Southern Gothic

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Southern Gothic

ag. 7, 2015, 5:07am

What exactly constitutes Southern Gothic? What are the elements a story needs to have for it to be called Southern Gothic? I've often heard the works of Tennessee Williams be referred to as Southern Gothic (A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer). These plays deal with the themes of sexual repression and decay and are rich with references to Southern culture, but you would you place them in this category?

I'm interested in stories that are Gothically tinged, but that are not necessarily horror. Any recommendations for good Southern Gothic tinged books?

Editat: ag. 7, 2015, 5:49pm

I'm afraid that this is an area of Gothic where my reading has barely scratched the surface and I can't make any personal recommendations, or offer any useful definitions.

Patricia Skarda, in a short(-ish) entry for "Southern Gothic" in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986) defines it as "A term describing the work of modern Southern writers like Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and others who were or are peroccupied with the private visions and psychological distortions of lonely characters in small loveless communities in the southern United States."..."Horrible violence or terrifying comedy characterize the South, with its Bible-Belt Fundamentalism, delayed industrialisation, racial prejudice, and stasis in a country proud of progress".

A recent piece in the Guardian newspaper takes a kinder, insider's view. The below-the-line reader's comments add further perspectives. Here's the link.

ag. 8, 2015, 11:17am

>2 housefulofpaper: Thanks for that. There's a good list of writers for me to explore. And the Guardian article was very interesting.

ag. 10, 2015, 12:40pm

I'm another who's barely scratched the surface. I've come upon very little treatment of Southern Gothic in my reading on the Gothic, either. I'm wondering if this is because it's only recently been categorised and theorised about, or because academics don't regard it as quite 'kosher'. More likely it's simply because I haven't read widely enough, yet.

ag. 10, 2015, 12:47pm

Does it have Bette Davis/somebody who could be played by Bette Davis in it, going mad/behaving madly? It's Southern Gothic.

set. 10, 2015, 12:13am


I pissed myself. :D

set. 12, 2016, 3:43am

>2 housefulofpaper: I would include Harry Crews and Barry Hannah in that company.

des. 20, 2016, 2:53pm

Hi, I'm new to this group. I like a writer named Michael McDowell. He's probably better known for his work on the screenplays for Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas but he also wrote a fair number of horror novels, most of them set in the South (he was from Alabama). I'm particularly fond of The Elementals.

des. 20, 2016, 7:06pm

>8 robertajl:

Hello, and welcome to the group.

I haven't read anything by Michael McDowell but recently I've been eyeing up the reprints of his novels, including The Elementals, that Valancourt Books are in the course of publishing.

I'm sure I remember seeing the British paperback editions of his Blackwater series on the shelves in the 1980s. I didn't investigate them...I think I confused McDowell with Michael P. Kube-McDowell who must have just been starting out as a professional writer then. I'd come across a couple of his (Kube-McDowelll's) stories in things like Analog but at that stage he hadn't written anything that would induce me to commit to a 6(?)-book series. Decades later I find it was a case of mistaken identity!

I saw, and loved, Beetlejuice when it was released but I don't recall any of the publicity pointed back to McDowell's literary career. If it had, I might well have investigated.

Editat: abr. 11, 2018, 10:10am

Having fun investigating this sub-genre. Planning it for summer reading, to immerse myself in the heat, humidity, slick southern style, contemporary or not. Faulkner has so many I don't know where to start. I know what he's famous for, but does anyone have any favourites that are lesser known, shorter, not quite so epic?

Waffling on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and although I love John Cusack, court/trial drama holds little appeal. I've read that the book and its 1997 movie are half set there. Unlike, say, To Kill A Mockingbird with a pivotal scene in a courtroom included in the film, but not featured for long, most of it is implied. The night before, when the kids show up, holds more drama than the actual insurmountable trial. Atticus is a lawyer of course, but the book is mostly about his family life. I might still view MM in The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) for the superb cast alone. A dozen heavy-hitters! The movie might not be southern gothic but Matthew certainly qualifies! I can relate to the story that his mother would never worry about him gone dawn to dusk catching frogs in the swamp but feared for his life whenever in town or near cars or with his 'unpredictable' dad... he was said to use this essence in his Gold (2016) character.

