The Gothic

A Reader

by Simon Bacon (Volume editor)
©2018 Others X, 264 Pages


What is the Gothic?
From ghosts to vampires, from ruined castles to steampunk fashion, the Gothic is a term that evokes all things strange, haunted and sinister.
This volume offers a new look at the world of the Gothic, from its origins in the eighteenth century to its reemergence today. Each short essay is dedicated to a single text – a novel, a film, a comic book series, a festival – that serves as a lens to explore the genre. Original readings of classics like The Mysteries of Udolpho (Ann Radcliffe) and Picnic at Hanging Rock (Joan Lindsay) are combined with unique insights into contemporary examples like the music of Mexican rock band Caifanes, the novels Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer), Goth (Otsuichi) and The Paying Guests (Sarah Waters), and the films Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro) and Ex Machina (Alex Garland).
Together the essays provide innovative ways of understanding key texts in terms of their Gothic elements. Invaluable for students, teachers and fans alike, the book’s accessible style allows for an engaging look at the spectral and uncanny nature of the Gothic.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction (Simon Bacon)
  • What is the Gothic?
  • The Uncanny
  • Many Gothics
  • Part I: Ideologies, Imperialism, and the Gothic
  • Arthur Machen’s The Three Impostors (1895) – Victorian Gothic (Justin Sausman)
  • Richard Marsh’s The Joss: A Reversion (1901) – Imperial Gothic (Johan Höglund)
  • Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) – Postcolonial Gothic (Tabish Khair)
  • Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters (1998) – War Gothic (Steffen Hantke)
  • Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; or The Transformation (1798) – Transatlantic Gothic (James Peacock)
  • Part II: America and the Gothic
  • Robert Bloch’s American Gothic (1974) – American Gothic (Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet)
  • Clarence John Laughlin’s Ghosts Along the Mississippi (1948) – Southern Gothic (Timothy Jones)
  • Brandon Massey’s Dark Corner (2004) – African American Gothic (Maisha L. Wester)
  • Ron Honthaner’s The House on Skull Mountain (1974) – Zombie Gothic (Sarah Juliet Lauro)
  • Part III: Gothic Territories
  • Caifanes (1987–Present) – Mexican Gothic (Enrique Ajuria Ibarra and Luis Daniel Martínez Álvarez)
  • Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967/1975) – Australian Gothic (Ashleigh Prosser)
  • Otsuichi’s Goth (2002) – Japanese Gothic (Katarzyna Ancuta)
  • Whitby Goth Weekend (1994–Present) – Gothic Subcultures (Claire Nally)
  • Aideen Barry’s Possession (2011) – Suburban/Domestic Gothic (Tracy Fahey)
  • Part IV: Gender, Sexuality, and the Gothic
  • Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) – Queer Gothic (Max Fincher)
  • Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) – Female Gothic (Kathleen Hudson)
  • Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests (2014) – Postfeminist Gothic (Gina Wisker)
  • A. S. Byatt’s ‘The Dried Witch’ (1987) – Postmodern Gothic (Maria Beville)
  • Part V: Media and Mediums of the Gothic
  • Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House (1749) – Architectural Gothic (Peter N. Lindfield)
  • Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, and Gaspar Saladino’s Arkham Asylum (1989) – Gothic Comics (Julia Round)
  • Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015) – Gothic Film (Xavier Aldana Reyes)
  • Tale of Tales’s The Path (2009) – Gaming and the Gothic (Emily Flynn-Jones)
  • Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) – Food Gothic (Lorna Piatti-Farnell)
  • Part VI: Gothic Futures
  • Max Brooks’s World War Z (2006) – Neoliberal Gothic (Linnie Blake)
  • China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (2000) – Gothic Literary Science Fiction (Sara Wasson)
  • Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014) – Gothic and the New Weird (Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock)
  • Koji Suzuki’s Edge (2012) – Quantum Gothic (Elana Gomel)
  • Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2015) – Vampire Gothic (Simon Bacon)
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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Simon Bacon


What is the Gothic?

The ingredients of the Gothic have been characterized as ‘decaying Gothic castles, ruined chapels, underground passages, dark forests and ghostly groanings’ and as ‘[s]hocks, supernatural incidents and superstitious beliefs’, all of which ‘promote a sense of sublime awe and wonder […] entwined with fear and elevated imaginations’ (Botting 1996: 29, 46). The need to shock, jolt, unnerve, or even produce awe is at the core of the Gothic in its many forms, from the pre-Victorian era to the present day – and beyond.

