Speaking the Language of the Night

Aspects of the Gothic in Selected Contemporary Novels

by Adriana Raducanu (Author)
©2014 Monographs 206 Pages


This study contributes to the emerging field of Global Gothic. It focuses on the survival and evolution of Gothic subgenres and tropes in selected contemporary novels, produced in geographies and histories far away from its Western cradle. Some Gothic features identified as universal such as the relationship between space and character, the sublime, the process of Othering, uncanny doubles and the dissolution of identity are explored. This study maintains that the novels under scrutiny, written by a wide variety of authors such as Adiga, Desai, Ishiguro, Müller, Pamuk, Roberts and Rushdie, facilitate a fruitful dialogue between West and East under the sign of Gothic. A diverse critical apparatus is employed, including texts from Bhabha, Kristeva, Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, Mishra and others.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Tales of Labyrinths – The White Tiger and the Postcolonial Metamorphosis of Gothic
  • From Behind the Iron Curtain: Herta Müller’s Female Gothic
  • Lost in Bombay and Istanbul: Urban Gothic in Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram and Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book
  • Blurring Boundaries in Never Let Me Go
  • The Sublime of the Intimate Others: Salman Rushdie’s Shame
  • Refracting Spaces in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Anita Desai’s Fire on the Mountain
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← 6 | 7 → Acknowledgements

Speaking the Language of the Night would have not been possible without many discussions with friends and colleagues at different stages in its preparation. Among them special thanks are due to my close friend and colleague Dr. Catherine MacMillan who helped define many of the approaches taken. Other colleagues at Yeditepe University, among them Dr. Charles Sabatos, Dr. Fiona Tomkinson, Prof. Dr. Oğuz Cebeci and Prof. Dr. Mediha Göbenli offered precious advice in the course of writing this book. Thanks are also due to my friend and former colleague Kim Laykin who did the proofreading and Mehmet Korman, my talented MA student who helped me with the design of the cover. Other friends and colleagues whose professional achievements over the years have constituted a most valuable incentive for this book include Prof. Dr. Pia Brinzeu, Prof. Dr. Reghina Dascal and Prof. Dr. Süheyla Artemel.

Many thanks to Dr. Andrew Hock Soon Ng, whose professional and friendly support has made it possible for me to carry on when it seemed impossible to do so. His sharp critical insights have proved my most significant inspiration.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the editorial team at Peter Lang for their professionalism and assistance.

Special thanks are due to Cem, for the gift of love (as well as unfailing technical support), my father and Aurelia who always encouraged me and expressed their enthusiasm for this project. This book is dedicated to them.← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 → Introduction

Fragmentation and a fascination with the forbidden are arguably among the most important characteristics of Gothic in literature. Unlike in architecture for example, where both the formal and historical features of the Gothic are rigorously established, in literature and criticism this genre is presently negotiating between two opposing tendencies; the one represented by the ‘classicists’ who insist on the focus on the clearly-defined Gothic canon in the West, and who are sceptical about the expansion of the genre outside its canonical boundaries, and the one represented by the ‘reformers’ who opt for challenging the canonicity of the Gothic and argue that it represents more than just a set of established texts.1 Arguably, such heated debates in the field of Gothic Studies are the theoretical consequences of the slipperiness and ambiguity of this genre, another two vital features of Gothic, which marked its very beginnings.2 Hogle, in his Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic notices that “Gothic fiction is hardly ‘Gothic’ at all”, but “an entirely post-medieval and even post-Renaissance phenomenon” (Hogle: 9). To sustain his claim, he also remarks on the fragmentary, hybrid nature of the initial Gothic writings, “from ancient prose and verse romances to Shakespearean tragedy and comedy” and points out that:

← 9 | 10 → […] the first published work to call itself “A Gothic Story” was a counterfeit medieval tale published long after the Middle Ages: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, printed under a pseudonym in England in 1764 and reissued in 1765 in a second edition with a new preface which openly advocated a “blend (of) the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern,” the former “all imagination and improbability” and the latter governed by the “rules of probability” connected with “common life.” (Hogle: 9)

In commenting on the hybrid nature of this new type of writing, Walpole seems to have made an uncanny prediction, especially when assessed in the context of the directions of contemporary Gothic fiction and criticism. Always miscellaneous, the contemporary Gothic trends are increasingly displaying all the characteristics of an amalgam and a formless entity operating with a variety of tropes and within theoretical frameworks.