Reading about southern gothic is as much fun as reading the real thing. Completely unfamiliar setting to my own surroundings, thus the lure. One of my toppers is The Glass Menagerie so might need to dig it up again. Same vibe as The Spiral Staircase, with the isolation and disability elements.

>9 housefulofpaper: I too thought Beetlejuice (1988) was unmatched. Burton and Keaton, both originals.

abr. 12, 2018, 6:28pm

>10 frahealee:

This thread is starting to feel like a reproach! I still haven't investigated Michael McDowell. I see Valancourt have now reprinted his Blackwater series (they're print-on-demand paperbacks, but the ones I have - I mean Valancourt publications generally - are good quality).

I've got a collection of Flannery O'Connor's short stories from the Folio Society, and I'm only 1/5th of the way into it...

Editat: abr. 12, 2018, 8:35pm

>11 housefulofpaper: Race ya! ;D

My job may be to occasionally open the windows of these dormant threads, to keep the cobwebs bouncing! Love refreshing the titles and authors to catch more of the overlap. It made me laugh to read Paul accuse you of costing him money every time he reads one of your new comments (or old ones, for me). I absolutely understand his predicament. Your overlap of material and memories must keep you up at night! A wealth of inventory and references at your fingertips, and I don't mean on a PC. What a luxury. No reproach. Never. Only admiration to you and all for sharing what you know or what you've found graciously with the rest of us.

Editat: abr. 14, 2018, 6:45pm

>1 Obosman: ... good Southern Gothic tinged books ...

Novels actually read:
*** LT tags these as 'American South' ***
Violin by Anne Rice
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
*** LT tags these as 'American Gothic' ***
A Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Petals on the Wind by V.C. Andrews
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
(obviously Wharton/Poe/Irving are not southern writers)

Novels/Short Stories yet to read:
The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor (#147) ... she was born in Georgia
Sanctuary by William Faulkner (#215) ... he was born in Mississippi
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (#229)

Those currently unread on the Goodreads list of top gothic novels:
Interview with the Vampire (#10) & The Witching Hour (#46) by Anne Rice ... born in New Orleans, LA.
The Ghost Writer (#57) & The Seance (#133) & The Asylum (#153) by John Harwood ... born in Kentucky
Flowers in the Attic (#64) & My Sweet Audrina (#207) by V.C. Andrews ... she was born in Virginia
Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite (#75) ... she was born in New Orleans, LA.
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman (#94) ... she was born in Virginia
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (#101) ... he was born in Virginia
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers (#105) ... she was born in Georgia
Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers (#132)
The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore (#156) ... she was born in Texas (qualifies?)
The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourne (#193) ... she was born in Texas
The Bone Key: The Necromantic Mysteries of KMB by Sarah Monette (#198) ... she was born in Tennessee
Nevermore by Kelly Creagh (#231) ... she was born in Kentucky

*FYI-this is my repeat resource, so apologies for the blatant overlap of books and authors; need a singular running list to morph with updates and revisions *

Not part of the above-mentioned Goodreads list, is a book I've read that is technically a romance novel, because it is written by Nicholas Sparks. Safe Haven has a few different things going on; single dad, abused wife runs away from her law enforcement husband, isolated small town in North Carolina located on the water, supernatural influence, fire devastation, etc.

Editat: set. 10, 2018, 4:47am

I'm going in. Having finished one short story Dry September this week, I am already one third in to Absalom, Absalom! and am determined to see it through. From every angle I have been told that this is the worst idea ever, to begin my Faulkner foray with this book, some say the best novel written by him. Some say the best southern set novel ever. Time will tell. I must mention that The Sound and The Fury will be saved for last. I have to be in the right frame of mind to read a book with a character with special needs. It will be the ringer of the 9 novels. The short stories will be hither and yon, whatever I have time to read, when and how. The wheel will turn unceasingly even if it takes me a decade. So far, my sense is one of unrelenting repetition, to force discomfort.

If his method is a swirling mess of characters and stories resembling a climbing twining clematis, or a lilac blossom, rather than a linear experience, then it would seem no matter where I start, they will all need to be reread anyway. I have seen the 1958 film The Long, Hot Summer with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, not even realizing it was based on Faulkner stories. I may call those up again, in time, with Tomorrow 1972 (Robert Duvall) and many other originals and remakes, but not until completing my reading of each novel and short story.

