Riquelme, John Paul, Ed. Gothic and Modernism: Essaying Dark Literary Modernity

By Oppolzer, Markus | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Riquelme, John Paul, Ed. Gothic and Modernism: Essaying Dark Literary Modernity


Oppolzer, Markus, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Riquelme, John Paul, ed. Gothic and Modernism: Essaying Dark Literary Modernity. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 236 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8018-8865-6. $25.00.

Gothic and Modernism is essentially a reprint of Modern Fiction Studies 46.3 (Fall 2000). However, John Paul Riquelme, the editor of both publications, provides an updated introduction and adds two new essays to the existing eight. Of these two, Theodora Goss's contribution, co-authored by Riquelme, appeared in MFS 53.3 (Fall 2007), which makes Paul K. Saint-Amour's "Gothic Temporality and Total War" the only original contribution.

This collection of essays sets out to demonstrate Modernism's indebtedness to late nineteenth-century literature and especially Victorian Gothic fiction for some of its central concerns. Accordingly, part 1, "The 1890s," offers readings of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure to show the main characteristics of Gothic literature and highlight early traces of Modernism in these Victorian masterworks. Part 2, "Gothic Popular Forms," deals with the generic merging of the Gothic with other forms of literature, such as the anti-Western, the detective novel, or Postmodern fiction. The title of part 3, "The Gothic and Language," is a slight misnomer, as the first essay, Penny Fielding's "Reading Rooms: M. R. James and the Library of Modernity," is actually about cultural anxieties at the turn of the century, and Graham Fraser's "'No More Than Ghosts Make': The Hauntology and Gothic Minimalism of Beckett's Late Work" offers an introduction to Beckett's transformation of the Gothic into an idiosyncratic and highly aestheticized narrative mode which touches upon the question of language but shows more interest in the representation of spectrality. The newly added part 4, "Gothic Cultural Transformations: Technology, the Posthuman, and Total War," features a cumbersome title that has to accommodate readings of Virginia Woolf's short story "The Mark on the Wall" and Octavia Butler's sf epic Xenogenesis.

The meanderings of the Gothic mode between its peak production periods in the final decades of the last three centuries is a notoriously under-researched field in Gothic Studies, and any attempt to shed light on the survival of its main traits in other forms and fictions is a most welcome enterprise. In preparing Gothic and Modernism, Riquelme brought together scholars who either specialize in late nineteenth-century fiction and Victorian Gothic or in (Post)Modernism, asking the first group to detect early signs of Modernist writing in some of the classics of late nineteenth-century fiction and the other to discuss (Post)Modern texts in terms of the Gothic tradition. This editorial strategy, however, leads to contradictory results.

The greatest strengths of the collection are, at the same time, its weakest points. Most of the contributors seem to have become interested in the Gothic because their respective fields of research confronted them with narrative phenomena that could best be described in terms of the Gothic. This provides a fascinating and enriching extension of Gothic Studies into areas that those who come from within the discipline may never have thought of. Penny Fielding's cultural studies approach to M. R. James, Graham Fraser's essay on Beckett, and Paul K. Saint-Amour's work on Gothic temporality are highly original contributions that deserve wide recognition. Fraser offers striking insights by just referring to a single source of Gothic criticism, and Saint-Amour manages to get by with Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White as his only point of reference, even though the novel is more frequently read in the context of sensation fiction. His intriguing comments on Gothic temporality also excuse some otherwise hardly tenable generalizations, such as the "linear drives of [the Gothic's] plotting" (209) or its "fundamentally escapist and anti-realist mode" (217). …

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