New Readings of the ‘Gothic’
My research looks at everything from the origins of Gothic in the 18th Century in early novels of terror, through to some of the most contemporary Gothic texts such as Tim Burton’s film Dark Shadows (2012). It examines how a minor genre of literary novels that first appeared in the eighteenth century such as The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Sir Horace Walpole (and were savagely criticized for being ‘trash’) became a major cultural expression of fear and rebellion and a powerful platform for criticizing the status quo.
Despite vilification, Gothic was adopted by writers and painters and even composers in the 18th Century and was often viewed as a ‘free’ expression of the darker human characteristics and emotions ranging from terror to the erotic. It was always ‘hovering on the edge’ of respectability and acceptance in popular culture. Therefore, from the first, Gothic could be seen as problematic for ‘respectable’ mainstream culture but also had enormous potential to tackle political issues and social anxieties albeit in artistic expression.
For example texts like Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817) or Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) can be read as ‘entertainment’ but also constitute, among other readings, a thinly veiled critique of the repression of women in 18th and 19th Century British society. The question about the extent to which Gothic provided a ‘safe space ’in which taboo subjects could be aired, albeit vicariously, is really interesting and a growing area of academic attention.
Graphic Gothic: My own work attempts to look at the cultural journey of the Gothic genre and asks why a literature that has been perennially devalued as worthless or ‘merely sensational’ by cultural critics in the past has, in fact, never actually gone out of fashion. Over the course of 250 years, not only have Gothic texts been continuously written but the Gothic has made gains in both importance and popularity and is now recognised as one of the most important genres of not only literary but also cultural expression. In fact Gothic authors are nearly always at the foreground of innovation. Writers such as Neil Gaiman who produced some of the early and most recognized graphic novels in ‘The Sandman’ series actually popularized a whole new kind of text. The relationship between the Graphic and the Gothic novel is an exciting area of study and one that reflects some of the more challenging aspects of the integrated media text in contemporary literary studies.
My recent research in Gothic has really grown with a ‘life of its own’ as the inscription and description of the colonial other in the 18th and 19th centuries is inextricably linked to the inception and development of the gothic genre in literature. In a way it has been hard to avoid research into the relationship between race and Gothic and I have presented several papers on the topic. This area of research is proving to be particularly popular and has resulted in some successful collaboration with fellow scholars who work in the field of Gothic studies. I have most recently written the chapter on ‘Race’ in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature (2013). This is a very enjoyable area of research as the Gothic genre is fascinating in the diversity of topics and the enthusiasm generated by the academics who are attracted to the field.
JUST ONE MOMENT! Let’s research this!
Of course, the term Gothic is associated with everything from a style of Medieval architecture, through to an off-shoot of 70s punk music- but is most widely associated with a genre of film/cinematic text. In fact, with the recent global success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight films, Gothic has become one of the most pervasive genres in culture- particularly among younger audiences. Perhaps this is the reason why the director Tim Burton who has produced some of the most fascinating, challenging and cinematographically beautiful Gothic films of recent decades should choose to ‘send up’ the genre of the Gothic in his parody ‘Dark Shadows’. Research can ask the question: is this as a result of the popularization of the Gothic into mainstream/teen culture? Has the Gothic become so commonly used that it has lost its power to shock and challenge? Where will the gothic genre go from here? These questions now underpin any discussion of the way in which our culture uses the gothic and we are only at the beginning of this exciting research…