This volume offers an introductory roadmap to the Gothic, exploring the many areas, sub-genres, mediums, and modalities associated with the concept. Not merely a genre on its own, the Gothic haunts and intersects with many other genres. The influence of the Gothic changes the way in which one can read or interact with any text, bringing to it a Gothic lens through which one can view and interpret the text anew.1 In this sense, the Gothic can also be considered as a modality in that it creates a very particular kind of engagement with a medium – for example, film, gaming, and comics – which produce very different expressions of the Gothic while still referencing core themes and tropes. ← 1 | 2 →

The Uncanny

At the core of the readings of the Gothic in this book is the concept of the uncanny. Although it is not the only core trope of the Gothic, it is one that often drives the genre and its various apparitions and spectral presences in other areas of study. The uncanny – or, in German, the unheimlich – is a term to describe the transformation of the familiar into something strange, unknown and even sinister. It encompasses the feeling that things are not what they seem, that there is something hidden or ominous behind the familiar. Sigmund Freud, who popularized the term in an essay on the topic, framed it as a psychological state, one stemming from the unconscious mind and largely beyond our own control – the unknown, unremembered self is beyond our waking mind – where our feeling of personal security is gone, and even the known becomes unfamiliar.

Modern-day writers have brought Freud’s ideas into the present. Isabella Van Elferen has extended the idea to avatars in gaming: ‘These machinic ghosts represent […] the uncanny, which is brought about by the intellectual uncertainty stirred when inanimate objects such as dolls or automata – or, in this case, avatars – appear to be animate, sentient, alive’ (2012: 100). Masahiro Mori has explored the similarity between robots and humans, which creates an experience of ambivalence and anxiety when things are not quite what they should be. This equally extends to situations where we are on the cusp of, or in the process of changing; where the safe space of the home becomes threatening; or where someone we are talking to is not who or what we think.2

This last variation can hint towards Freud’s further idea of the doppelgänger: ‘a person may identify himself with another and so become unsure of his true self; or he may substitute the Other’s self for his own’.3 The self may thus be duplicated, divided, or exchanged, causing a fracturing of identity that ← 2 | 3 → sees the Other as a threatening part of the self or the self, splitting into two or projecting out into the world. Here, then, is not so much a misrecognition of the world and/or objects around us, but rather a disorientation of the self: the uncanny relates to the distinction of the relationship between the self and its environment, where the world remains constant but the self suddenly becomes unfamiliar.

This also begins to tease out the idea that the uncanny may not only be framed as an individual affect but as a social one, as well – not unlike the way that Freud’s ideas around individual trauma and psychic wounds have been extrapolated out to include group, national, and historical traumas. A society or culture – the ideological environment created by patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc. – may view those that are, often invisibly, different, transgressive, or ‘queer’ within it as being uncanny in some way. Rosemary Jackson describes the uncanny as expressing ‘drives and desires which have to be repressed for the sake of cultural continuity’ (41), and repression is vital when considering the uncanny in both the individual and cultural contexts. Indeed, Gothic ghosts and monsters are more often than not a repressed past returning for retribution and/or recognition – though in many post-war-on-terror texts, never-ending revenge is equally likely.

The coming back or regurgitation – an uncontrollable bodily function is somewhat apt here – of the unwanted,4 or unlooked for, can also be viewed as a Jacques Lacan’s return of the Real, the world beyond the symbolic and the imaginary. The Real is an excess that can never find comprehensible form, a true Gothic spectre that cannot be represented or contained but unsettles the everyday by its unseen yet continual presence. This sees the Gothic as truly ‘super’-natural: the hidden torrent that flows just under the surface of our individual, cultural, and historical reality, waiting to burst through unexpectedly to disrupt and disturb the illusion of control and stability that we construct our lives upon.

One final interpretation of the uncanny is worth discussing in relation to the Gothic. This theme relates to the idea of the past not remaining in its grave, but in this case it is not so much repression as a metatextual resurrection. ← 3 | 4 → Recurrence is the adaptation, re-working, referencing, parodying, and use of earlier tropes and themes of a previous text. Much of this can be seen to be an integral part of the notion of a genre, which contains works that typically utilize similar tropes and themes. However, arguably, the Gothic genre, and the haunting of other genres by the Gothic, holds a special place in this framework because it is specifically about the uncanny and the recurrence of the past. In this vein, Julian Wolfreys notes Freud’s text on the uncanny is itself uncanny, both in its substance but also in its own repetition, as it is reread and interpreted by other authors. The text of Freud’s essay on the uncanny then becomes a ghost that haunts itself, but also exemplifies the uncanniness of the repetition compulsion, the uncontrollable drive to repeat the same actions over and over (Wolfreys 2002: 16).

Many Gothics

A volume of this nature necessarily cannot cover every expression and manifestation of the Gothic as the amount of material covered would be far greater than a volume this size would allow, but it will introduce many of the core themes, characters, and texts as well as identifying varying modalities of the Gothic loosely grouped around six topic areas: Ideologies and Imperialism, America, Territories, Gender and Sexuality, Media and Mediums, and Gothic Futures. Each essay in this collection uses one key text as a lens through which the contributor examines a particular theme, medium, or context within the Gothic.

