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The Gothic

A Reader


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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Robert Bloch’s American Gothic (1974) – American Gothic (Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet)


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Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet

Robert Bloch’s American Gothic (1974)

In 1932, when Grant Wood titled his painting of a black-clad farmer and a woman standing in front of a house in Iowa American Gothic he was yoking together what seemed like two incongruent terms. At the time, the painting offered a series of ironic contrasts: between the stern Iowan farmers and their somewhat pretentious Gothic Revival house, between the portrait genre and the oddly severe looks on the couple, and finally, between the very terms ‘American’ and ‘Gothic’, which seemed as opposed as white and black. Yet, by the time Robert Bloch gave the same title to his 1974 novel about a conman and serial killer preying on visitors to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the irony had all but disappeared. Instead, in the wake of the Vietnam War, renewed awareness of the Native American genocide and other American horrors, the term seemed perfectly apt for a novel about the American fascination with swindles, murders and dismemberment. In other words, by the mid-1970s, there did seem to be something inherently ‘Gothic’ about America. This genre seemed to portray an alternative American history that was written on the margins and revealing the violence and horror often glossed over in official versions.

The American Gothic novel has its roots both in the British tradition, that was invented by Horace Walpole in 1764 (with The Castle of Otranto), and in another tradition more specific...

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