Expanding the Gothic Canon

Studies in Literature, Film and New Media

by Anna Kędra-Kardela (Volume editor) Andrzej Sławomir Kowalczyk (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 303 Pages
Series: Mediated Fictions, Volume 2


This volume offers a survey of analyses of Gothic texts, including literary works, feature films, a TV serial, and video games, with a view to showing the evolution and expansion of the Gothic convention across the ages and the media. The temporal scope of the book is broad: the chapters cover narratives from the early and mid-eighteenth century, predating the birth of the convention in 1764, through Romantic and Victorian novels, to the contemporary manifestations of the Gothic. Primarily designed for graduate and postgraduate students, the book sets out to acquaint them with both the convention and different theoretical approaches. The studies presented here could also prove inspirational for fellow scholars and helpful for university teachers, the book becoming an item on the reading lists in Gothic literature, film and media courses.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Editors’ Preface
  • CHAPTER ONE: The Gothic Canon: Contexts, Features, Relationships, Perspectives
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • 4.
  • 5.
  • 6.
  • 7.
  • 8.
  • 9.
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER TWO: Gothic Castaways: Dreams, Demons and Monsters in Early Modern Desert Island Narratives
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER THREE: Ambivalence and Ambiguity in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
  • Enter the (anti)heroine
  • Bibliomania
  • The equivocal suitor
  • The (mock) villain
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER FOUR: A Christmas Carol—Charles Dickens’s Ghostly Academy
  • The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father
  • The Ghost of Jacob Marley
  • The Ghost of Illumination
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present: “A jolly Giant, glorious to see”
  • The Final Countdown: The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
  • Conclusion
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER FIVE: The Undead Queen: Queen Victoria’s Afterlife in Gothic Fiction
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER SIX: First-Person Noir: Murderousness and (Ir)rationality in Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction
  • “A normality-challenged teenage eccentric”
  • Murderers’ novels
  • The gory art of murder
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER SEVEN: Faculty Gothic in the American College Novel of the 1990s
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER EIGHT: Competing Genres in the English Country House: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER NINE: Ghosts and Their Stories in Children’s Fiction
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER TEN: In the Bowels of a Gothic Microverse: Delicatessen as a Semiotic Palimpsest
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER ELEVEN: Gothic Automata and the Kunstkammer Island: The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes by Quay Brothers
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER TWELVE: The Murder House, or the Archaic Mother in American Horror Story
  • Approaching the Bad Place
  • Inside the Mother House
  • The female abject, or monstrous her-stories
  • Still life, or taming the monstrous feminine
  • Works cited
  • CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Gothic Videogames
  • Gothic and Videogames
  • Gothic in Videogames
  • Gothic as Videogames
  • Works cited
  • Video Games
  • Index
  • Contributors
  • Series Index

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Editors’ Preface

Sir Horace Walpole could not have predicted that his Gothic story, The Castle of Otranto (1764), would prove so influential that the convention it initiated—though considerably transformed—would still, in the twenty first century, appeal to authors and audiences alike. The eighteenth century Gothic novel gradually evolved into what is known as the Gothic mode, permeating various forms of (popular) literature as well as other fields of modern culture, including music, fashion, painting, etc. An inherently transgressive cultural phenomenon, the Gothic has crossed generic, intermedial, as well as geographical boundaries, so much so that since the twentieth century onwards, to use Botting’s apt phrase, it has been “everywhere and nowhere” (2007: 155). The broad scope of meaning the term “Gothic” covers makes some critics, like Groom, claim that it “now risks being emptied or nullified as a meaningful term” (2012: xv).

Nor could Walpole have imagined that the theoretical considerations from his Prefaces to the first and second editions of Otranto would start a rich critical tradition which has been developing ever since, embracing not only literary works but also new forms of artistic expression, such as feature and TV films, comic books, or video games.

This volume offers, from the vantage point of the concept of canon, a survey of analyses of Gothic texts, including literary works, feature films, a TV serial, and video games, with a view to showing the evolution and expansion of the Gothic convention across the ages and the media. The temporal scope of the book is broad: the chapters cover narratives from the early and mid-eighteenth century, predating the “birth” of the convention in 1764, through Romantic and Victorian novels, to the contemporary manifestations of the Gothic. It is the latter that the bulk of scholarly attention is devoted to in the current volume, ← 7 | 8 → thus reflecting the extent to which the Gothic canon has been expanded over time.

Primarily designed for graduate and postgraduate students, this monograph sets out to acquaint them with both the convention and different theoretical approaches they could adopt in their own research. We also believe that the studies presented here could prove inspirational for fellow scholars and helpful for university teachers, the book becoming an item on the reading lists in Gothic literature, film and media courses.

