Gothic Architectonics: The Poetics and Politics of Gothic Space

By Davison, Carol Margaret | Papers on Language & Literature, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Gothic Architectonics: The Poetics and Politics of Gothic Space


Davison, Carol Margaret, Papers on Language & Literature


Its legions of copycats aside, Gothic literature has been extremely fortunate in its key architects. Whether in its condensed, initial conception in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764), or its more expansive form in Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), the Gothic has often attracted skilled and daring devotees who combine a breathtaking and intuitive knowledge of its symbolic energies and possibilities with a desire to innovate, structurally and otherwise. Centuries of pejorative and dismissive commentary, however, provide ample evidence that the Gothic has not always been so fortunate in its literary critics. Until fairly recently, and as a result of deeply entrenched and longstanding cultural and academic prejudices, the Gothic may be said to have been critically pummeled, denounced as an institutional embarrassment, and condemned to a shallow grave replete with countless historical literary works deemed unworthy of discussion. Notably and thankfully, the names of a few inquisitive and adept scholars stand out whose monomania about the Gothic over the course of the past century rivals the monomanias of the various hero-villains who occupy the pages of those compelling dark romances. Their scholarly efforts have helped ensure both the prominence of the form in the annals of literary history and the development of the field now commonly referred to as "Gothic Studies." Among these notables we find such names as Montague Summers and Michael Sadleir, both critics of the old school whose breadth of knowledge, especially of the vast wealth of Gothic primary sources, is breathtaking. Indeed, it seems as if a certain torch has been passed--a sickly taper, (1) as it were--from one impassioned Gothic aficionado to another over the course of the past century.

The recent death of Dr. Frederick S. Frank, Professor Emeritus at Allegheny College, marks the latest in this line of audacious and erudite scholars whose critical speculations were borne of a lifelong consideration of the Gothic. While some critics have worked over the past few decades to elevate the Gothic's status critically and institutionally by way of theoretical speculations about its complex engagement with modernity and role in cultural history, others have worked to flesh out a fuller portrait of a Gothic "canon," thus laying the foundations of what has been called, somewhat contentiously, a Gothic literary "tradition." After undertaking his doctoral work, which culminated in the completion of his dissertation in 1968 entitled "Perverse Pilgrimage: The Role of the Gothic in the Works of Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne," Dr. Frank worked steadily and faithfully on both sides of this scholarly divide, as his lengthy list of publications testifies, to establish a better, fuller sense of what he called the "Gothic pantheon." Perhaps his most admirable (because daunting) undertaking for which Gothic readers worldwide owe him an incalculable debt was his time-consuming and painstaking bibliographic and archaeological work that resulted in the production of The First Gothics (1987), his three separate Guides to the Gothic (1984; 1995; 2005), and Through the Pale Door: A Guide to and through the American Gothic (1990), American horror, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, and Stephen King. (ix)

  a selective bibliographical census of American Gothic literature from
  its origins in the dark visions of Charles Brockden Brown at the end
  of the Eighteenth Century to its proliferation in the works of
  masters of modern

Considered in isolation from Dr. Frank's critical scholarship, these annotated volumes and his Sickly Taper website that hosts their virtual skeletal details are a testament to a lifetime dedicated to expanding the field and providing the tools necessary for others to do so. Dr. Frank's concerted efforts to widen the Gothic's parameters, nationally and otherwise, are in ample evidence in all of these venues. …

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