alliance, and his children's to those of romantic love. Northanger Abbey's narrative of personal development, its cult of 'personality', is ruffled by the disjunctive energies of the Gothic world it seeks to put by, as childish things; there are too many loose ends.
The Gothic aesthetic and hygienic self gain their particular accents during the latter half of the eighteenth century; during the nineteenth, they become less distinct while others are heard. This chapter addresses the effect this had on Gothic writing during the 1820s and beyond and the genealogical consequences. Byron's Werner; or, The Inheritance: A Tragedy, a dramatic adaptation of Harriet Lee's novella, The German's Tale: Kruitzner, is an instance of rewriting at the margins of the Gothics classic period. The geographical and temporal setting, 'Germany' in 1633, towards the end of the Thirty Years War, highlights the 'Gothic cusp', a period when the feudal and modern eras were understood to overlap. Insofar as Kruitzner sets it out as typical, the house of Siegendorf, like all Gothic houses, is based on 'mystery and blood', violence shrouded by an obscurantist myth of noble origin.
This chapter deals directly with the discursive, with aesthetic discourses where the issue of gender is acutely present. In elaborating the discursive structures that encode gender within the Gothic, the chapter assumes that there is a sufficient congruence between sex and gender as to warrant the terms 'male' and 'female' Gothic. Genius, novelty, the sublime, the visual and reverie all offer points of theoretical concentration, where the hygienic self bunches into discursive thickness, forming Gothic texture. At the centre of the hygienic self lies associationism with its normative patterns of mental behaviour. But in most Gothic writing the negations of the hygienic self are not, simply, outrageously permitted; rather they occur in the context of their systematic antitheses. In Gothic writing, the patterning that promises meaning, reveals meaning of a psychological, or uncanny, kind. The Gothic aesthetic internalized the tenets of ideal presence as its pedagogic defence.
The typical feature of 'narratives of nurture' is that they are prone to discontinuity, rupture, incompletion. This chapter elaborates on an earlier contention, that the garden becomes a central Gothic topos owing to its peculiarly rich discursive resonance, its ability to raise the ideologically inflected issues of nature/nurture. As a literary structure, the garden typifies a recurring feature of Gothic writing. In discussing the Gothic aesthetic, the chapter argues that the discursive values of the Gothic afforded the basis of a strategy akin to the carnivalesque, where a resistance may be mounted. In assessing Gothic narratives of nurture, it is important to keep gender in mind. In male Gothic what one might call the 'deconstructive tendency of the carnivalesque' is kept in bounds by a psycho-sexual force, by a misogyny generally expressed as woman's monstrous otherness, her 'artificiality'.
This chapter traces the genealogy of a particular strand, the 'Gothic aesthetic', where a chivalric past was idealized at the explicit expense of a classical present. It deals with a Foucauldian genealogy dealing in the descent of discourses which inform Gothic writing. The Gothic aesthetic declares its discursive nature through its claims to know proper writing, writing as it ought to be. The Letters on Chivalry and Romance may have been read as a manifesto for the Gothic romance, but the essays reveal the discursive tensions underlying the Gothic aesthetic. The pedagogic consequences of ideal presence in the Gothic aesthetic are evident in Clara Reeve's The Progress of Romance. In the Gothic pastoral, the primitivist ideal projected onto the past is always stalked by its shadow, its dark opposite.
The Castle of Otranto and The Old English Baron are 'genealogical' texts concerned with the assertion of dynastic claims. Both plots revolve around murder, usurpation and restitution. In each, a young man of questionable pedigree establishes the legitimacy of his claims to his 'house', a process historically authenticated through the ostensible provenance of the text. It is over the equation between descent and authority that they mainly differ, The Old English Baron seeking to eliminate questions scandalously posed by The Castle of Otranto. From The Castle of Otranto to The Scarlet Letter, Gothic texts insist on the historical residue that authenticates their truth. These two aspects of genealogy are endemic in the Romance genre. In Romance, the usurped and dispossessed find their rights restored; the lost are found, and a true genealogy reasserts itself. It is a Romance convention to locate the story in some historically true narrative.