Gothic Modernisms

By Andrew Smith; Jeff Wallace | Go to book overview

Introduction: Gothic Modernisms:
History, Culture and Aesthetics
Andrew Smith and Jeff Wallace

The connections between modernism and the Gothic have largely been overlooked in studies of the Gothic and in modernist scholarship. Given the Gothic's appeal to a mass readership and modernism's associations with elite culture, such oversights seem initially justifiable. However, this is to ignore modernism's fascination with the everyday, as witnessed for example in two seminal high modernist achievements of 1922, Ulyssesand The Waste Land; and it is to ignore the mutual obsession of the Gothic and the modernist with the rapidly changing relationship between culture and the quotidian. The refrain from T. S. Eliot's ‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ – ‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’ (1. 13–14) – illuminates one aspect of such a relationship. 1 The lines form a misogynistic image of women gossiping about a mode of culture which they do not understand; but the paradox is that such an image of cultural exclusion is both celebrated and breached by a modernist aesthetic which glimpses in the everyday, not a decline of cultural authority, but rather its rhetorical and image bearing status. In transforming Michelangelo into mass experience, mass culture both captures the essence of a cultural commonality and symbolically represents an attachment to a more profound world of longing, fear and nostalgia – a world, in other words, of Gothic dimensions.

James Joyce's Ulyssesdevelops a different strand of the connection between culture and common experience: ‘He comes, pale vampire, through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth to her mouth's kiss. Here. Put a pin in that chap, will you? My tablets.’ 2 Registered here is not only the stock vampiric iconography of bats, storms and stakings, but also the link with writing and so with culture. The description is a gloss on what Jonathan Harker in Dracula (1897) notes in his diary at Castle Dracula:

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