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Ghost of the Gothic--The Evolution of Gothic Tradition in American Fiction

Author WangXiaoZuo
Tutor FuJingChuan
School Jilin University
Course Comparative Literature and World Literature
Keywords gothic horror gothic tradition American fiction evolution
CLC
Type PhD thesis
Year 2009
Downloads 1058
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American fiction began in the mode of the gothic, because when it began to take form, the European Gothic novels were already in the midst of flourishing. Between 1798 and 1799, Charles Brockden Brown, the first American novelist, while inheriting the gothic tradition from his British and German predecessors, was bringing this tradition to the American soil and produced four American gothic novels in 2 consecutive years, thus establishing the gothic tradition in American fiction. Over a period of 2 centuries, the gothic tradition has been accompanying every phase of the development in American fiction and has been undergoing various changes and variations. Despite ups and downs, rises and falls, the overall trend has been spiraling upward and even today, in the 21st century, the gothic tradition in American fiction is still stunning the world with its "queer" splendor.This dissertation is to take the gothic tradition in American fiction as the object of study and attempts at a two-dimensional study—vertical and horizontal, starting with the root-tracing of the genre. The vertical axis follows the chronological order and is broken into 4 literary periods, namely, the early days of the new republic, the Dark Romantic period, the Southern Renaissance and the Contemporary America; the horizontal axis takes representative novelists of each period as objects of study, which includes Charles Brockden Brown, the father of American fiction, American Dark Romanticists Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Southern Gothicist novelists William Faulkner and Flannery O’ Connor, American contemporary horror masters Stephen King and Anne rice. With the above two dimensions striding along each other simultaneously, a panoramic picture of the evolution of gothic tradition in American fiction over 2 centuries is intended.The dissertation consists of four major chapters, with a preceding introduction, and the main points of each part go mainly as follows.The Introduction begins with the tracing of the origin of the term "gothic" and its evolution in meaning and use, the definitions of some basic concepts like "gothic fiction" and "gothic tradition", and the fundamental features of gothic writings in general. Then a literature review of the evolution of gothic tradition and gothic criticism both in China and abroad is made, while arriving at a conclusion that China is lagging far behind their foreign counterparts in this field of study. In the final part of this section, the main contents and the leading research methods of this project are introduced, along with the potential difficulties and challenges involved, like the extended span of the study and the multitude of case studies.Chapter One is about the birth of gothic novel and gothic tradition in America, centering around the first American novelist and Gothicist, Charles Brockden Brown and his gothic productions. Greatly influenced by the flooding gothic imports from Europe, Brown started his literary career in the mode of the gothic. Among the many European gothic writers, the Ann Radcliffe’s school had a decisive influence on his novel productions, and the relevant details are revealed in the first part of this chapter. In the second part, the creative sources of Brown’s Wieland, a milestone in American literary history, is under a microscopic study. The social realities of the early days of the new republic provided the gothic soil for Wieland, the historic event in 1781 provided the gothic material, and on those bases, Brown rewrote the Shakespearean classic Othello, thus producing a gothic masterpiece and establishing the gothic tradition in American fiction. In the final part of Chapter One, an analysis is made of the two leading gothic traditions—supernaturalism and rationalism, which Brown inherited from his British and German predecessors and put into successful use in his gothic creations.Chapter Two is about the flourishing of the gothic tradition in American Romantic classics. Following the lead of Charles Brown, American Romanticists continued and consolidated the gothic tradition in their Dark Romantic classics, in whose hands the gothic tradition embraced the first revival or renaissance. In the first part, it is made clear that "dark romance" has been a recurring and resonating theme in American Romantic period, which is adopted and embraced both by the early Romanticists like Washington Irving, James Fennimore Cooper and Edgar Allan Poe, and the late Romanticists like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. Their romantic classics have proved to be gothic classics as well. The second part focuses on the individual contribution of Edgar Allan Poe, the founding father of "psychological gothic", to the gothic tradition in American fiction. Starting from Poe, the American gothic tradition began to turn "inward" and underwent the process of "internalization". Also, the main sources of gothic horror was no longer confined to the gothic landscapes or backdrops, but the real terror came from the inside, the human soul, like what Poe once claimed "My terror is not of Germany, but of the soul" . In addition, The Fall of the House of Usher is under close study in order to pinpoint the correspondence between Poe’s "unity in effect" and his "psychological gothic", and between his "gothic psychology" and his "psychological gothic". The third part centers on Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose fame mainly rests on his "historical romance" and who succeeded in adopting gothic mode to