Although my plan is to attack them alphabetically, it will depend on what I can manage and when. I have no preference of short story over novel, short novel or long, saturated sloppy drama or light rollicks. It will be pure mind-over-matter (isn't that what 'mom' stands for!?). I also want to tackle some Thomas Hardy, and may alternate between Faulkner and Hardy, to relieve potential pressure-cooker steam burns, between American and British sensibilities. My Canadian authors are fluctuating between Laurence/Atwood/Urquhart/Shields, again, as the works become available to me. I want to read A Jest of God before treating myself to Woodward directed by Newman in the adaptation Rachel, Rachel (1968). I might start with older films etc. or watch more recent ones. We have no tv/netflix/streaming service, with no intention to do so, so each will cross my path naturally. Nothing about my approach is forced, it merely moves from intention to action, the way a cliff diver moves from land to air to water. Belly flops allowed. I research what makes sense to me, but my focus is always on writing style and readability. Faulkner has a Nobel prize for a reason, and that it enough to fuel my drive.

Editat: set. 24, 2018, 9:08am

Finished Absalom, Absalom! and the short story A Rose For Emily. Also dug up The Displaced Person to watch over again, now that the environment makes a bit more sense. Reading it will fill in the blanks. It helps a lot to group these together, since the overlap lends to the southern sensibility rather than causing confusion. Faulkner's writing style is more disjointed than O'Connor, but Welty is even more fluid. Listened to her read portions of two stories online; A Worn Path and Why I Live at the P.O.. Both skip along in audio versions, but I would like the read the text eventually and take my own sweet time.

Not sure what all the fuss is about with Faulkner. My 2011 CanLit Giller nom longlist binge included themes of; cannibalism, child neglect bordering starvation, incest, murder, suicide, etc. and as for his writing style, it's like flying a kite. Hold on tight and it's a lot of fun! The repetition is relentless, and the brackets drove me to distraction, but all in all an interesting story well told. I will learn more about these characters as I go … est. 9 novels & 40 short stories, alphabetically to keep it all straight. Once read, plan to carve out time to watch whatever films flow into focus.

Absalom, Absalom!
As I Lay Dying
Intruder In The Dust
Light In August
The Hamlet / The Town / The Mansion
The Reivers
The Sound and The Fury

Welty Wish List: 3xbooks ... An Optimist's Daughter, The Robber Bridegroom, The Collected Stories of EW
O'Connor Wish List: 3xbooks ... The Complete Stories of FO, The Violent Bear It Away, Wise Blood: A Novel

>2 housefulofpaper: … private visions and psychological distortions of lonely characters in small loveless communities in the southern USA / horrible violence / terrifying comedy /prejudice / stasis ...

This intro was dead on with my feeling of laughing at something I shouldn't find funny, or missing the joke on something I thought was serious. Impressed that Faulkner created an objective character from Alberta to be one of his narrators.

Editat: set. 25, 2018, 4:00am

Here is the Weird Tradition group thread about A Rose For Emily, with various comments and resources, so as to not lose track of what I've said and where;

And here is the Deep South group segments involving Faulkner literature;

The overlap of comments was getting confusing, and not really in the 'Weird' vein. I found this final post, re: literature timelines after viewing The Long Hot Summer (1985), revealing …

The tv movie was better than expected with Judith Ivey & Don Johnson opposite Jason Robards. Isaac was played by an unrecognizable William Forsythe. Wow, a performance worth its weight in gold. And Rance Howard in likely the sole villain role I've ever seen him play... it was hard to dislike him but I did! =)

Curious about certain timelines of works that popped to mind as I watched;

1926 The Sun Also Rises - main character permanently disabled from the war
1929 The Sound and the Fury - Benjy
1930 A Rose For Emily - aunt with mental illness, Miss Wyatt ? / Tobe, the doddering elderly man who rarely spoke ?
1933 A Clean, Well-Lighted Place (insomniac)
1936 Absalom, Absalom! - Jim Bond
1937 Of Mice and Men (takes place on a ranch in California, not southern gothic) - Lennie
1939 The Grapes of Wrath - the brother who remains in the river, abandoned by the family
1939 Barn Burning - Abner Snopes (stiff foot) - son Sarty acts as Jiminy Cricket conscience then disappears
1940 The Hamlet - Isaac (abandoned 23 years before story takes place, no dignity of a last name)
1944 The Glass Menagerie - Laura (has a physical frailty, which fosters lack of confidence, but her mind suffers psychological torture at the hand of her wilful mother and retreats into her hobby in order to cope)

