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.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book investigates discursive structures intermittently recurring through Gothic writing. It explains that the intertextual readings form the methodological lynchpin for interpreting Gothic writing as self-aware debate on the character of the subject. The book argues that before one can theorize the Gothic as a response to a 'gap in the social subject' one needs to recoup the Gothic's contemporaneous meanings, itself a theoretical task. The book adopts Michel Foucault's 'genealogy' as the theoretically sensitive model of literary history. The book discusses the common usage of 'ideology' as referring to configurations of national or class values individuals might find themselves associated with, as for instance, 'liberalism' or the 'Freeborn Briton'.
Historicizing Gothic writing implies a narrative of descent, of change over time. Michel Foucault's theory of discourse will enable the readers to gain an historical purchase on Gothic writing. There are two related ways in which circularity arises to balk the theorist. First, he or she may find that their theory is predicated on the very 'gap' they seek to historicize. Marxist, feminist and psychoanalytical readings are particularly vulnerable here in that they read the repression on which their theories are based back into Gothic texts, thus closing the hermeneutic circle. Foucault instructs us to see the atavistic as circumscribed within the discursive practices of the new. In both Madness and Civilization and The History of Sexuality the specificity of the Gothic moment arises from the clash of incommensurate 'archives'.
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.
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'.
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.
The shape of Ann Radcliffe's career, culminating in The Mysteries of Udolpho, is towards the creation of a narrative structure and a narrative method. Here, a feminine subject is 'haunted' by a phantom bearing witness to the buried secrets of the father. The most compelling attempt to historicize the shift in readerly sensibility noted by David H. Richter is found in Terry Castle's brilliant essay 'The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho'. Syndy M. Conger helpfully sums up the drift of Richter's argument. 'German scholars have begun to explore ways in which Empfindsamkeit offered powerless citizens living under despotism an alternate interior realm in which to exercise power, over themselves: the experience of fulfilment in self-fulfilment'. Richter's exemplary figure is the 'unguarded door': the Gothic protagonist suddenly finds an unopposed egress from an apparently fast prison.
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.