The volume opens with a chapter outlining the literary-historical and theoretical framework for the following analytical chapters. It introduces the term “Gothic canon” and then proceeds to delineate the main stages in the evolution of the convention. The rise of the Gothic (1764-1820s) and its early representatives are presented in greater detail, while its subsequent implementations, in Britain and in the United States, are only sketched out—to be treated at length by the contributors to the volume.

In Chapter Two, Artur Blaim studies early desert-island narratives (a.k.a. robinsonades), which predate the publication of the first Gothic novel. He foregrounds those elements of the texts that would later be taken as constitutive features of the Gothic (e.g. the isolation of the protagonist, sensational [though hardly supernatural] motifs of storms, shipwrecks, earthquakes, as well as monstrosity, illicit sexual activities, and dreams evoking feelings of fear, horror and disgust). The use of such proto-Gothic elements, Blaim asserts, with the occasional appearance of “real” or imaginary ghosts, contributes primarily to the robinsonade’s entertaining function, often accompanied by moral didacticism. Extreme emotional situations, horrid sights, or extravagant adventures—typical of the Gothic—in the robinsonade demonstrate the ultimate triumph of reason over emotion, fear, and ontological uncertainties, thus affirming the established world order.

In the next chapter, “Ambivalence and Ambiguity in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey,” Wojciech Nowicki challenges the commonly-held view that the novel merely parodies the Gothic convention: his analysis shows that Austen handles the burlesque “with an unsteady hand.” While the minor characters (Mrs Allen, Isabella Thorpe, and her brother) might be recognized as the mock types of the Gothic-sentimental spectrum, the major figures—Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney, and the General—can be seen as both comically disrupting the respective roles ← 8 | 9 → of heroine, suitor and villain, and deviously slipping out of these roles, to produce a rather ambiguous final effect.

Victorian implementations of the Gothic feature prominently in the chapters by Aleksandra Kędzierska and Dorota Babilas. Kędzierska explores Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as a “pedagogic event” (A. H. Miller). In her chapter, “A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens’s Ghostly Academy,” she juxtaposes the horrors of earthly education producing “human monsters” like Scrooge with the humanizing impact of the Spectres’ haunting. Focusing on the ghostly, Kędzierska’s discussion of each Apparition’s characteristics, functions, and involvement in the success of Scrooge’s reclamation not only demonstrates the profundity of Dickens’s Gothic, but also, more importantly, reveals a Supreme Presence so far overlooked by critics.

Babilas’s chapter, devoted to Queen Victoria and her “afterlife in Gothic fiction,” focuses on the quasi-undead status the monarch has reached in popular consciousness. In the century following her death, Babilas contends, Victoria’s image changed from that of a historical persona to a recurrent character in various genres of fiction, including those stemming from the Gothic convention. During the twentieth century, when Victorian culture was widely fictionalized—mostly in a sensational manner, exposing the vices of the age, Queen Victoria became a symbol of the tensions of her epoch, and has thus been presented in modern Gothic narratives as an ambiguous and (morally) ambivalent figure.

In Chapter Six, “First-Person Noir: Murderousness and (Ir)rationality in Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction,” Jorge Bastos da Silva focuses upon one of the constitutive concepts of the Gothic sensibility—murder as a fine art. He scrutinizes the so-called murderer’s novel—a modern implementation of Gothic fiction, which has attracted such diverse English-language authors as James M. Cain, Vladimir Nabokov, Anthony Burgess, Michael Ondaatje, Edna O’Brien, Kurt Vonnegut, Iain Banks, Bret Easton Ellis, Poppy Z. Brite and Joel Rose (as well as others, writing in other languages). The murderer’s novel, Bastos da Silva demonstrates, employs the structure of crime fiction only to invert it, by focusing on the killer’s, rather than the detective’s perspective. Consequently, narrated by the assassin, these novels explore the uncanny (ir)rationality of murder, as it were, from the inside. ← 9 | 10 →

In her chapter, Ludmiła Gruszewska Blaim argues that Gothicism constitutes a helpful cognitive frame through which one can appreciate the satirical as well as dystopian undertones of the postmodern college novel. Imposing Gothic markers (e.g. omniscience, domination/subjugation, persecution, violence, deviation, monstrosity, terror, entrapment, belatedness, spectrality, paranoia) onto mimetic representations of the academy, authors of academic (faculty-centred) and campus (student-centred) novels, Gruszewska Blaim posits, confront visions of liberal education with the Gothic system of diffused oppression. Focusing on what she calls “the Faculty Gothic” in American academic fiction of the 1990s, she argues that it can be traced on all four planes distinguished by Boris Uspensky: spatio-temporal, ideological/axiological, psychological, and phraseological. The mode destabilizes the mimetic image of the academy by diffusing the codes with which it is constructed and thus, paradoxically, brings it closer to the postmodern condition. In some of the twenty novels Gruszewska Blaim refers to, the modification goes even further, resulting in the pastiche of Gothic conventions.

