Literature and Theatre

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

Among the more counterintuitive tropes of the vampire genre is the propensity of vampires to attempt suicide (often successfully). This chapter focuses on three motivations for vampire suicide – vampire guilt, vampire martyrdom and vampire ennui. In relation to guilt, this chapter will discuss Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series, James Malcolm Rymer’s novel Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood  and Park Chan-wook’s 2009 film Thirst. Vampire martyrdom will be discussed in relation to David Slade’s 2007 American horror movie 30 Days of Night, based on Steve Niles’s 2002 graphic novel, and Darla in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, Angel . As for vampire ennui, the characters of Godric (Allan Hyde) in HBO's True Blood and Adam (Tom Hiddleston) in Jim Jarmusch's 2013 Only Lovers Left Alive will provide examples. After noting the motivations for vampire suicide in Gothic narrative, the emphasis of the chapter will be on the ways in which vampire suicidal tendencies constitute a half-hearted attempt to recuperate the vampire genre from charges of immorality through a strategy of inversion.

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Under the dying sun

Suicide and the Gothic in modern Japanese literature and culture

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

This chapter discusses the changing representation of suicide in selected Japanese literary and visual texts, focusing on four twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels (Kokoro by Natsume Soseki [1914], The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe [1967], Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami [1987], and Gray Men by Tomotake Ishikawa [2012]), selected films and manga. The chapter argues that the discussed texts have departed from the historic/nationalistic notion of suicide as noble death in favour of a more Gothic positioning of the theme. This Gothic dimension is realised predominantly through the construction of the characters and the bleak landscapes they inhabit. Alienated from society; often living in self-imposed exile; prone to depression, or other forms of mental illness; trapped in toxic, dysfunctional relationships and elaborate masochistic rituals, these melancholy individuals accept suicide with fatalistic abandon as an inevitable conclusion to their insignificant lives, or embrace it as the ultimate act of non-conformism and defiance against authority. The chapter also examines apocalyptic visions of ‘nightmare Japan’ in films like Sion Sono’s controversial Suicide Circle (2001) and the manga it inspired (Furuya  Ukamaru, 2002), where suicide becomes symbolic of the ways that adults have failed the younger generations.

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‘To be mistress of her own fate’

Suicide as control and contagion in the works of Richard Marsh

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

Suicide clearly held a particular fascination for Richard Marsh (1857–1914), one of the most prolific and popular fiction writers of the period, with representations of suicide and reflections on it featuring widely throughout his Gothic oeuvre. But this interest goes further than the astute incorporation of cultural anxieties, which Marsh often used as a key technique for heightening the disturbing effects of his work, to considerations of its social, philosophical and scientific import. This is evidenced not only through his fiction but also by a seemingly unpublished essay (in the University of Reading archives), from 1891–1910, simply entitled ‘Suicide’ (which includes the characteristically provocative suggestion that ‘there may be something to be said even in favour of suicide’). This chapter draws on examples from a range of Marsh's multitudinous Gothic (or Gothic-inflected) texts, including Mrs Musgrave (1895), A Master of Deception (1913) and  A Spoiler of Men (1905), which Johan Höglund identifies as containing arguably ‘the first instance of the zombie character in British fiction’.  

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‘The supposed incipiency of mental disease’

Guilt, regret and suicide in three ghost stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

In recent years, J. Sheridan Le Fanu's ghost-story collection In a Glass Darkly (1871) has been interpreted through its Gothic, medical and theological contexts. Yet the focus of these disparate literary and cultural discourses at the moment of death and – more pointedly – in the enactment of self-annihilation has never been explored. The first three narratives in the collection, ‘Green Tea’, ‘The Familiar’ and ‘Mr Justice Harbottle’, depict troubled, indeed persecuted, individuals – a diffident clergyman, a retired naval officer, a notorious and corrupt hanging judge – whose lives end prematurely following a personal contemplation of past actions known to themselves, but not to their contemporaries. This chapter will consider the deteriorating mental states of the Reverend Jennings and Captain Barton, the respective protagonists of ‘Green Tea’ and ‘The Familiar’, and the retrospective account which charts the final days of the unfortunate Mr Justice Harbottle. All three stories amply illustrate the complex relationship between introspection and self-destruction in the persecutory tradition of Gothic fiction.

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‘The body of a self-destroyer’

Suicide and the self in the fin-de-siècle Gothic

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

This chapter explores why so many fin-de-siècle Gothic novels conclude on equally complex, if different, forms of suicide, including Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Machen's The Great God Pan (1894) and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). The chapter argues that, as in Jekyll and Hyde, images of the self-destructive self should be seen within the context of models of social self-destruction found in theories of degeneration. The writings of Edwin Lankester and Max Nordau, in particular, suggest that society is prone to self-destruction when it becomes overly refined and collapses back on to itself. Images of the body thus need to be related to wider issues of the body politic. However, this chapter argues  that the fin-de- siècle Gothic does not simply replicate the terms used in theories of degeneration but rather scrutinises how images of wealth, cultural refinement and class-bound models of ‘civilisation’ lead to Gothic representations of self-destruction that strangely liberate the subject from the demands of the ostensibly degenerate body. The chapter outlines how the death of the body becomes, in suicide, an act of agency in which the self is able to transcend its corporeal limits and gain access to a higher spiritual realm.