Clearly, once the ‘return to origins’ (i.e. to Walpole’s canonical Gothic text) is attempted even the most ardent supporters of a uniform tradition, which was born in eighteenth century England and has continued unabashed until the present day, must reconsider their position. On the one hand, as Watt notices, in acknowledging Walpole’s novel as the foundational Gothic text, the tendency to selectively attribute “an illusory stability to a body of fiction which is distinctively heterogeneous” is proven mistaken (Watt: 1, emphasis added). On the other, Walpole’s own admission that his writing was “a blend”, confirmed by Watt’s characterization of Gothic fiction and its distinctive heterogeneity, should not automatically discard the possibility of a different kind of tradition altogether. From a postmodernist perspective, for example, it is precisely this fragmentation, the proclivity for de-constructionist exercises, the experimental and frequently the meta-fictional qualities of Gothic that argue for the validity of what may be seen as the fractured tradition of Gothic. Watt also claims that a historical perspective upon texts “accommodated” as Gothic may contribute even more to the dissolution of any fixed Gothic features observable in a variety of texts and render them as irrelevant in their arbitrariness (Watt: 1). It is undoubtedly possible, if extrapolating from this argument, which mostly refers to Gothic as insufficiently equipped to deal with historical detail and context, to hastily reach the conclusion that Gothic on the one hand, and historical specificity on the other are frozen in a relationship of mutual exclusivity.3

← 10 | 11 → But Gothic is about history and the anxieties of lived history, at both the individual and collective level, although Gothic criticism has only recently acknowledged the inextricable bond between history and Gothic fiction.4 In The Literature of Terror, a remarkable piece of scholarship for the new and powerful impetus that it gave to Gothic studies, David Punter argues that the genre is closely linked to the bourgeoisie’s attempts “to understand the conditions and history of their own ascent”, marked by obsessive concerns with inheritance, ancestry and the transmission of property in “a literature whose key motifs are paranoia, manipulation and injustice, and whose central project is understanding the inexplicable, the taboo, the irrational” (Punter 1980: 127–8). However, it should be noted that Punter’s study, although valuable both in itself and as an inspiration for the subsequent criticism derived from it, does not read as a metatheory of the Gothic, but rather as a suggestion of a few unifying principles for a body of literature which, as we now know, cannot be unified. Indeed, Gothic scholars commenting on the impossibility of such an enterprise agree that Gothic, whether we read it as genre, concept, mode, adjective, or even as a frame of mind or ‘affect’ (to use a Freudian term), cannot be ‘incarcerated’ (in the same way it did its early heroes and heroines), and generally rejoice in this extreme flexibility. More than anything else, as contemporary Gothic critics frequently conjecture, reading Gothic is an issue of individual perspective, a matter of interpretation, an endeavour to select particular texts, acknowledge a variety of common characteristics, discuss their function in particular contexts and consider the intertextual web of which they are part and parcel.

