What makes a novel “Gothic”? Scholars have debated this question for decades: some consider “the Gothic” a literary time period, spanning from the 1760s to 1820; others view it as a set of thematic concerns; still others understand it as a literary mode, in which contemporary authors like Stephen King continue to write. In this course, you will explore these and other definitions as you read a number of novels (and have the option to screen a film), attempting to define for yourself the term “Gothic.”
You will supplement your studies with critical literature on the Gothic novel and literary mode, critiquing and adapting the approaches and theories as you see fit. You will begin the course with an overview of approaches to the literary Gothic and an outline of its stereotypical characteristics and elements. You will then progress through the course by examining Gothic novels (and an optional film) in three thematic categories (which, as you will see, often overlap): Gothic Spaces, the Monstrous Other, and Gender and Sexuality. The Gothic novel is at one and the same time a specific English literary event and a set of literary qualities that persist in American and European novels and films to the present day. The Gothic era of English literature begins with the novelist Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the 1765 publication of The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story. Some scholars suggest that the last great novel of the era is Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin (1782-1824); it was published in 1820. The literary Gothic, on the other hand, refers to a set of themes and conventions, whose roots and sensibilities originate in the English Gothic novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. After 1820, books and later films are described as Gothic because their creators have adapted and expanded the plots, narrative devices, and themes of the Gothic era of English literature, bringing new life to the genre by reflecting on contemporary political, social, and economic issues. What all Gothic literature and film have in common is the exploration of contemporary taboos, creating an atmosphere of terror. The taboo subjects change over time, but the fear and trembling that they invoke do not.