Literature and Theatre
Chris Baldick and Robert Mighall have argued rather convincingly that ‘Gothic Criticism’ is in need of an overhaul. I revisit their controversial article through an analysis of Oscar Wilde’s parody of the Gothic and of scholarship, ‘The Portrait of Mr W. H.’ In this tale of creative criticism, Wilde’s hero, Cyril Graham, invents the character of Willie Hughes to prove a theory about Shakespeare’s sonnets. Contrary to Baldick and Mighall, I argue that Gothic criticism might do well to take its cue from its object of study. Plunging deep into the abyss, abandoning pretentions of knowing fact from fiction, natural from supernatural, I whole-heartedly - momentarily - consider the ‘Willie Hughes theory’ and ‘I will take up the theory where Cyril Graham left it and I will prove to the world that he was right’.
The role played by Fantasmagoriana in the genesis of Frankenstein and The Vampyre has largely prevented the full critical appreciation of this work in its original context of production, i.e. the French market of supernatural anthologies in the early nineteenth century, paving the way to the so-called frénétique vogue. By analysing a manuscript appendix to Fantasmagoriana, drafted between the mid-1820s and the mid-1830s and bound within a copy formerly belonging to the Roman family Gabrielli-Bonaparte, this article reinstates Fantasmagoriana within the environment of Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic culture and its renewed interest in the supernatural. Whereas English-speaking criticism has normally approached Fantasmagoriana through Tales of the Dead, i.e. Sarah Utterson’s Gothicizing and partial translation of 1813, an analysis of Fantasmagoriana from the point of view of its original readership will enable us to rethink the specificities of the French Gothic beyond Anglocentric perspectives.
Ever since the publication of Frankenstein, the Gothic has been read as an expression of the fears associated with scientific, technological, and medical advances. This essay argues that obstetrical medicine, from midwifery to obstetrics, is the most Gothic of medical pursuits because of its blurring of boundaries between male and female, natural and supernatural, mechanical and organic, life and death. From subterraneous passages to monstrosity, the professionalization of obstetrics over the course of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth reads like a Gothic novel. Tracing the parallels between the Gothic aesthetic and several fictional and quasifictional accounts of obstetrical ‘stories’ - from the Warming Pan Scandal of 1688 to the work of Scottish obstetrician William Smellie and man mid-wife William Hunter - this essay demonstrates the Gothic nature of reproductive pursuits.
This study maps the influence of the Gothic mode in the Czech postmodern prose, especially in the novels published at the turn of the millennium: it primarily concerns books by Václav Vokolek, Miloš Urban and Jan Jandourek. Through analyticalinterpretative probes into these texts are demonstrated the main possibilities of the Gothic mode and consequences of its implementation in the contemporary Czech literature: distortion of the perspective and blurring of the individual identity, instability of the setting, expression of civilizational and existential fears. The study illustrates capturing of the key Gothic themes in the analyzed works of fiction and also the specific transformation and modification of these topics within individual author poetics. Special attention is particularly given to specifics of the setting, often combining typical Gothic topoi, which may be part of seriously intended opposition of the sacral and the profane, or they can also be presented as exposed cliché sceneries.
Though presenting itself as pulpy example of hardboiled American fiction, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me opens up in important and unexpected ways when read as a subversive Gothic novel. Such a reading sheds light on a range of marginalized characters (especially women and rural peoples) who often remain shadowed by more conventional readings. Reading the novel as Gothic also highlights thematic concerns which counter the halcyon image of post-World War II America as a golden age and reveal instead a contemporary landscape fraught with violence, alienation, and mental instability.
This essay investigates how H G Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau employs the gothic trope of the uncanny. Despite Wells’s use of ‘uncanny’ twice to describe humanized animals, prior critics haven’t explored what the uncanny adds to our understanding of the novel, perhaps because Freud’s famous essay ‘The ‘Uncanny’ was written in 1913, following The Island of Doctor Moreau by more than two decades. We argue, however, that both men were working from notions of the uncanny circulating in fin de siècle Europe and describing a larger colonial dynamic, so that even though Wells’s work preceded Freud’s, we can use Freud’s explanation of the uncanny to better understand what Wells was doing and why the animals in The Island of Doctor Moreau are so unsettling to readers in our time and in his. That is, the uncanny helps to explain how the novel works as a gothic. Moreover, by examining how Freud’s theories help us to understand Wells, we also see elements of Freud’s essay that we wouldn’t otherwise. We will argue that because Freud and Wells were describing the world around them, overlap is logical, even predictable, and certainly useful to understanding both projects.
In The Mysteries of Udolpho, characters practice science in home laboratories, libraries, green houses and gardens, using observation, instruments, and books to study botany, astronomy, and chemistry. By integrating these moments of everyday science into her novels - and making them integral to the development of her heroines - Ann Radcliffe presents a landscape in which both reason and sensibility are enlisted to gather and process information and create meaning in a way that echoed the popular scientific discourse of the day. To date, there has been no sustained study of Radcliffe’s incorporation of scientific practice and rhetoric into her Gothic novels. By looking closely at the scientific engagement within her texts, we can broaden the basis for understanding her work as a part of the broader culture that not only included, but was in many ways predicated upon the shifting landscape of science at the end of the eighteenth century.
The existing canon of scholarship on Dracula asserts that the sexually aggressive female vampires are representative of the New Woman, and thus are evidence of Stoker’s conservative reaction to changing gender roles. In contrast, this article offers a reinterpretation Dracula in the light of key writings of the New Woman movement which sought to demonize the Victorian marriage market because of its creation of a class of female parasites: idle middle-class woman entirely dependent on fathers and husbands. A close reading of key sections of the novel demonstrates that the female vampires are characterized as traditionally subordinate Victorian housewives, in contrast to the positive presentation of Mina Harker as a New Woman. This reading reveals a text that argues that work for women is the only antidote to the degeneration inherent in traditional womanhood, through which women are reduced to nothing more than their biological functions.
Since 2005 Tim Burton’s imagination has frequently turned to Victorian-related subjects. Focusing primarily on Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Alice in Wonderland (2010), this article argues that Burton’s response to (neo-) Victorian culture is a distinctly Gothic one. Unlike other more literary and canonical types of neo-Victorianism it engages with the popular and strongly Gothicised conceptions of the Victorian that emerged through the horror cinema of the twentieth century. It is also Gothic in the way that it self-consciously blends the Victorian with other cultural trends. As a result, rather than offering a strongly theorised, academic view of the Victorians, Burton remediates them for his own aesthetic purposes.