It seems like the characters were all adults with developmental disabilities, large men so capable of immense strength, but not usually feared by their community. It felt like, in their simplicity, they represented the black&white clear conscience of the story, and even when what they did was wrong, it was done without malice, only error in judgement. The treatment of these characters is interesting, and the overlap of Steinbeck and Faulkner, two literary powerhouses, to attempt to peel back the veneers, the facades, on both upper crust gentility and abject poverty, spans the spectrum of human experience. Raw, jagged, effective, in their attempt to show the world as it truly is. Perhaps the 20s were dominated by Hemingway but these three men went on to wrestle it out for decades, perhaps boosting their own talent in the process. My dad was born in 1930 so all of this relates to his timeline too, which makes it more personal, more accessible for me.

In A Rose For Emily, it was as if the town was trying to control her like a marionette on strings, they kept making predictions and she rarely indulged them. She denied their importance by denying their wishes. Rumours spread in hopes of mind control? Stranger things have happened. I know this is the Weird Tradition group, but it's hard for me to separate my thoughts into Weird vs Gothic vs classic lit vs southeast vs southwest - it's endless, so here it is, splat.

Extremely important to allow yourself to be knocked off your axis. To be repulsed by the characters, the story, and in trusting the author, to be rewarded for the effort.

Editat: oct. 27, 2018, 12:30pm

>9 housefulofpaper: >11 housefulofpaper: When I first read this post months back, the term Valancourt had no meaning. Now, after completing The Mysteries of Udolpho, seeing it again today made me grin!

This past week was spent pushing through Uncle Tom's Cabin, reading an ebook/Kobo version, listening to the audiobook online, chapter by chapter (not each one, but many), and looking over the online Cliffs Notes for details about character/plot that might have been missed. I was surprised to find a section featuring an 'essay' about Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Southern Gothic. When I selected the story as a free download in early September, I had no idea. It was just one of eight chosen according to what was offered vs. what I already owned or had read in the past. How is this story not more well-known as a piece of Southern Gothic fiction? Is it because Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in the north (Connecticut)? Is it because the story had been grossly mocked by many in those early years to the point where no one took it seriously? With various white theatre troups donning blackface makeup for performances? Thinking it was funny?! The Crash Course Theatre folks have an episode dedicated to the origins of Al Jolson, and it covers this topic pretty thoroughly. I will not provide the link, but it taught the tough subject matter with current sensibilities. This prompted me to read the book sooner than later, but again, I had no clue it contained gothic elements.

I can honestly say that I expected nothing from the book, and cried at least twice. It is shocking and distasteful and the characters are well-drawn versions of many who existed then and still exist now. One reminded me so much of Austen's Mansfield Park novel that I had to look up the date it was published to see if one had read the other's work!

I also became aware that HBS was the aunt of the author of The Yellow Wallpaper, CPG. Having read both now, I can absolutely see the feisty sentiment behind both stories, with women who, although trapped by their times and societal expectations, found unique ways to be heard.

My overlapping and intertwining research has become an invaluable habit, lifting up each new book closer to the lantern light of awareness. Dark corners beware! My favourite speech is by Eliza's husband, George, early in the novel, inside a tavern. He speaks eloquently to his former employer (not owner) who is a cotton-brained fusspot. I am sure many were left speechless, including the Indigenous readers who might have seen their own stories reflected.

FYI: Mansfield Park, 1814 and Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1851 (the Civil War broke out ten years later in 1861)

Editat: oct. 27, 2018, 8:33pm

>17 frahealee: Here is the link (finicky laptop cut/paste feature), better late than never;

Do NOT read any of the essay if you plan to read the novel at some point. It gives everything away!

I watched the 1987 tv movie with Samuel L. Jackson as George Harris, Phylicia Rashad as his wife Eliza, no other than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine captain Avery Brooks plays Uncle Tom (too young, but commanding presence), and Bruce Dern as St.Clare. The movie was okay, true to the book in most parts, but so much was missing that it left me flatlined.

oct. 28, 2018, 8:26am

>17 frahealee:, >18 frahealee:

It must be nearer sixty than fifty years since I read it, but I found it so distressing that it's stuck in my mind ever since and I've never tried to read it again. Thinking back, I suppose it could well be categorised as Gothic, though that's never previously occurred to me.