rewrite American history by mixing the "ghost of history" and the "ghost of gothic". His masterpiece The House of Seven Gables is under a microscopic study. The last division of this chapter takes Freud’s psychoanalysis as a critical weapon and studies "gothic incest" , a "dark undercurrent" that has been flowing and surfacing through Brown’s Wieland, Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Hawthorne’s Alice Doane’s Appeals and Melville’s Pierre, while undergoing changes and variations.Chapter Three is about the second gothic revival in American fiction, a study on "southern gothic" in the literary period of American Southern Renaissance. In the wake of American Civil War in the 1860s, gothic tradition in America underwent some countercurrents and not until the early 20th century, it began to pick up again and found a voice in American Southern literature. The rise and flourish of "southern gothic" in American Southern Renaissance marks the second revival of gothic tradition is American fiction. In the first part, the historical, cultural and social reasons behind the rise of the southern gothic are traced, a clarification of relevant concepts is made, and the main features of this subgenre and its representative writers are introduced. The second part focuses on William Faulkner, the monarch of the southern gothic, aiming to interpret how Faulkner succeeded in putting together the "Dark Romanticism" and the "British Realism" in depicting the morbid and moribund southern civilization in the shadow of slavery and racism and simultaneously putting his "Yoknapatwapha" on the map of the global gothic literature. This section deals respectively with Faulkner’s gothic heritage in his Yoknapatwapha Saga, his fierce attack in Absalom! Absalom! on the gothic nightmare in American South resulting from the system of slavery and the demon of racism, and his gothic bequest to the world, which includes his polarized treatment of gothic scenes, the fresh elements he added to this tradition and his special treatment of gothic material in the light of modern deep psychological theories. In the last part, Flannery O’Connor, the queen of southern gothic and the grotesque gothic world she created are under discussion. In her gothic world, two features stand out—religiousness and grotesqueness, which helped to establish the basic moral and aesthetic tone in her novels. The discussion begins with a delving into her personal grotesqueness, namely, her peculiar fancy for deformed fowls, and then the evolution of the tradition of grotesqueness in literature, and finally the five major features of grotesque characters in her fictions. Next, a focus is placed on the connections between her religiousness and the religious grotesques in her Christ-haunted southern world. To end this part, we are to follow the religious journey of her grotesque protagonist, Motes, in Wise Blood in his quest of salvation through three stages Adam-Satan—Jesus. O’Connor, through her Wise Blood is conveying to us her personal belief that life is no more than a grotesque melodrama and a gothic nightmare.Chapter Four is about the contemporary American gothic in the postmodern world. The 1950s witnessed another round of resurge in American gothic fiction. With the publication of American Californian female writer Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House in 1959, the "haunted house" image restaged on American gothic landscape. Not soon after, the two horror masters Stephen King and Anne Rice began to stun the postwar America with their "horror gothic" and "vampire gothic" respectively, putting their queer gothic on the postmodern literary sphere. In the first part of this chapter, basic concepts like American contemporary gothic and postmodernism in literature are introduced and defined, out of which came the hybrid called "postmodern gothic", a subgenre intended to depict the disintegration and meaninglessness of the postmodern world by using gothic horror, grotesqueness, supernaturalism, extremity, monsters and demons. The second part is devoted to Stephen King’s horror gothic and the shudders and shrills that it evokes. Firstly, the root of his gothic horror is identified as the pervasiveness and omnipresence of horror in the 21st century and we have to live with the reality that "we all live in Otranto". Then, a study of King’s non-fiction Danse Macabre is made to illuminate King’s gothic aesthetics and his contribution to the literary theories of gothic creations. Lastly, a case study is made of King’s Pet Sematary, with a focus on King’s postmodern treatment of such gothic elements as family, death and irrationalism. The third part of Chapter Four is on Anne Rice’s vampire world and vampire philosophy. A root-seeking is firstly made of the gothic image of "vampire" and then its development, with a conclusion that it started with Byronic hero, matured in Stoker’s Dracula and culminate in Rice’s The Vampire Chronicle. It is Byron who gave the vampire its spirit, Stoker its character and Rice its conscience. Also, Sartre and Camus’s existentialism is applied in the interpretation of the existential philosophy of Rice’s vampires, and through the interview in Interview with the Vampires, we are entering the inner world of contemporary vampires and sharing with them their existence and pursuit.To conclude, in my belief, among the multitude of literary traditions emerging since the 18th century, the gothic tradition is the most persistent and enduring. Despite the ups and downs in people’s appreciation for gothic horror, the rises and falls in the status of gothic fiction as a literary genre, and the ever-changing and evolving characteristics of the genre in keeping with the changes in the readers’ taste and likes, gothic tradition has been retaining its adamant presence in American fiction, standing and surviving the test of time and space.

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