Studies in Literature, Film and New Media
Edited By Anna Kędra-Kardela and Andrzej Sławomir Kowalczyk
CHAPTER EIGHT: Competing Genres in the English Country House: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
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Competing Genres in the English Country House: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
The English country house has appeared in a variety of literary genres. From the country-house poem it ventured into Jane Austen’s novel of manners, Dickensian Gothic and Wilkie Collins’s sensational novel. Agatha Christie’s murder mystery found the estate to be an ideal location for criminal investigation and Evelyn Waugh made it the object of both scathing satire and nostalgic eulogy to class in England. Across the different forms and genres the country house acquires different meanings and iconographies. Austen’s genteel country houses represent enclosed, “knowable communities” (Williams 1993: 165) that speak of social rank, position and privilege. In Gothic fiction, the country house reconnects with its roots in the medieval castle and becomes the locus of excess and transgression. In murder mystery, the manorial space becomes “the place of isolated assembly of a group of people whose immediate and transient relations were decipherable by an abstract mode of detection” (Williams 1993: 249).
Contemporary fiction revels in the different meanings of the country house.1 One of the most inspiring and productive dialogues involves contrasting visions of the country house inscribed in two generic traditions: the novel of manners and Gothic fiction. While the first defines the country house as “a carrier of culture,” a “great good place” (Kelsall 1993: 4-7); the other evokes the “the symbolic language of the Norman ← 173 | 174 → conquest,...
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