Type of Document Thesis Author Romaneski, Peter Larkin Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-06252009-123917 Title The Gothic Place as the Center of Power and Ruin Degree Master of Arts Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Margaret Kennedy Hanson Committee Chair Barry Faulk Committee Member Cristobal Silva Committee Member Keywords
- Nineteenth Century
- Eighteen Century
Date of Defense 2009-04-29 Availability unrestricted AbstractThis thesis interrogates the Gothic literary genre of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and proposes using place as a lens through which contemporary critics may read social and political resistance in a given piece of Gothic cultural production. The history of the genre is explored and its defining characteristics enumerated through a discussion of how, exactly, individual works cohere across a span of nearly two hundred years. The roots of the Gothic – including the medieval romance and literary Romanticism – are explored in order to shed light on how Gothic comes to be and the ways in which the genre stands in contrast to its antecedents. From there, the discussion turns to the ways in which Gothic uses place as an argument in itself against the institutionalization of power.
This project examines the relationship between power and decay of social structures within British Gothic novels by exploring the ways in which the spaces within those novels – often the Gothic buildings themselves – function as both power centers and places of ruin. The paper demonstrates first that this relationship within the genre persists across such borders as the author’s time, place, nationality, and gender, marking it as a constitutive if unacknowledged element of the Gothic. Secondly, it is shown that this confluence of power and decay within the spaces of the Gothic exists independent of the activities of characters within the novels, and that this independence from changes in the plot suggests that the role of the space is foundational to understanding the novels. Thirdly, this relationship between decay and power represents an inversion of social power structures – patriarchy, aristocracy, clergy, and so forth – and the characters that typify these structures. Finally, a broader metatextual and historical argument is made that this inversion of the power structure represents an attack on institutionalized and socially ordered power.
The significance of this argument lies in that a majority of scholarship about literature in the long nineteenth century seems largely to ignore patterns of place and space; a blind spot in literary criticism that could use more exploration. How narrative gets framed within a culture is intimately tied into authorial choices about setting, and these choices both reflect and influence the broader cultural discourse, shaping ideology by framing stories in a consistent way across over a hundred years. In the case of this argument about the Gothic, beliefs get expressed and shaped by authors framing narrative as being centered about a corrupt power structure: a device that has a range of wider implications about British culture at large and eventually serves as a rhetorical attack on both institutionalized power and Englishness.
The interpretation of the Gothic here is primarily historicist and this thesis seeks to frame a discussion of individual Gothic works within their particular historical contexts. Feminist, psychoanalytical, and Marxist discussions of the Gothic are addressed and then largely discarded in order to present the Gothic as a coherent social and political project that interacts meaningfully with history. During the discussion of theoretical methodology, questions are raised and answered about the appropriateness of several comparisons – most especially, the comparison of Gothic to Marxism – that would seem to be counterintuitive. In fact, counterintuitive claims are a hallmark of this piece, which requires a basic re-imagining of how Gothic is discussed and understood.
The first chapter focuses on the meaning of what is called the Gothic Place and how this idea of place is constitutive to an understanding of the genre. This chapter discusses how the Gothic Place – the literal stage of gothic events – is almost always presented as a power center of some kind; and yet, even while being a center of power, it is still suffering from decay in many ways. This phenomenon is explored through Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Brontë’s Wuthering Heights because these two novels provide good examples for the ways in which space becomes central to a novel in a way distinct from the activities of other characters. Together, both these novels are important because of their historical moments: Otranto founding the Gothic genre and Wuthering Heights doing something similar for the Gothic Revival almost a century later. While the discussing how place is central to an understanding of these two novels and the broader Gothic, the discussion of these two books is used to suggest correlation between the Gothic and a broader cultural dialogue about aesthetics and the nature of beauty and the sublime.
The second chapter focuses on the Gothic Place as it represents an inversion of social power structures and also describes the historical roots of Gothic in romance and Romanticism as well as the meaning of the Gothic’s departure from these antecedents. The chapter continues the discussion of Wuthering Heights and also incorporates Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and Stoker’s Dracula – two works at opposite ends of the nineteenth century – in order to give the reader a sense of just how the Gothic is evolving and the ways in which it is growing into a resistance genre as a departure from the mainstreaming ideas of Romanticism. The argument about how Gothic develops as a tool of resistance continues to focus on the Gothic Place, and the discussion explores the way in which power is vested in place for the Gothic: specifically, how power is vested within ownership and legal power of physical property, and the dangers inherent in this system.
In the final chapter I make the case that the Gothic relates to Marx through the Gothic’s use of place as an argument – that physical places are icons for the oppression and destruction that they perpetuate – and also that they serve a similar subversive function. My argument compares and contrasts how the Gothic and Marxism are subversive in the nineteenth century and postulates that this coincidence exists because the Gothic and Marxism arise from the same cultural context: centralization of power in Europe, the expansion of Eurocentric Empire around the world, and the Industrial Revolution. I argue that Marx’s ideas of base and superstructure – the idea that an economic base predetermines how culture and society work – correlate with the idea of the Gothic Place as a predestinating force: manipulating outcomes as much or sometimes more so than characters. The purpose of this comparison is to discuss both Gothic and Marx as trying to fight back against this idea of predestinating forces – or at least trying to expose them in preparation for fighting them – as an extended reaction against the Protestant Reformation and the rise of predestination theology in Protestant Europe as a means of shedding light on the roots of the Gothic.
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