Introduction

  • Avril Horner
  • Sue Zlosnik

Abstract

Although Gothic writing is now safely established within the academy, its comic dimension has received very little critical attention. Indeed, most accepted definitions of Gothic writing resolutely ignore its comic aspect. In his ground-breaking, Freudian-Marxist study of the Gothic, The Literature of Terror, published in 1980, David Punter defines three elements that lie at the ‘heart’ of Gothic writing; these are: the concept of paranoia, the notion of the barbaric and the nature of the taboo — ‘aspects of the terrifying to which Gothic constantly, and hauntedly, returns’.1 The Literature of Terror presents Gothic writing as a textual engagement with profound social collective neuroses, the study of which can teach us much about cultural and political oppression. This set the tone for many critical works of the 1980s and early 1990s, during which time Gothic moved in from the margins to become a respectable area of academic enquiry within literary studies. Despite disputes concerning ever more inclusive definitions of Gothic (which Maurice Levy, for example, thinks far too inclusive2), most critics would probably agree that Gothic writing always concerns itself with boundaries and their instabilities, whether between the quick/the dead, eros/thanatos, pain/pleasure, ‘real’/‘unreal’, ‘natural’/‘supernatural’, material/transcendent, man/machine, human/vampire or ‘masculine’/‘feminine’.