It's irredeemably connected in my mind with Tess of the D'Urbervilles - I think they were the only two instances where the young me came up against a book that I thought was great but had absolutely no wish to read a second time.

Um ... reading that over, they are probably the only two instances for the me of any age.

Editat: oct. 28, 2018, 10:03am

>19 alaudacorax: Three Hardy's are lined up for me to read shortly, but Tess is postponed to next year. Several comments reflect your views. I have read only one (Madding Crowd) and saw Jude with Kate Winslet. Yikes.

The Gothic is summarized in the southern plot, not the northern; Cassie/Cassy, her hoax-gothic haunting after Tom restores her mangled mind by saving her soul, and her similarities with Bertha in Jane Eyre, Eva's effect on Tom and his 'vision', the ruined Legree plantation and its evil owner (primary villain), the sin of slavery, etc. The essay talks about themes of the fainting/inept/feminine heroine (Eva), the race against time which affects the tension especially in the delayed 'lost' letter which might have altered the outcome, the extravagant descriptions of surroundings and unsettling events especially in New Orleans portion, etc. It wasn't just about dark and dreary, or spires and domes (which is mentioned when the riverboat arrives). There is shame, guilt, generational oppression, inequality in power struggles, typical gothic motifs/characters/objects/incidents, although relationships are unconventional or reversed for greater impact.

The speaker reiterated many times that in making the sin of slavery palatable for her readers, Stowe used Dickens as her mentor, thus the sub-title 'Life Amoung the Lowly' which was used by Dickens to describe the impoverished and destitute (through no fault of their own often) treated honestly but sympathetically, in order to highlight the social injustices in London and the dirt of the industrial revolution (coal pits). He exposed the squalid schools for boys, the work houses, etc. not just by using Scrooge and Squeers, but by his effective endings, showing both grief and triumph. Knowing that Stowe had 7 kids, had earned money with her writing, and that the Fugitive Slave Act was wrong (1950) she felt unable to remain on the sidelines. She took what she knew, combined it with her upbringing by a protestant minister father (and brother), and with her husband (professor), and with her loss of a young son, to appeal to the women (mothers&daughters) who in their own way were enslaved by domesticity. All of this went right over the heads of men in politics who remained detached. She used realism and sentiment and gothic and irony and every device she could find to wrap up the original intent. Her focus was not on form but on theme. The slaves, women, children all shared common ground.

The place where George/Eliza Harris land in Canada (Amherstburg) turns out to be 30km south of Windsor, where my Grandmother lived for many years and is less than a two-hour drive, so Dad and I would go down and back in the same day for the odd visit until her second husband died (her 1st husband died before I was born, so she remarried and moved away to his neck of the woods) and she moved back to town. There is a place called Uncle Tom's Cabin en route, near Dresden, which I have never been to, but my boys have and brought back souvenirs. I was embarrassed to admit I didn't know the story. That has been rectified. Now I might take my daughter and visit in person. The underground railway has been under my feet these many years, and I paid it no heed. Shame on me.

Editat: oct. 28, 2018, 12:47pm

Who watched or has read Gillian Flynn's "Sharp Objects?" That would most certainly be considered southern gothic.

Editat: oct. 31, 2018, 1:25pm

Haven't seen it or read it yet. Sounds like she has a way with words. I trust Patricia Clarkson to be in only interesting productions.

Editat: juny 7, 2020, 7:21am

Bumping this up to take another look through the material and the comments, since my Mary Flannery O'Connor paperbacks are nearly finished, and I plan to plunge into four by Faulkner over the summer months. The sweltering heat really lends itself to these claustrophobic tales.

The Violent Bear It Away
The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor

The Hamlet / The Town / The Mansion (Snopes Trilogy)
The Reivers (then the Steve McQueen film if easily located)

The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty is also within reach, followed by Atwood's The Robber Bride (and film with Mary Louise Parker). After it's done, I'll post thoughts in he Canadian Gothic section.

juny 29, 2020, 2:54pm

Got Wise Blood polished off, too. My comments on the 31 short stories clutter up my own 50 Books section. Several short stories combine to make the saga of Hazel Motes!