Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide

Article excerpt

Ed. by Douglass H. Thomson, Jack G. Voller, and Frederick S. Frank. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2002. 544p. alkaline $95 (ISBN 0-313-30500-5).

Gothic studies has generated an enormous body of scholarship over the last thirty years; since the 1990s, the pace of production has even accelerated. This surge in critical interest has raised new questions about the ways we understand and use the term. At one time, "Gothic" defined a mainly British and American literary phenomenon, with a recognized set of conventions, a beginning in 1764 (the year Walpole brought out his Castle of Otranto), and a terminus fixed at c.1820 (or shortly after the novels of Mary Shelley, Charles Maturin, and James Hogg appeared). These days, however, even avowed "purists" concede that the Gothic label might be more broadly applied and accommodate a greater range of meanings. "Gothic" is being reconceived, in fact, as a dynamic "global genre free of the restrictive chronological and national boundaries"(x) that scholars once imposed on it.

Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographic Guide is the most recent of several reference books to register this shift. In fifty-four critical essays, it explores the full range of British and American Gothic fiction, including its expressions in the work of such contemporary authors as Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Stephen King. The essays at once succeed in mapping a tradition and enlarging the Gothic "canon" in several important ways. Some previously neglected authors of Gothic fiction (Charlotte Dacre, for instance, or George Lippard) are reevaluated here; examples of both European and Japanese varieties of Gothic are extensively discussed; and novelists we usually do not associate with the Gothic genre--like D. H. Lawrence and Friedrich yon Schiller--are shown to have their place within the mix.

Aside from one chapter on Gothic drama and one that is devoted to Gothic chapbooks and "shilling shockers," entries focus on individual authors and proceed in similar ways. Each starts with a list of "Principal Gothic Works" and "Modern Reprints and Editions," followed by commentary on and analysis of the author's Gothic status. Essays can be as brief as four pages, but more typically run somewhere between ten and twenty. Each entry ends with an annotated bibliography of "Selected Criticism," which identifies some of the best of past and present scholarship and illuminates key areas of academic interest and debate.

Gothic Writers is arranged alphabetically, an editorial decision, we are told, that is meant to reinforce the "atemporality of the Gothic form itself" (x). However, recognizing that some users may prefer chronological sequencing--or under certain circumstances, may actually need it--the editors supply a timeline of authors and works (through 1999) at the conclusion of the book. …