Literature and Theatre
This chapter discusses a third heroine, Lewis Carroll's or Tim Burton's Alice. Burton's 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland, is a complexly allusive work, which cleverly stirs and shakes the memories both of Alice herself, within the fiction of the film, and of the audience, encouraging people to remember experiences from childhood. It turns out that Wonderland's real name is Underland. The chapter suggests that the film can also be seen as a kind of final katabasis too. By invoking a varied array of earlier texts, Burton puts the allusion marker of memory to uncannily effective use, demonstrating that the bonds between allusion and the uncanny can resonate within film, popular culture and genre fiction as well as within more classical and canonical texts.
This book explores the relationship between allusion and the uncanny in literature. An unexpected echo or quotation in a new text can be compared to the sudden appearance of a ghost or mysterious double, the reanimation of a corpse or the discovery of an ancient ruin hidden in a modern city. This study identifies moments where this affinity between allusion and the uncanny is used by writers to generate a particular textual charge, where uncanny elements are used to flag patterns of allusion and to point to the haunting presence of an earlier work. The book traces the subtle patterns of connection between texts centuries, even millennia apart, from Greek tragedy and Latin epic, through the plays of Shakespeare and the Victorian novel, to contemporary film, fiction and poetry. Each chapter takes a different uncanny motif as its focus: doubles, ruins, reanimation, ghosts and journeys to the underworld.
This chapter opens with a discussion of T.S. Eliot's ‘familiar compound ghost’ in The Four Quartets, analysing its reliance on, and re-enactment of, a series of katabases, or journeys to the underworld, depicted by Homer, Virgil and Dante. Such journeys typically involve a hero confronting his ancestors and such moments often simultaneously dramatise a text's encounter with its own precursors. The compound ghost emerges as the sum of all these poets, bearing traces of all these earlier journeys to the underworld. Norman Loftis's Black Anima and Derek Walcott's Omeros are also late moments within another allusive sequence, the afterlife of The Tempest. Later responses to this play are haunted by memories, corpses and ghosts, which coexist in texts and are ever more cluttered.
This chapter examines the ghost in Hamlet. Ghosts are particularly effective uncanny allusion markers, and the ghost of Hamlet's father leads to one of the text's earliest clear precursors, the story of Amleth as told by Saxo Grammaticus in the Gesta Danorum. The ghostly interplay between these texts has the quasi-incestuous effect of confusing and blurring boundaries between fathers and sons. Ghosts can be seen as representations of a play's own ‘ancestors’, its sources, but can also prove to be shades of the future. In some texts, such as John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, ghostly figures or visions seem to offer a prophecy of the play's rich afterlife, suggestive of the relationship between allusion and the uncanny.
This chapter, which introduces the concept of the literary allusion, by first citing examples from Northern Lights and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, holds that allusion and the uncanny are both characterised by the blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar. An allusion is effected by a transgression of the barrier separating the enclosed world of the text from its various sources and intertexts. The ghost of Hamlet's father is recognisable to those who witness it, fully familiar and yet uncanny. The chapter also discusses the echo, a more neutral word which does not rule out the possibility of conscious borrowing but implies that the connection is not strong enough to prove deliberate agency or to ensure recognition in the majority of attentive readers.
This chapter considers two episodes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Orpheus and Eurydice, and an inset tale, that of Pygmalion, itself narrated by Orpheus. In later responses to these myths the reanimated statue and the revenant wife are both used to flag the text's status as an imitation or revival, which, in many cases, is not all that is being flagged. These stories are frequently associated with homoeroticism. The chapter argues that the uncanny allusion marker directs the reader to significant textual precursors, and reveals curious repetitions and points of contact which help illuminate the concealed theme.
This chapter, which notes that ruins have traditionally been thought of as uncanny, haunted places, deals with the fragments of past civilisations and with several classical authors: Virgil, Horace and Lucan. Ruins have often been associated with the supernatural, either because it is believed that ruins are haunted or because the ruins are themselves strongly identified with corpses or ghosts. Ruins have a particular affinity with allusion, as both can be described as fragments that invite the reader or viewer to import a missing original to complete the picture. The discussion notes that, when used as an uncanny allusion marker, ruins dramatise the later author's sense of belatedness.
This chapter, which emphasises the importance of the interplay between an uncanny phenomenon in the text and an uncanny affect in the reader, holds that the uncanny is both a ‘foreign body’ and something on the page in front of the reader. It describes nineteenth-century doubles who remind people of their textual predecessors as well as of their own doubled selves. The chapter looks at uncannily Gothic doubles of the earlier decades (James Hogg and Edgar Allan Poe), through the novels of the mid-Victorian period, in which doubles are more usually deployed to drive a sensational plot (Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon), and at a second, more self-conscious Gothic flowering in the novels of thefin de siècle (Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde). It concludes that the tendency to invoke earlier examples of the Doppelgänger tradition becomes increasingly pronounced.
This chapter charts the progress of the Doppelgänger in later twentieth- and twenty-first-century fiction. As the genre established itself more securely, the possibilities for complex allusive doubling and redoubling became greater. Some recent writers, such as Sarah Waters and Will Self, find Doppelgängers in their Victorian predecessors. Others, such as Bret Easton Ellis, respond to the doubles created by their near contemporaries, while Christopher Priest's characters, like those of Daphne du Maurier, seem to be the uncanny doubles of his own earlier creations. The chapter furthermore argues that the clone may also come into play as a science-fictional subtype of the double as uncanny allusion marker when many earlier texts are being referenced.