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…?

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