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.
literary historical solecism to equate
the Gothic only with fiction. During its initial phase (1750-1820)
Gothicwriting also encompassed drama and poetry, and before it was any
of these Gothic was a taste, an ‘aesthetic’.
But as David Punter indicates in his review of Elizabeth
Napier’s The Failure of Gothic, Gothic is problematic not simply
because it is heterogeneous. Napier’s focus, on forms of
In the Introduction I referred to
several decisions crucial to historicizing the Gothic: to resist
applying evolutionary narratives to the development of Gothicwriting;
to see the self in Gothicwriting as in the first instance conditioned
by historical conventions of representation; and to hold in abeyance the
traditional lines of demarcation, evaluative and generic, that cross
approaches. If there is, now, a consensus, it is that literary histories
should beware ‘grand narratives’, making room for difference.
In writing this book I have found myself influenced by
this consensus. The simple premise with which I started was that Gothicwriting was discursively involved in representations of the self.
Following the logic of this premise, I outlined a reading of the
reveries, the sublime – each is conceived as an hygienic event
threatened by desire. The Gothic’s predisposition to these is not
accidental, but represents once again the reflex of the Gothic to
internalize practices of the self touching upon sexuality as ‘an
especially dense transfer point for relations of power’ (Foucault 1979 : 103). Within
Gothicwriting itself, these normative practices unravel.
important aspect of the dispersed provenance
of Gothicwriting. The origins of the Gothic lie, not in Horace
Walpole’s mind, but in the aesthetic that preceded his novel. Second,
many of the motifs, figures, topoi and themes that characterize Gothicwriting find a previous expression within the Gothic aesthetic. Finally,
Gothicwriting does not absorb these motifs and figures as it finds
them. They are
how the discourses analysed in the previous chapter
reticulate Gothicwriting like so many intermittent threads, supporting
the further point that Gothicwriting is comprehensible in its own
terms, that we are not dealing with irrational anxieties, but with
anxieties addressed, named and argued. Earlier I said that much of this
debate concerned ‘self definition; but the issue of subjectivity may
recognition of Edmund as the repository of the house of Lovel’s
legitimate blood: as a result, he is content to feast his eyes dog-like
on his master.
In these features The Old English Baron differs
from The Castle of Otranto and from much of the Gothicwriting
that was to follow. The restitution of feudal Romance, the concurrence
of plot, providence, class differences and political legitimacy, proved
patterns of authority were most directly felt. Second, Abraham’s theory
offers a narrative structure, and an aetiology, for the appearance of
the spectral within Gothicwriting that closely reproduces the narrative
structure of Radcliffe’s early texts. I do not use Abrahams
psychoanalytic theory to ‘explain’ Radcliffe, but to draw attention to
similar features in her texts.
The core of Abraham’s narrative is
be of the same expressive order. 5
One of the burdens of this book has been to argue that such
an understanding of Gothicwriting is misconceived. We should not
understand the Gothic as a set of prose conventions, however flexible,
but as a discursive site crossing the genres. In this chapter I want to
argue that a suppression of this understanding of the Gothic seriously