Recommended Reading/Comments on Gothic Themes

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Recommended Reading/Comments on Gothic Themes

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des. 19, 2015, 6:04am

For a book project I'm working on, I'm researching the themes and influences on gothic literature. My local library authority is well stocked on the subject, and I'm currently reading Gothic Fiction by Angela Wright, before I move on to David Punter's The literature of terror : a history of Gothic fictions from 1765 to the present.

Some interesting themes are emerging which will be very useful to be when analysing gothic works, such as the tension between 18th Century Enlightenment thought and the Romantic movement. Also the use of the Gothic to explore social and political themes, which makes Southern Gothic interestingly different to European Gothic.

I'd love to hear your comments on these ideas, and any recommended further reading.

Thanks and happy holidays!

des. 20, 2015, 7:48am

Some ... person ... on UK Amazon is asking £989-99 ($1,474-89) for a hardback Vol.2 of The literature of terror : a history of Gothic fictions from 1765 to the present.

My Gothic reading has been on hold for a month or more, my mind having wandered elsewhere for the time being, but I was finding Michael Gamer's Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation quite fascinating (if slightly rambling in places).

One of his main arguments is that the Romantic movement was quite fundamentally shaped by its closeness to, and antipathy to, the Gothic and he's quite interesting on the attempts of writers like Wordsworth to both exploit and distance themselves from the Gothic. He's quite interesting on the ways that Gothic drifted out of critical approval while still being commercially successful.

I've found though, that there are a lot of works covering the same ground in slightly different ways, and it's difficult to separate out the key works that were saying something new and which I really need to read from the rehashes that academics are churning out to bolster their CVs. I've been long intending to really devote some time to the problem - say a week or so's concentrated digging - but I've yet to get round to it ...

des. 20, 2015, 7:27pm

I haven't been thinking about this in any serious way recently. I don't think I can suggest any particularly useful or insightful academic and/or serious books on the subject.

However, by chance I can offer this:

Arrow Video's Blu-ray of Roger Corman's Tales of Terror includes as an extra, a video essay "Kim Newman on Edgar Allan Poe". About 20 minutes in, Newman makes the following observations prompted by the portmanteau film Spirits of the Dead/Histoires Extraordinares:

"{Roger Vadim's adaptation of "Metzengerstein"} does for Gothic cinema exactly what Poe's original story did for Gothic tales...{Poe said he wanted to write} of a terror "not of Germany, but of the soul". He positioned himself as writing against the European tradition of family curses and castles and people with funny names"..." "Metzengerstein" is the story he wrote to make fun of trashy Gothic stories.

"And then we have Louis Malle's "William Wilson", one of the key Poe stories. {It} shows how aware Poe was of the genre that had only just been created and {that} he was already subverting. There was already a convention of how you tell the doppelgänger, the evil double story:"..."the decent person who is stalked by his evil doppelgänger. Poe writes it the other way round. He writes it from the point of view of the evil William Wilson who is stalked by the incarnation of his better self. {This is Poe saying, } we're getting way from the simplistic morality of European horror and we're going to go into American horror, which is the problems you have with the realisation the you are evil, that it's not some external diabolical force, it's you. It's what Poe called the "imp of the perverse"".

If Poe stands at the start of the Southern Gothic tradition (and I'm wondering aloud rather than asserting this), then Newman's observations suggest that the tradition has a psychological basis at least as much as it has a socio-political one.

But then again, Newman's thoughts on "William Wilson" made me think of James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Does a Fundamentalist Protestantism inform Southern Gothic at all? And if so, how far? (One can see how Poe's "Imp of the Perverse" and a consciousness of a sinfulness which could never be removed by prayer or good deeds, are not wholly unconnected ideas). I don't know enough about the spread of the different strains of Christianity through the States to develop that idea (although I gather Non-Conformism of various types was given a boost after the Revolution whereas, because of their obvious connection to Britain, "The Anglicans"..."were devastated by defections of clergy, the destruction of facilities, and general ill-will against them" (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Third Edition)).

It may also be worth mentioning, although (1)it's an entirely separate observation, (2) it may well not be news to you (!), that the British Library's 2014 Exhibition "Terror and Wonder" made a point of linking the French Revolution, particularly the Terror, with the surprisingly graphic Horror of the turn of the 19th Century (as an example that happens to be at hand, the tie-in wall calendar reproduces the frontispiece of Tales of Terror (1801) which is a graveyard scene featuring skeletons, ghosts, and ghouls disinterring, dismembering, and consuming corpses (admittedly closer to the style of a ghoulish schoolchild than anything truly chilling, but even so, there it is...))

des. 21, 2015, 12:08pm

The French Revolution is interesting in terms of the gothic. I maintain that an English writer would never have written Dracula, with its subtext of an ancient artisocrat literally feeding off the people. The theme would simply have been too subversive for a writer from a country afraid of infection by the European wave of revolutions during the 18th and 19th centuries. An Irish writer such as Stoker would have had a completely different perspective.

Thanks for the suggestions. The idea of the Romantic movement being antipathetic to the Gothic is interesting and hadn't occured to me. I can see how the genre was used to express the tension between Enlightenment rationalism and the key Romantic idea that human experience is too vast and complex to be explained by science.

