Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation

Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation

Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation

Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation


This is the first full-length study to examine the links between high Romantic literature and what has often been thought of as a merely popular genre--the Gothic. Michael Gamer analyzes how and why Romantic writers drew on Gothic conventions while, at the same time, denying their influence in order to claim critical respectability. He shows how the reception of Gothic literature played a fundamental role in the development of Romanticism as an ideology, tracing the politics of reading, writing and reception at the end of the eighteenth century.


There is an economy of cultural goods, but it has a specific logic … To the socially recognized hierarchy of the arts, and within each of them, of genres, schools or periods, corresponds a social hierarchy of the consumers. This predisposes tastes to function as markers of “class. ”

(Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction)

I submit for your consideration the following hypothesis: a text cannot belong to no genre, it cannot be without or less a genre. Every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text; there is always a genre and genres, yet such participation never amounts to belonging.

(Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre”)

Since the 1980s, critics like Stuart Curran, Jacques Derrida, and Tzvetan Todorov have stated in various ways and without qualification that genre “is the driving force of … all literary history” – that “there is no genreless text. ” This book does not seek to oppose such assertions so much as to explore their less-acknowledged corollary: that generic classification also depends upon the readers, publishers, and critics who ultimately determine a text's identity and value. The interplay between writers and readers drives not only Bourdieu's sense of canon formation and Derrida's final caution concerning “participation” and “belonging, ” but also Fredric Jameson's definition of genre as a “social contract” occurring between any “writer and a specific reading public. ” If these formulations give significant importance to readers, they still present genre as an instance of friendly socialization or businesslike negotiation, where various parties combine to determine textual meaning, and where a significant majority of participants must agree on the nature of a text's “participation” before any act of “belonging, ” however temporary, can occur.

Taking up Jameson's metaphor, I am concerned in this study less . . .

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