The New Gothic

The nineteenth century gothic novel has been recently revived by Joel Deane, Louise Welsh, and Chris Womersley whose work seems full of body parts, suspense, and gloomy atmosphere. Strangely enough, only Welsh confesses to being ‘quite self-consciously gothic.’ ‘I’ve never thought of myself as a gothic writer,’ Deane states at their MWF 2010 panel. Womersley simply wanted to write a story and find the best way to tell it.

It’s hard to believe, considering that all three novellists were influenced by the gothic classic Wuthering Heights, as well as individually finding inspiration in Emily Dickinson, the Romantics, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Edgar Allan Poe. But they seem to have adopted the form in response to what Womersley describes as the ‘dominant mood in literary fiction’. For The Norseman’s Song, Deane didn’t want to write a ‘polite novel’, ‘novels that were navels’. He wanted to write about ugliness and violence, what killing does to people. Womersley adds, ‘The Gothic is all about the senses…[We’ve been] under the thumb of Raymond Carver [writing with]…not a lot of texture or deep emotion…A good gothic novel really smells.’

There can be pitfalls to such writing. Welsh cautions on the gothic excess, using Matthew Gregory Lewis’ The Monk as a cautionary tale. In spite of this, Welsh delights in how the gothic novel is ‘endlessly reinventing itself’, responding to social fears such as xenophobia (Dracula) and HIV (eighties vampire fiction). Having said such, she’s dismissive of Twilight with its case against premarital sex. But if Jeff Sparrow is to be believed in regards to the current abstinence movement in America, perhaps Twilight is a response to today’s social issues…?


3 thoughts on “The New Gothic

  1. I don’t think that Twilight is a reflection of changing times, the idea of abstaining is a tradition which has now become (sadly) void. This is simply due to that fact that back before condoms there was a high chance of getting pregnant and so the woman would wait until married so as to have a husband to provide for her. Now that times have changed and women are no longer the subversive creatures that they once were sex is treated like a large box of chocolates (i.e. the occasional fling.) Though this is not always the case I am using examples of the most promiscuous cases.
    The reason for the abstinence displayed in twilight is (I think) due to the religion of the author and the author’s moral ideals.
    On the Gothic, I do not think that twilight can be compared to the Bronte sisters nor Poe for it is not written to the standard of even the most standard fan fiction. I have written my literary full opinion as to why it does not suit this standard at
    please visit and tell me your opinion

    • Umm. Thanks for replying, but I think you’ve read my post out of context.

      For the last week or two, I’ve been blogging on the Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2010. This post is about the panel ‘The New Gothic’, which highlights the work of Louise Welsh, Chris Womersley, and Joel Deane. In an earlier post, I wrote about the debate ‘Fading Twilight’ (, an event that was part of the Melbourne Writers Festival 2010 school program.

      One of the ‘Fading Twilight’ speakers, Jeff Sparrow tried to explain the appeal of Twilight by linking it to the resurgence in abstinence programs (especially in the United States). The problem with such programs is that they advocate ‘sexy abstinence’ i.e. ‘I can choose to not have sex and be sexy at the same time’ Unfortunately, being sexy and not having sex can often lead to unplanned, unprotected sex. Sparrow theorised that the Twilight saga gives a magical resolution to the problems arising from sexy abstinence, which was one of the reasons why the novels are so popular. His words not mine.

      But I do believe he’s onto something. I have read all four books. I am aware of the series’ shortcomings, the author’s religious views, etc. Stephanie Meyer probably never intended to write anything other than a book that she would enjoy reading. And like many writers, she probably never thought that she would sell so many copies. She did, however. Obviously, Twilight is resonating with us on some level or another, in spite of the mediocre plots/characterisation/prose.


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