Fashioning Gothic Bodies

Article excerpt

Fashioning Gothic Bodies by Catherine Spooner (Manchester:Manchester University Press, 2004), ISBN: 7190 6400 7, 224pp., £47.50 hb; 0 7190 6401 5, 224pp., £15.99 pb.

Catherine Spooner's Fashioning Gothic Bodies is an ambitious and interesting project; above all, it is the kind you are glad someone else has done, since it requires detailed knowledge of two fields not previously studied in conjunction, Gothic literature and changes in fashion. Spooner attributes the fact that her approach is so novel to the critical prevalence of a surface-depth model in which the surface of the Gothic is largely ignored because we believe that what it is really about is what lies beneath.Wisely eschewing any attempt systematically to define the Gothic, though demonstrating her familiarity with the work of those who have, Spooner intriguingly proposes that part of the essence of Gothic is its focus on what is vestigial, which she compares to the fondness for corsetry in present-day Goth costume, and this proves the preamble to a sustained discussion of Gothic texts in terms of contemporary fashion.

In the course of this discussion, Spooner ranges widely across an impressive field of texts. The first chapter begins with a discussion ofMarie Antoinette and Burke's sentimental spectator and moves on to discuss a number of Gothic authors, principally Ann Radcliffe and 'Monk' Lewis. This is a provocative and intelligent account, and the approach is particularly fruitful when applied to The Romance of the Forest. The second chapter begins with Jane Eyre's wedding veil and moves on to Carlyle's Sartor Resartus,Dickens, Villette, Lady Audley's Secret, The Woman in White and The Moonstone (with, unsurprisingly, particular attention paid to Franklin Blake's dressing-gown), and Uncle Silas. The next chapter is on freaks, dandies, and female masculinity, including discussion of the Elephant Man and of David Lynch's film of his life, Stoker's Dracula and his The Mystery of the Sea, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Richard Marsh's weird but increasingly studied tale The Beetle, which came out in the same year as Dracula and initially outsold it. The penultimate chapter on 'Cosmo-Gothic' ranges from women's magazines to Rebecca, The Bad Sister and the film Single White Female, while the final combines discussion of modern Goth fashions and the nature of the subculture with comment on the novels of Anne Rice and Poppy Z. …