The Subversive History Of American Gothic

1235 words - 5 pages

Defining gothic literature has been a topic of debate amongst scholars for many years. Although Leslie Fielder is credited for bringing gothic criticism to the attention of others, in his 1925 article, “The Gothic Element in American Literature before 1835,” Oral Sumner Coad, addresses early gothic literary works, in which he defines gothic literature as “that kind of literature which…seeks to create an atmosphere of mystery and terror by the use of supernatural or apparently supernatural machinery, or of pronounced physical or mental horror,” (72). Robert Hume seems to agree with Coad in his article, “Gothic versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel,” where he claims that, “[t]he key characteristic of the Gothic novel is not its devices, but its atmosphere…one of evil and brooding terror…[for] the Gothic novel uses its atmosphere for ends which are fundamentally psychological,” (286).
Linda Bayer-Berenbaum’s book, The Gothic Image, discusses the roots of the term ‘gothic’ in that it originated with reference “to the Northern tribes that invaded Europe during the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries” and it evolution over time to be associated with “ruins [or] the process of decay,” dealing with the past (19). In Gothic Literature, Andrew Smith states, “[t]he word ‘Gothic’ means different things in different contexts,” for literature; however, the gothic is a “cultural reconstruction…of a somewhat fantasized version of the past,” (2). He goes on to suggest that the “Gothic style” came with the development of the “Enlightenment,” and Gothicism is closely related to Romanticism through the emphasis on “the emotions and the imagination,” (2).
Jerald Hogle, in the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, explicates the purpose and function of gothic literature is to “address and disguise some of the most important desires, quandaries and sources of anxiety,” (4). Gothic provides a ‘safe place’ for the reader to experience, vicariously, their darkest desires, fears and anxieties. Hillard explains, “[t]he Gothic literary mode is typically concerned with extreme states… [of] violence and pain, fear and anxiety, sexual aggression and perversion,” (690). Gothic literature became a domain for authors to express the dark side of human nature and readers to experience it, while confronting the problems within society and self, through “the cultural problems of gender distinction,” allowing women to express the inequalities of the treatment of women in the patriarchal society (Hogle 9). It also addresses the repression of the abject or other related to race.
Whatever the definition scholars apply to the term ‘gothic,’ the one thing they seem to agree upon is that Horace Walpole’s novel, The Castle of Otranto, first published in 1764 is the first gothic novel to be written. However, it was not until the second publication a year later that it would be considered gothic. According to Tom Hillard, in his article “Deep into That...

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