According to Howard, individual Gothic texts can only be approached in a specific manner, conducive to “the generic frame against which (they are) being read” (Howard: 1). Using a Bahktinian approach to Gothic fiction, the critic argues that the discursive ambiguity inherent in such texts and the political force of individual discourses depend on their interaction with other discourses in the reading process, highlighting the intertextual nature of all texts and through this, the very heterogeneity of reality.5 Wolstenholme adopts a similar position from a gendered ← 11 | 12 → authorship perspective. Thus, she raises the issue of “women’s writing” which alludes to “prior texts written by women, an act that calls attention to its own repetition, its evocation of the performance of writing in another text that re-enacts the same performance”; moreover, she also mentions the special connection between women as writers and women as readers realized via texts which “teach us to read them as re-writings that are re-readings” (Wolstenholme: xiv).6 Duncan remarks that romance does not mean “a synchronicity of archetypes across history, but an active, cultural work of the discovery and invention of ancestral forms, in other words, the construction of the archetype as a rhetorical figure” (Duncan: 7). “The novelist”, he argues, “[…] needs to re-create the myth if he is to make full use of it, in a process that is allusive rather than vatic, not so much visionary as revisionary. The relationship of an individual work to a genre is not one of passive membership but of active modulation” (7).

My own perspective on contemporary novelists whose works I perceive as informed by Gothic tropes is inspired by the various approaches of Howard, Wolstenholme and Duncan. Succinctly put, all three critics emphasize, albeit in different ways, that the main aspect of the act of perusal and assessment of Gothic texts is the multiplicity, the wide variety of perspectives and reflective gazes which grant the interpretational enterprise freedom from dogmatic approaches. Even more importantly, they all consider the dialogical relationship between Gothic texts and the different historical, social, political and cultural contexts in which Gothic archetypes and tropes survive. As most of the authors whose works are analyzed in this book have not been read as writers who consciously employed Gothic tropes, my own claim for their assessment from a Gothic perspective, depends on the play of intertextuality, hence the affiliations with and allusions to texts whose ‘Gothic-ness’ is arguably apparent. In that sense, my argument for this study also agrees with the one put forward by Smith in noticing that: “Different nations […] generate different types of Gothic that develop and feed into other Gothic forms which proliferate in one place but seemingly die out in another” (Smith: 4). ← 12 | 13 → Although Smith mainly refers to the relationship between the British and American traditions, the current study posits that the development, the proliferation and the apparent death of Gothic forms alternating with uncanny resurrections from elsewhere are phenomena which may be read within a larger frame.

Consequently, the fundamental theme of inquiry that this study proposes is related to both history and geography. I have already referred to the inextricable link between Gothic and history. The other axis, in the absence of which Gothic is devoid of its ‘Gothic-ness’ refers to geography, to space. Settings are vital to Gothic literature, whether as specific countries (Spain, France, Italy, England) or as the generalized locales of a castle, a convent, a monastery, a city, or a deserted, isolated house.7 In terms of its purely geographical inception, Gothic as a genre originated in Western Europe where it enjoyed its heyday in the eighteenth century and, in a modified form, the following century. Nevertheless, as pertaining to a protean genre, capable of multiple mutations and adaptations, Gothic features have long been expanding well beyond their canonical eighteenth century temporal and spatial borders, especially during the last four decades. Recently, some characteristics of Gothic which will be discussed further on have been found to penetrate other cultural spaces and disciplines, such as philosophy and the social sciences.8

In the context of Global Gothic

Starting with the last decades of the twentieth century and continuing to the present day, the unprecedented possibilities of rapid communication and travel have facilitated intellectual contacts on an impressive scale. In this dynamic and stimulating context, Gothic critics’ attention has been drawn to the presence of Gothic motifs in non-Western literatures and cultures. The present study draws its inspiration from such inquiries which facilitate a new and lively dialogue across West and ← 13 | 14 → East. Thus, while acknowledging the fluctuating and contradictory characteristics of the Gothic, this book is written on the premise that Gothic, although undoubtedly a Western genre, presents certain characteristics which can be found in literatures produced in historically and geographically remote territories.9 Among these Gothic tropes, on which the essays in the present collection focus are: an almost obsessive concern with space/setting/location, apparent in different literatures and hence contexts, binary oppositions and the way Gothic narratives subvert them, the process of Othering, monstrosity, uncanny doubles and dissolution of identity, as well as specific Gothic plots and feelings, such as betrayal, loss, negotiation of trauma, terror, and horror. Of course, noticing the presence of Gothic tropes is not to be read as equivalent to the fact that other parts of the world create works in this very genre, leaving unaltered its early conventions. Rather, what this collection of essays aims at illustrating is Gothic as discourse or as aesthetical experience.10 Therefore, most importantly, the following essays achieve to establish a discussion of such typical tropes, in their ‘new’ historical and geographical context, i.e. the East. This is not a simple case of mirroring Western Gothic features in fictional samples from different Eastern literatures, nor should it be read as a cultural, colonial imposition (an aspect to which I will refer further on), but rather as a thorough ← 14 | 15 → examination of the contingency of the said tropes, as dictated by specific political, social, economic and psychological conditions. Moreover, the claim that this book makes according to which the literatures of the ‘Other’, the remote, the un-canonical, the Eastern, employ Gothic to tackle local realities is sustained in the light of the bodies of thought that are instrumental in deciphering and assessing it; for example, both Eastern and Western scholars interested in Gothic acknowledge its interactions with postcolonialism and postmodernism, along with its more traditionally-acknowledged dialogues with feminism and psychoanalysis.11