The reader opens with ‘Ideologies, Imperialism, and the Gothic’, which deals with core themes of the Gothic. These subjects have their roots in nineteenth-century Britain, the British Empire and the Gothic Revival, and centre around the ongoing anxieties of colonialism and conflict. The tropes developed in the chapters on Victorian, Imperial, Postcolonial, War, and Transatlantic Gothic in this part focus on dominant and dominating ideologies and the subsequent – often uncanny in nature – resistance to and transgression of them. Their importance is shown by their resonance throughout the Gothic and their hauntings of, and interconnections with, other genres. ← 4 | 5 →

The act of colonization inevitably raises ghosts, both those that follow from the old home but also those raised in the new one: it is by definition an unfamiliar environment for settlers.5 The next part, on ‘America and the Gothic’, opens up the ways in which Americans have tried, and not always succeeded, in making their home familiar. As highlighted in the studies here on American, Southern, African American, and Zombie Gothic, much of this involves the still unresolved issues around the history of the South, slavery and racism, which still haunts the nation in the twenty-first century.

‘Gothic Territories’, the third part, looks at what might be considered different cultures of the Gothic, which includes not only pieces on the nations Mexico, Australia, and Japan, but also subcultures and suburbia. Much of this section revolves around the uncanny repetition and adaptation of outside influences and narratives to produce a unique expression of the genre, but which can also highlight the ways in which the Gothic allows for forms of resistance and identification beyond dominating ideologies.

The part on ‘Gender, Sexuality, and the Gothic’ begins to unpack how the Gothic expresses, exceeds and/or transgresses ideas around sexual identity or gender. This often takes the form of the uncanny repetition mentioned earlier by following the socially proscribed identities but not in ways that are expected – being the same as everyone else, but different. The exact nature of this difference is explored in chapters on Queer, Female, Postfeminist, and Postmodern Gothic, and sees it express an uncanniness and excess that pushes beyond and across borders in a way that typifies the Gothic as a whole.

If the earlier parts of this volume deal with what might be termed subjective approaches to the Gothic, then this penultimate part, ‘Media and Mediums of the Gothic’, is, in a sense, objective, as it deals with the ways in which different mediums and media are used in the construction, consumption, and dissemination of Gothic texts. The pieces on architecture, comics, film, gaming, and food examine the increasing levels of engagement and immersion in the genre, suggesting that the introduction of the Gothic to new media ← 5 | 6 → introduces the ghost into the machine. Further intimating that a symbiotic relationship develops between the two, unique expressions of the Gothic can only be produced by and through certain kinds of mediums.

The final part, ‘Gothic Futures’, looks specifically at expressions of the genre that suggest futurity, though quite often they are equally representative of older or well-established tropes of the genre. The studies on Neoliberal, Science Fiction, New Weird, Quantum, and Vampire Gothic all feature an excess and/or repetition, which produce uncanny doubles of the past and/or the contemporary world that then look forward to a future, or alternate, version of the world as we know it. Parallel worlds or universes are an interesting example of uncanny doubling that is often central to such narratives and that represent anxieties over individual identity and the ambivalence between the real and familiar, and the unknown and uncanny.

The examples in ‘Gothic Futures’ provide evidence of the way in which the Gothic remains essentially the same through its history, embodying human and societal anxieties that are largely, even uncannily, extremely similar – even though its superficial appearance changes, mutates, and adapts to the environment and times within which it is created, the core fears and anxieties over identity in times of increasing change remain constant.

It is a mistake to say that some periods or eras are more Gothic than others. The anxieties of living in an increasingly industrialized, technological, and globalized world, where the lessons of the past are too readily forgotten, has fuelled the Gothic imagination since Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. As such, just like the many generations before us, we will always live in Gothic times.

1 Text here, as it is throughout the book, is defined as a single work/narrative, of whatever duration in any medium. It can be a poem, novel, film, comic, game, building, festival, song, musical group, art work, etc.


X, 264
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (April)
Gothic Studies Cultural Studies Media Studies Film Studies Literary Studies
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2018. X, 264 pp., 45 coloured ill., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Simon Bacon (Volume editor)

Simon Bacon has published many articles on vampires, zombies and monsters in popular culture and science fiction and has co-edited books on various subjects, including Undead Memory: Vampires and Human Memory in Popular Culture (2014), Little Horrors: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Anomalous Children and the Construction of Monstrosity (2016) and To Boldly Go: Gender and Identity in the Star Trek Franchise (2017). His first monograph, Becoming Vampire: Difference and the Vampire in Popular Culture, came out in 2016. He is currently working on his second book, The Undead Self: Troubled and Troubling Identities in Screen Adaptations of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.


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