Keywords

Permeability Coherence Assimilation Expense Excavation 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    David Punter, The Literature of Terror, Vol. 2: The Modern Gothic (2nd edition; London: Longman, 1996), p. 184.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Maurice Levy, ‘“Gothic” and the Critical Idiom’ in Allan Lloyd-Smith and Victor Sage (eds), Gothick Origins and Innovations (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 1994), pp. 1–15.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Jerrold E. Hogle, ‘The Gothic and the “Otherings” of ascendant culture: the original Phantom of the Opera’ in Glennis Byron and David Punter (eds), Spectral Readings: Towards a Gothic Geography (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), pp. 177–201.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 8.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Fred Botting, Gothic (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 23.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry fames, Melodrama and the Mode of Excess (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1976; 2nd edition 1995), pp. viii, 5.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ‘The Character in the Veil: Imagery of the Surface in the Gothic Novel’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 96, 2 (1981), pp. 255–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. For later work in this area, see Andrea Henderson ‘“An Embarrassing Subject”: Use Value and Exchange Value in Early Gothic Characterization’ in Mary A. Favret and Nicola J. Watson (eds), At the Limits of Romanticism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), pp. 225–245Google Scholar
  9. and Jerrold E. Hogle, ‘The Ghost of the Counterfeit in the Genesis of the Gothic’ in Allan Lloyd-Smith and Victor Sage (eds), Gothick Origins and Innovations (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 1994), pp. 23–33.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    See Philip Stevick, ‘Prankenstein and Comedy’ in George Levine and U.C. Knoepflmacher (eds), The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 221–239;Google Scholar
  11. Sybil Korff Vincent, ‘The Mirror and the Cameo: Margaret Atwood’s Comic/Gothic Novel, Lady Oracle’ in Julianne E. Fleenor (ed.), The Female Gothic (Montreal and London: The Eden Press, 1983), pp. 153–163;Google Scholar
  12. Paul Lewis, Comic Effects: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Humor in Literature (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), especially Chapter 4, ‘Humor and Fear in the Gothic’, pp. 111–153;Google Scholar
  13. Victor Sage, ‘Gothic Laughter: Farce and Horror in Five Texts’ in Allan Lloyd-Smith and Victor Sage (eds), Gothick Origins and Innovations (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi Press, 1994), pp. 190–203;Google Scholar
  14. Julian Wolfreys, Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, the Uncanny and Literature (London: Palgrave, 2002), especially Chapter 1, “I wants to make your flesh creep”: Dickens and the Comic Gothic’, pp. 25–53.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    Walpole’s novel was first presented as a translation from the Italian and published anonymously in December 1764. However, the second edition, published in April 1765, acknowledged Walpole’s authorship and added the subtitle ‘A Gothic Story’. See E.J. Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction 1762–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 54. For the quotation from Clery, see her introduction to The Castle of Otranto (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. xv.Google Scholar
  16. 14.
    Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, Time Gothic Novels, ed. Peter Fairclough (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 135.Google Scholar
  17. 15.
    Richard Davenport-Hines, Gothic: 400 Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (London: Fourth Estate, 1998), p. 140. Davenport-Hines, in his reading of The Castle of Otranto as emphatically comic, sees it as ‘only a by-way leading towards Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost”’, p. 141.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    E.J. Clery, The Rise of Supernatural Fiction 1762–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 164.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    See Elizabeth R. Napier, The Failure of Gothic: Problems of Disjunction in an Eighteenth-Century Literary Form (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 22.
    Clara Reeve, The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story (ed. J. Trainer) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 3.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    Anne Williams, ‘Monstrous Pleasures: Horace Walpole, Opera, and the Conception of Gothic’, Gothic Studies 2, 1 (April 2000), p. 108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 30.
    Ann Radcliffe, The Italian: Or the Confessional of the Black Penitents (1797; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 273. Page numbers appear hereafter in the text.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Eric Bentley, The Life of Drama (New York: Antheneum, 1964) as cited in Peter Brooks’s The Melodramatic Imagination, p. 12.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    See Juliet John, Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 38.
    Peter Berger, Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1997), p. 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 39.
    See Jerrold E. Hogle, ‘The Gothic Ghost of the Counterfeit and the Progress of Abjection’ in David Punter (ed.), A Companion to the Gothic (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 293–304Google Scholar
  27. and Jerrold E. Hogle, ‘Introduction: The Gothic in Western Culture’ in Jerrold E. Hogle (ed.), Gothic Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 1–20.Google Scholar
  28. 44.
    Chris Baldick, ‘Introduction’ to The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. xxiii.Google Scholar
  29. 45.
    See Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (London: Methuen, 1985);Google Scholar
  30. Margaret Rose, Parody: Ancient, Modern and Post-Modern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  31. Simon Dentith, Parody (London: Routledge, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 46.
    Simon Dentith, Parody (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 15–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 47.
    See Margaret A. Rose, Parody: Ancient, Modern, and Post-Modern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 1995), p. 240, where she describes Linda Hutcheon and Brian McHale as denying or underplaying the comic character of parody.Google Scholar
  34. 48.
    Simon Dentith, Parody (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 50.
    As early as 1779, James Beattie identified incongruity as a key element in provoking laughter: ‘Laughter arises from the view of two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in one complex object or assemblage.’ (James Beattie, ‘On Laughter and Ludicrous Composition’ in Essays: On Poetry and Music [ed. Roger J. Robinson] [London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1996], p. 320,Google Scholar
  36. as cited in F.H. Buckley, The Morality of Laughter [Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003], p. 203).Google Scholar
  37. 52.
    Jean Paul Richter, Horn of Oberon: Jean Paul Richter’s ‘School for Aesthetics’, introduced and translated by Margaret R. Hale (1804; Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1973), p. 88. See Chapter 1 for a fuller exposition of Jean Paul Richter’s theories of humour.Google Scholar
  38. 54.
    See Comedy: ‘An Essay on Comedy’ by George Meredith and ‘Laughter’ by Henri Bergson, ed. Wylie Sypher (1956; Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  39. 55.
    Fred Botting, Gothic (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 172.Google Scholar
  40. 56.
    Arthur Koestler, Insight and Outlook (London: Macmillan, 1949), p. 56.Google Scholar
  41. 58.
    Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle, An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory: Key Critical Concepts (London and New York: Prentice-Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995), pp. 73–74.Google Scholar
  42. 59.
    Wolfgang Kayser, The Grotesque in Art and Literature translated by Ulrich Weisstein (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), p. 19.Google Scholar
  43. 61.
    Mary Russo, The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 7.Google Scholar
  44. 62.
    Angela Carter, Afterword to Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (London: Quartet Books, 1974), p. 122.Google Scholar
  45. 63.
    Umberto Eco, ‘The Frames of Comic “Freedom”’ in Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Carnival! (Berlin: Monton Publishers, 1984), pp. 4, 6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 65.
    Henri Bergson, ‘Laughter’ in Wylie Sypher (ed.), Comedy (1956; Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), pp. 82, 83.Google Scholar
  47. 67.
    William Paul, Laughing Screaming: Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy (New York: Columbia Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  48. 69.
    Nicholas Royle, The Uncanny (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), p. 6.Google Scholar
  49. The quotation is from Anthony Vidier, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modem Unhomely (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1992), p. x.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Avril M. Horner and Susan H. Zlosnik 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Avril Horner
  • Sue Zlosnik

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations