Harkness and genre
Margaret Harkness, novelist:
social semantics and experiments
Since the early 1970s there has been increasing curiosity about a writer
who responded to ‘the puzzle of the new reality’ by creating, in the short
time between 1887 and 1889, ‘a new mode of fiction’ (Goode, 1982: 53)
in three distinctively different and intriguingly problematic novels set in
London. Part of the challenge today in addressing Harkness’s literary
achievement is that the emphasis of earlier critics has been more on the
importance of her
They called him ‘the Lancashire novelist’. In his day, he was hailed as the successor of Sir Walter Scott as Britain’s premier historical novelist. Early Victorian England spoke of him in the same breath as Thackeray and Dickens. Yet while Thackeray and Dickens retain their places in the literary canon, few nowadays remember William Harrison Ainsworth. Although most of his novels languish unread today, his legacy as a mythmaker remains. For it was Ainsworth who made the nineteenth century’s most substantial contribution to the
Melodrama, Mystery, and the Nightmare of History in Jessie Fauset‘s Plum Bun
This essay discusses how African-American novelist Jessie Fauset used the Gothic motif of a hidden history to critique the melodramatic happy ending of her best novel, one set in New York city in the 1920s. What undermines the ‘moral legibility’ of melodrama is the Gothic implications of an unsolved crime in the past, one that, ironically, continues to haunts the ‘New Negro’ of the Harlem Renaissance who claims to have reinvented him or herself in the modern city.
This essay presents the idea of James Baldwin as a freedom writer, the organizing idea of
my biography in progress. As a freedom writer, Baldwin was a revolutionary intellectual,
an essayist and novelist committed unfailingly to the realization of racial justice,
interracial political equality, and economic democracy. While the book is still in
process, this short essay narrates autobiographically how I came to meet and know
Baldwin’s work, explains in critical fashion my work in relation to existing biographies,
and reflects interpretively my thoughts-in- progress on this fascinating and captivating
figure of immense historical and social consequence.
Ed Cameron‘s essay offers a Lacanian interpretation of the development of the eighteenth-century Gothic novel. Tracing the movement from Horace Walpole to Ann Radcliffe and Mathew Lewis, the essay argues that the Gothic supernatural machinery figures that which is immanent yet inaccessible to the narrative structure. Reading the supernatural as a literary delimitation of the excessive enjoyment of the Lacanian symbolic order, Cameron illustrates how the different manner by which each novelist relegates his or her specific use of the supernatural corresponds to different psychoanalytically recognized psychopathological structures.
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.
Sensationalising Substance Abuse in the Victorian Home
Controversies about the mid-Victorian sensation novel newly brought to the fore clinical conceptualisations of novel reading as an addiction. Yet as novelists capitalised on the sensational potential of substance abuse at home as part of the genre‘s rupture of ideologies of domesticity, they juxtaposed the consumption of sensational material with other emotional and physical dependencies, while reading could be a panacea or cure. M. E. Braddon‘s John Marchmont‘s Legacy (1863) and Wilkie Collins‘s The Law and the Lady (1875) form particularly revealing examples of self-reflexive sensation novels that capitalise on a clinical Gothic of addiction by appropriating discourses that had, ironically, attacked the sensation genre most virulently.
Drunkenness and the Southern Gothic in Flannery O’Connor‘s The Violent Bear It Away
Lindsey Michael Banco
This essay explores a link, previously unremarked, in the Southern Gothic novelist Flannery O’Connors The Violent Bear It Away (1960) between the drunkenness of the novels protagonist and the idiot child he is compelled to baptize. Inspired by the possibility that much of the canon of American literature contains a symbolic economy of alcohol – what John Crowley calls ‘the White Logic’ – I argue that aligning the child with intoxication produces a poetics of addiction that helps explain the redemptive, revelatory climax of the novel in which O’Connors protagonist fulfills his religious destiny. The novel thus calls for a more complex understanding in American Gothic literature of the protean nature of intoxication.
James Robertson‘s well-deserved reputation as a historical novelist has obscured the role that the Gothic plays in his work. Manifesting itself in distinctively Scottish fashion, Robertson‘s Gothicism is tied to the ‘broader national culture’ in general and to post-devolutionary Scotland in particular. Not only does his transformation of the Gothic into the historical novels uncanny other resist the modern novels tendency towards increasing privatisation. It also results in work that diverges from much post-devolutionary Scottish fiction in that his stories and novels are, by virtue of the density of their Scottishness, deeply connected to the local and to folk culture.
Late eighteenth-century science aimed to render the body transparent; in contrast, gothic novels of the same period often represented the body as an untrustworthy source of information about the self. In these novels, characters may often be reduced to a bodily or facial map, which may give clues as to personal character, motivation and intention. Yet the practice of reading the body – as practiced in sciences such as physiognomy, phrenology or criminology – also comes under intense interrogation. Through disastrous mis-readings, misdiagnoses and misidentifications, gothic novelists demonstrate how conflating body and self is deeply threatening to ideas of ‘unique’ personhood.