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Suicide as justice?

The self-destroying Gothic villain in Pauline Hopkins’ Of One Blood

Series:

William Hughes and Andrew Smith

This chapter explores the ways that Pauline Hopkins employs the act of suicide as a way to achieve justice in Of One Blood; or, The Hidden Self, originally serialised in Colored American Magazine, 1902–1903. Although Hopkins’ novel is hard to categorise, many of its features – haunted houses, family secret, ghosts and incest – indicate its place within the Gothic tradition. On the very first page of the novel, the main character, Reuel Briggs, a Harvard medical student, asks ‘Is suicide wrong?’, setting up an ongoing obsession of the character and the novel. After many plot twists and revelations, the novel’s Gothic villain, Aubrey Livingston, commits murder. Another character intones ‘Justice will be done’, and shortly thereafter, Aubrey’s body is found floating in the Charles River. The narrator later explains that ‘“death by thine own hand”, [was] whispered in [Aubrey’s] ear while [he was] under hypnotic influence’; essentially he was forced to commit suicide. In Hopkins’ novel, suicide offers an unusual solution that both punishes the villain and relieves the victim of any sense that she has been the cause of the destruction of another life.

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Series:

William Hughes and Andrew Smith

Suicide and the Gothic is the first protracted study of how the act of self-destruction recurs and functions within one of the most enduring and popular forms of fiction. Comprising eleven original essays and an authoritative introduction, this collection explores how the act of suicide has been portrayed, interrogated and pathologised from the eighteenth century to the present. The featured fictions include both the enduringly canonical and the less studied, and the geographical compass of the work embraces not merely British, European and American authors but also the highly pertinent issue of self-destruction in modern Japanese culture. Featuring detailed interventions into the understanding of texts as temporally distant as Thomas Percy’s Reliques and Patricia Highsmith’s crime fictions, and movements as diverse as Wertherism, Romanticism and fin-de-siècle decadence, Suicide and the Gothic provides a comprehensive and compelling overview of this recurrent crisis – a crisis that has personal, familial, religious, legal and medical implications – in fiction and culture. Suicide and the Gothic will prove a central – and provocative – resource for those engaged in the study of the genre from the eighteenth century onwards, but will also support scholars working in complementary literary fields from Romanticism to crime fiction and theoretical disciplines from the medical humanities to Queer Studies, as well as the broader fields of American and European studies. Its contents are as relevant to the undergraduate reader as they are to the advanced postgraduate and the faculty member: suicide is a crucial subject in culture as well as criticism.

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Scottish revenants

Caledonian fatality in Thomas Percy’s Reliques

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

Thomas Percy’s The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, first published in 1765, was a seminal text in English literature. A comprehensive three-volume set of British ballads, it was one of the most significant collections of the century, and its influence was felt on British editors and writers for generations afterwards. The backdrop for this literary endeavour was a culture war in English and Scottish literature which emanated from the Glorious Revolution period in the late seventeenth century and found expression in a variety of texts. At the core of this battle was a struggle for cultural superiority between Scotland and England. Through The Reliques, Percy posited a conception of British literary history which maintained that the English were cultural inheritors of the Goths, a racial grouping which he believed was superior and different to Scotland’s antecedents, the Celts. By advancing this idea, Percy was aiming to defend and consolidate a cultural position that favoured an interpretation of English predominance over other constituent members of the United Kingdom. He also anticipates Gothic literary approaches in his treatment of Scotland as practically a suicidal nation.

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Male and female Werthers

Romanticism and Gothic suicide

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

If the Romantic Gothic hero is typically defined by his or her marginalisation from society and its norms and is characterised by excess, individualism and transgression, the ultimate act of defiance is self-annihilation. Given its associations with a long-standing interest in what has been characterised as ‘the Romantic agony’, it is perhaps surprising that suicide is not treated as a topic distinct from death in the critical literature on the Gothic – all the more so with respect to its connections with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and its notoriety as a work causing suicidal contagion, with sufferers donning Werther’s blue coat and yellow waistcoat as if exchanging their bodies for his own. This chapter explores allusions to Werther within British Gothic writing about suicide, which are to be found particularly in writings by women. Their retellings of Werther’s story interrogate the relationship between infection and agency with respect to suicide. Works by Charlotte Dacre, Charlotte Smith, Sarah Farrell, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley are considered .

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Introduction

The most Gothic of acts – suicide in generic context

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William Hughes and Andrew Smith

The Introduction will open by identifying, for the first time, the importance of suicide as a constant factor in Gothic textuality. Utilising Byron’s commentary on how Castlereagh’s death was understood in Gothic terms, it will demonstrate that the presence of self-destruction haunts the genre from Horace Walpole’s earliest intervention to its contemporary realisations. The Introduction will further argue that the Gothic provided a central corpus of images through which the complicated act of suicide could be understood, rationalised and contained – a tradition, as it were, of dissipating the troubling implications that accompany self-destruction. The emphasis here is less on the presence of the ghost, the vampire or the zombie and more on the singular and violent human action that in many cases prefaces the mobilisation of these occult and supernatural beings. The Introduction will then briefly summarise the chapters which follow, setting the tone for this unique and timely intervention into the medico-legal study of Gothic.