In Chapter Eight, Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga examines the “dialogue” of the novel of manners and Gothic fiction in Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger (2009). A decaying English country house—the setting of the novel—has been a popular topos in the both genres, though with very different meanings and iconographies. Arguably, genteel country houses, like those in Jane Austen’s novels of manners, represent enclosed, “knowable communities” (R. Williams) that speak of social rank, position and privilege. In contrast, in Gothic fiction, the country house reconnects with its roots in the medieval castle and becomes the locus of excess and transgression. Terentowicz-Fotyga traces the tension between these contrasting traditions and iconographies in The Little Stranger and concludes that the figure of the first-person-narrator, an outsider eager to recreate the manorial dream, is crucial to maintaining the balance between the novel of manners and the Gothic novel in Waters’s work.

With Jadwiga Węgrodzka’s chapter, the Gothic enters the territory of contemporary children’s literature. A study of spectral characters, which today are far from being the most popular elements of the Gothic convention, provides an interesting perspective for the interpretation of children’s fiction. The main focus of the chapter falls on children’s novels from the second half of the twentieth century, starting with Lucy ← 10 | 11 → Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe (1954), through Penelope Lively’s The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973), David Almond’s Kit’s Wilderness (1999), Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (2002) and The Graveyard Book (2008), to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007). According to Węgrodzka, the novels redefine the spectres as non-threatening; the latter can be interpreted as a metaphorical expression of the past inherent in the present. By introducing reflections on the role of stories and storytelling, the ghosts’ “narratives” also serve metafictional purposes.

As stated above, the Gothic convention transgresses not only generic but also intermedial boundaries: from the twentieth century onwards it has been present in different fields of (popular) culture, including film and video games. Chapters Ten to Twelve, which dwell upon movies, a TV serial, and video games, show the directions in which the Gothic has evolved. In Chapter Ten, Justyna Galant offers a semiotic analysis of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s 1991 film Delicatessen, focusing on the interplay of the Gothic and the comic—two driving, competing, as well as complementary forces in the film. This interplay is a vital meaning-generating mechanism which leads to the construction of the film’s Gothic “monster”—a peculiar amalgam of the tenants and their habitat. Galant’s study indicates that the Gothic convention, born in England, has become part of the global popular culture and unfailingly continues to inspire artists outside Britain.

Chapter Eleven, by Zofia Kolbuszewska, shows how in The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes the Quay Brothers explore the (neo)baroque spectacle of the kunst- or wunderkammer-island intersecting with the Gothic convention. The film, Kolbuszewska argues, employs the aesthetic unconscious of modernity. She also points out the movie’s striking affinities with Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis: the two share a poignant interest in perpetual motion, animation of the inanimate, and Gothic automata. According to Kolbuszewska, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes unsettles binary oppositions and troubles clear-cut identifications. By exploring the Gothic possibilities of the island’s chronotope, the Quay Brothers defamiliarize the process of commodification and thus reenchant the disenchanted reality of modernity.

Gothic elements in a contemporary TV series are explored in Chapter Twelve by Marta Komsta, who, applying Kristeva’s theory of the ← 11 | 12 → abject, argues that the first season of Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is structured upon the juxtaposition of the trope of a haunted house and that of a pregnant female body. In the show, The Murder House functions as a representation of the archaic mother—the symbol of the female-Other endowed with unrestrained fecundity culminating in the act of monstrous birth. Komsta contends that the subversive potentiality of transgressive femininity depicted in American Horror Story is neutered by the overarching patriarchal perspective; accordingly, the film becomes a re-instatement of the conservative domestic narrative, reminiscent of the early Gothic novel.

In the closing chapter, Paweł Frelik seeks to establish intersections between the cultural mode of the Gothic and the medium of video games. While very little scholarship on such commonalities exists today, Frelik argues that videogames, as a medium, are particularly suited to the expression and transmission of Gothic sensibilities and preoccupations. Some of such affinities include the construction of spaces, easily infused with claustrophobic or threatening atmosphere, the dynamic relationship between narrative depth and affective surfaces, and the centrality of a defined repertoire of elements. Frelik’s chapter also indicates the general lines along which the analysis of Gothic videogames can be most productively pursued in scholarly research.

Anna Kędra-Kardela

Andrzej Sławomir Kowalczyk

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The Gothic Canon: Contexts, Features, Relationships, Perspectives


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Gothic in fiction Gothic in film Gothic in video games
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 303 pp.

Biographical notes

Anna Kędra-Kardela (Volume editor) Andrzej Sławomir Kowalczyk (Volume editor)

Anna Kędra-Kardela is Associate Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin (Poland). She published on metaphysical poetry, cognitive poetics, narratology, and the Anglo-Irish short story. Andrzej Sławomir Kowalczyk is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin (Poland). His publications include studies in medieval drama, the supernatural in fiction, as well as utopia/dystopia in literature and film.


Title: Expanding the Gothic Canon
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