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The Gothic

A Reader

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Edited By Simon Bacon

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.

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Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; or The Transformation (1798) – Transatlantic Gothic (James Peacock)

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James Peacock

Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; or The Transformation (1798)

Charles Brockden Brown is widely credited with having invented the American Gothic (see Kafer 2004: xi), and thus with having influenced a host of canonical American writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. His first novel, Wieland; or The Transformation: An American Tale (1798), declares its Gothic credentials with a bang. After a brief paternal biography, Clara Wieland, the novel’s first-person narrator, describes the extraordinary death of her father. In ‘the temple of his Deity’, a summer house to which he repairs twice daily for religious contemplation, he suffers from what appears to be an episode of spontaneous combustion: ‘A gleam diffused itself over the intermediate space, and instantly a loud report, like the explosion of a mine, followed’ (Brockden Brown 1798: 13, 15). Reflecting on this unfathomable episode, Clara asks:

Was this the penalty of disobedience? this the stroke of a vindictive and invisible hand? Is it a fresh proof that the Divine Ruler interferes in human affairs […] Or, was it merely the irregular expansion of the fluid that imparts warmth to our heart and our blood, caused by the fatigue of the preceding day, or flowing, by established laws, from the condition of his thoughts? (18)

The debates implied in these questions – between the supernatural and the rational, the divine and the earthly, the uncanny and the familiar, between the stuff of faith and that...

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