With this in mind, I wonder why some within the Romantic movement took against the Gothic

Editat: des. 21, 2015, 1:08pm

>4 IanFryer:

Have you read/considered exploring Charles Nodier and his circle? He was influenced by English (Scottish) Gothic, but also Slavic folklore, with its vampires and werewolves, and the romanticized Balkan brigands. Others among his friends--Gautier, Edouard Ourliac, Hugo of course...--also wrote Gothick-y stories.

ETA: trying to get author touchstone

des. 21, 2015, 4:37pm

Thanks, I'll look into him. My main focus of research is British horror cinema, but I want to get a decent grounding in Gothic themes and influences.

des. 22, 2015, 5:50am

>6 IanFryer: - ... but I want to get a decent grounding in Gothic themes and influences.

And me, and it's turned out to be a big and complex job. If you're not careful, you can get so absorbed in not only studying the Gothic but studying the study of the Gothic. What academics have been up to in recent decades - well, it's a growth industry.

I forgot to mention that I found The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction a good, wide-ranging introduction, if a bit of a slog in places. It doesn't (as I remember) deal with Southern Gothic, though.

Editat: des. 22, 2015, 7:25am

Thanks, and you're right. I have a lot of films and cinema history to get through and don't want to get sidetracked.

des. 22, 2015, 12:35pm

>6 IanFryer:

Oh, I see. I mentioned Nodier because you mentioned the French revolution and Romanticism--Nodier is a seminal figure of French romanticism.

Don't know about any direct influence on British horror cinema, unfortunately--I suppose my first thought is that cinema is much more likely to be influenced by other cinema? That is, whatever literary influences there are, would be more likely to get filtered through cinema, where adaptations exist? Boiled down to a question--random example--would the British audience be more likely to know about Fantômas from Allain's books or from Feuillade's serial?

des. 22, 2015, 4:20pm

I guess it depends on the period under discussion. The post-war British public, for example, had a voracious appetite for books, so by the time the Hammer version of Dracula came out in 1958 more people would be familiar with Stoker's novel than would have memories of Tod Browning's film (which probably was starting to look something of a museum piece even then).

feb. 14, 2016, 6:22pm

I read Inside the Bloody Chamber over the weekend, which is a collection of some of Sir Christopher Frayling's essays on Gothic or connected subjects. If some of those connections appear tenuous (an essay on Disney's version of Beauty and the Beast, for example - and yes, some of these essays date back to the '80s and '90s), what unifies them is that they were or touch on interests of Angela Carter.

The book's title refers to her 1979 short story collection The Bloody Chamber and the subtitle is "On Angela Carter, the Gothic, and other weird tales" (incidentally, I see Touchstones has a different subtitle. A US edition?).

The book begins with a 50-page literary memoir in which Frayling (should I, as a point of etiquette, be writing "Sir Christopher" there?) recounts his friendship with Angela Carter in the 1970s when they were both connected to the University of Bath, and both pioneering in their own ways (novelist/short story writer/columnist, and academic) a serious approach to the Gothic, fairy tales, and so on (serious within academia that is, against the grain of F.R Leavis's ideas and teaching).

The following essays deal with the copy of Fuseli's The Nightmare on Sigmund Freud's waiting room wall; the theme music of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; Jack the Ripper; Hammer Films (especially the 1958 Dracula); Beaty and the Beast; The Hound of the Baskervilles; Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf; and the introduction to a 1994 critical anthology accompanying a Tate Britain exhibition, "We Live in Gothic Times..."

Although there isn't much overlap of material within the essays, I have come across some of the material elsewhere; either in Frayling's BBC TV series and accompanying book, Nightmare: the Birth of Horror; an appearance on BBC radio, or material he's contributed as bonus material to at least one DVD (without checking, I think it's Nosferatu (1922)).

Each essay has a brief introduction which outlines the connection to Angela Carter, and finds a pertinent quote or reminiscence, which helps to keep her in mind and unifies the collection.

One last thing. A nice touch is the full page illustration at the start of each chapter by Andrzej Klimowski. These are blocky expressionistic pieces (woodcuts or linocuts, I'd guess, rather than pen-ands-ink or brush). They are somehow redolent of the era this book looks back to, the mid-70s to mid-80s. Did he do work for Time Out, The New Statesman, the Guardian...that's the mileu he seems to conjure up, at any rate

Editat: feb. 15, 2016, 4:08am

>11 housefulofpaper:

You've just reminded me that I've rather let The Bloody Chamber fall by the wayside - it's been on my 'Long term reading' list long time (as have most of the others). That's the probelm with short story collections - once put back on the shelves they get forgotten about. It isn't as if I wasn't impressed by it. I really have to learn to read them differently.

The Frayling sounds interesting (I think it's just 'Frayling' as he doesn't use the title on the title page) - duly noted.

He has some interesting-sounding books to his name that keep cropping up in my Amazon recommendations, and his face is so familiar but IMDb has such a long list of TV appearances for him and I can't, for the life of me, remember what of his stuff I've seen. I'm sure I've watched something by him recently - and, possibly, seen it discussed here?

feb. 15, 2016, 4:16am

>12 alaudacorax: - ... and, possibly, seen it discussed here?

Possibly, I was thinking of this

feb. 15, 2016, 5:47pm

Ooh, excellent. I love Frayling's work on Spaghetti Westerns. Nice chap in real life (we both spoke at the same film festival a few years ago - he was miles better than me!). I'll definitely check that out.