To exemplify the issue of an increasing although debatable universality which characterizes the present tendencies in Gothic criticism and implicitly the present study, a brief consideration of the concept of globalization and its relations with Gothic is of paramount importance. Nowadays, globalization is invoked with increased frequency in various disciplines in spite of its contentious value, possibly indicative of its threat of becoming a new totalizing principle, a dictatorship of the present.12 In Dirlik’s opinion, globalization has added to the complexity of “contradictions between and within societies, including a fundamental contradiction between a seemingly irresistible modernity, and past legacies that not only refuse to go away, but draw renewed vitality from the very globalizing process (qtd in Byron: 372). Dirlik’s view of globalization bears a strange resemblance to what in Gothic terms is read as ‘the return of the repressed’ or as the ‘haunting, obsessive presence of the revenant’; viewed from this angle, “globalization itself becomes a Gothic manifestation, a material and psychical invasion, a force of contamination and dominance” (Byron 2012: 272). Thus, most recently, the connections and points of convergence between Gothic and globalization have merged in the concept of “Global Gothic”. As Byron argues, “global gothic” is “a form marked by the increasing cross-cultural dynamics of the past century”, which “will help identify what the gothic texts of different countries have in common”; in this capacity, it is expected to “reveal the ways in which texts of one country are influenced by, and in turn influence, those of other countries”. Finally, “global gothic […] should ultimately help us to assess more accurately what really is culturally specific about any particular gothic text” (Byron 2008: 33).

← 15 | 16 → Global Gothic, therefore, involves a complex movement. Firstly, it scrutinizes the regional, the ethnic and the national, and secondly it tests the resulting specificities and particularities for their universally Gothic value. As Byron notes, critics have remarked on the presence of Gothic features in literature from New Zealand, Italy, Singapore and Argentina, as well as the propagation of regional Gothics, such as Margaret Atwood’s Southern Ontario Gothic, the Gothic of the North Atlantic exemplified by Lisa Moore’s Alligator, Kalpana Swaminathan’s Goa Gothic (Bougainvillea House), and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Barcelona Gothic (Byron 2012: 369)13. The critical claims regarding the existence of “regionally or nationally specific forms of Gothic” in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for example, are “relatively uncontroversial”, as they may be considered as “outgrowths of an imported Anglo-European genre” (369, emphasis added). In the above-mentioned transmutations, Gothic and its tropes acquire an important function, that of a catalyst of “the lingering traumas produced by colonial life, with buried pasts resurfacing in horrific form to disturb the present” (369).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (February)
Female Gothic Urban Gothic Liminality The Sublime Space Post-colonial Gothic
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 206 pp.

Biographical notes

Adriana Raducanu (Author)

Adriana Raducanu is Assistant Professor in the English Language and Literature Department of Yeditepe University, Istanbul. She teaches English and Comparative Literature and has published on contemporary Gothic novels, Jungian criticism, postcolonial and gender studies.


Title: Speaking the Language of the Night