Michel Faber's 'The Fahrenheit Twins' is the title story in a collection of weird tales published in 2006. It provides a new twist to the parodic gothic of Angela Carter in her rewriting of European fairy stories, The Bloody Chamber. 'The Fahrenheit twins' provides much food for thought about the relationship between culture and environment and prompts the reader at the beginning of the twenty-first century to consider the global future. It is an allegory that parodies the well-worn tropes of a Western tradition, gothic, in order to imagine the world in a state of profound change. In the two and a half centuries since the emergence of Western gothic, popular perceptions of time and space have changed, a process that has accelerated in recent decades with the phenomenon of globalisation.
This essay examines a particular kind of female Gothic. Seizing the moment at which features of Gothic form had become sufficiently established to become part of a cultural inheritance, some twentieth-century women writers, we argue, created comic Gothic fictions that extended the boundaries of potential feminine identity. Stella Gibbon‘s Cold Comfort Farm pits an Austen sensibility against a rural Radcliffean scenario and proceeds to parody both as literary ancestors of a contemporary narrative of femininity. Fay Weldon‘s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) also appropriates aspects of Gothic to spin a darkly comic tale of literary and literally constructed ‘woman’. The essay also looks at the Canadian novel published a year earlier, Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, which engages playfully with the relationship between Gothic writing and the feminine. Such texts constitute a challenge to the grand récit of gender difference, a challenge that has yet to be recognized fully by feminist critics many of whom have concentrated their energies on the feminist pursuit of life-writing. Female writers of comic Gothic, however, confront the stuff of patriarchy‘s nightmares and transform it into fictions of wry scepticism or celebratory anarchy. Through parody as ‘repetition with critical difference’, the boundaries of gender difference are destabilized in the service of creating different possibilities for female subjectivity. In their resistance both to tragic closure and their recasting of the fears of patriarchal society from a feminine perspective, such texts transform a literature of terror into a literature of liberation.
Horner and Zlosnik explore the work of the English novelist Barbara Comyns whose best-known works were published between 1950 and 1985. They focus on The Vet‘s Daughter (1959) and The Skin Chairs (1962) and explore how Comyns‘s use of parody, wit, and humour exposes the horrors of domestic life. For Horner and Zlosnik this constitutes a Female Comic Gothic which is grotesque and blackly comic in its critical assault on patriarchal plots, and so constitutes a particular form of the Female Gothic which became popular in the twentieth century.
The papers in this volume consider Gothic Ex/Changes, a concept at the heart of the essentially hybrid mode of Gothic, which constantly challenges prevailing orthodoxies. Papers foreground the confusion of boundaries and definitions of the human. A number take this examination of the hybrid into the realm of form and genre, including music and historiography. The analysis of Gothic in the collection demonstrates the way in which Gothic criticism has extended the subversive role of Gothic texts into the academy. It might be that as part of the ongoing process of change and exchange with a range of theoretical approaches, we are entering the period of ‘postGothic studies.’
Although the preoccupation of Gothic storytelling with the family has often been observed, it invites a more systematic exploration. Gothic Kinship brings together case studies of Gothic kinship ties in film and literature and offers a synthesis and theoretical exploration of the different appearances of the Gothic family. The volume explores the cultural mediation of the shifting relations of kinship and power in gothic fictionfrom the eighteenth century up to the present day. Writers discussed include early British Gothic writers such as Eleanor Sleath and Louisa Sidney Stanhope as well as a range of later authors writing in English, including Elizabeth Gaskell, William March, Stephen King, Poppy Z. Brite, Patricia Duncker, J. K. Rowling and Audrey Niffenegger. There are also essays on Dutch authors (Louis Couperus and Renate Dorrestein) and on the film directors Wes Craven and Steven Sheil. Arranged chronologically, the various contributions show that both early and contemporary Gothic display very diverse kinship ties, ranging from metaphorical to triangular, from queer to nuclear-patriarchal. Gothic proves to be a rich source of expressing both subversive and conservative notions of the family.
T.S. Eliot and Gothic hauntings in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Barnes’s Nightwood
Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik
T. S. Eliot's embrace of European high culture, so evident in his critical writings, is accompanied by an elision of the American and the popular, including the Gothic, despite the fact that his own poetry contains powerful Gothic resonances. Eliot's critical appraisal of Djuna Barnes's work is shown to be informed by a perspective which reveals an American anxiety concerning tradition and the individual talent. The coupling of A Handful of Dust and Barnes's Nightwood might initially seem a strange one, given Evelyn Waugh's image as an essentially conservative satirist of English society and the recent retrieval of Barnes as a radical lesbian Modernist. The title evokes not only the wilderness of Modernist preoccupation but also the tradition of American Gothic in which the haunted forest and the haunted cave were substituted for the haunted castles, ruined abbeys and dungeons of its European precursor.
This introduction situates the volume within the existing academic literature on gothic and family relations, and introduces the guiding research questions. Within Gothic studies, the central role of kinship relations has been acknowledged but it has seldom been studied as a topic in itself; within disciplines that study kinship, such as anthropology or history, the attention for Gothic has been lacking. Starting from the assumption that Gothic fiction is a key site where sociocultural figurations of the family are negotiated, this volume aims to analyze how Gothic figurations of kinship both contest and reinforce orthodox notions of the nuclear family. The chapters address such questions as: how does Gothic fiction mediate the ways in which the family is understood, both as a shifting constellation of social and personal ties and as a powerful regulatory ideal; how does Gothic fiction configure, refigure or disfigure conceptualizations and representations of kinship; when do cultural figurations of kinship become Gothic?