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Bomarito, Jessica, ed. Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion.

Bomarito, Jessica, ed. Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion. 3 vols. Farmington Hills: Thomson Gale, 2006. Hardcover. ISBN 0787694703. $405.

I have to admit I was salivating from the moment I heard about Thomson Gale's hefty three-volume Gothic Literature: A Gale Critical Companion and, for the most part, the project doesn't disappoint. The fourth set in the Gale Critical Companion Collection series, Gothic Literature consists of three volumes, each approximately 500 pages in length and including roughly 50 images and sidebar graphics. Each volume begins with the same brief forward by scholar of Gothic literature Jerrold E. Hogle and provides a chronology of key events. Volume 1 consists of entries on five topics dealing with Gothic literature and art, while volumes 2 and 3 include entries on 37 literary figures associated with the genre. All three volumes then conclude with extensive indices of author, title, and subject that cover the whole project.

Hogle's foreword is fairly cursory, but then (reviewers aside) I'm not quite sure who reads the foreword to an encyclopedia anyway. Hogle argues that the Gothic is less a stable, unified genre than a "set of transportable features" including "settings, symbols, situations, psychological states, and emotional effects on readers or audiences" (xiii). Unstable from the get-go, its volatility has percolated down to present day formations. That said, according to Hogle, all Gothics worthy of the title share a preoccupation with antiquated spaces and liminal entities and foreground their own fictionality. Hogle briefly introduces Ann Radcliffe's distinction between terror and horror and the ubiquitous debate between psychology and ontology concerning the reality of supernatural manifestations before raising the question of the Gothic's persistence. In answer to this question, he proposes that the Gothic "turns out to be the modern Western world's most striking, if most conflicted, symbolic method for both confronting and disguising its own unresolved struggles with incompatible beliefs about what it means to be human" (xviii). Hogle's conclusions are fairly banal but seem appropriately suited to the anticipated readership: upper high-school and undergraduate students.

The chronology that follows Hogle's foreword and the preface to the volume is hit or miss in the way that these sorts of lists invariably are. It begins in 1081 with the entry "Suger of Saint Denis is born in Saint Denis, France" (xxxiii). This is a bit of a head-scratcher until one refers to the index and discovers that Suger of St. Denis is discussed in a sidebar on page 479 in volume 1 in the context of the larger entry on "Visual Arts and the Gothic." Once one realizes that the entries in the chronology all correspond to titles or figures discussed in the rest of the project, the seemingly anomalous inclusion of, say, the release of Frank Zappa's Freak Out! album in 1966 or of Terence Fisher's version of The Mummy in 1959 (but not the original 1932 or 1999 versions) makes sense. Still, there are some fairly significant omissions and gaps--for instance, apparently nothing Gothic happened between 1997 and 1999--but more on that below.

Volume 1 of the project is divided into five sections pertinent to the study of the Gothic: "Gothic Literature: An Overview"; "Society, Culture, and the Gothic"; "Gothic Themes, Settings, and Figures"; "Performing Arts and the Gothic"; and "Visual Arts and the Gothic." Each of these divisions then consists of an introduction that defines the subject and provides basic social and historical information; a list of representative works that identify texts associated with the subject; a section of primary sources that includes essays, speeches, newspaper accounts, and other materials; an extensive section of reprinted criticism in topic entries arranged thematically; and an annotated bibliography of further reading. (One major flaw of the project's organization is that the table of contents does not list the primary and secondary sources included in each section of volume 1 or in each entry in volumes 2 and 3. Nor is it clear who authored the introductions to and edited the sections of volume 1 and entries in volumes 2 and 3, which could be useful information to have.)

Taking the first division, "Gothic Literature: An Overview," as an example, the section begins with a brief introduction to the topic, referencing Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, the Romantic poets, and James Hogg, among others. After the list of representative works, the "Primary Sources" section includes extracts from John and Anna Aikin's analysis of the pleasures of terror; Mrs. Eliza Parsons's "German" novel, Castle of Wolfenbach; Percy Shelley's story, "The Assassins"; and Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novella, Glenallan. The reprinted criticism section is divided up into "Overviews," "Origins of the Gothic," "American Gothic," and "European Gothic," and includes either extracts or entire articles from Edith Birkhead, Fred Botting (two of them), John Paul Riquelme, Montague Summers, Louis Gross, Eric Savoy, Ronald Paulson, Alison Milbank, and Deidre Lynch. Obviously, the editors had to be selective about what primary and secondary texts to include, and the extent to which decisions were impacted by copyright permissions is unknown. That said, the "Primary Sources" section here seems curiously weak. Having discussed Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis, and Hogg, both in the foreword to the project and in the introduction to this section, why not provide excerpts from them? For the most part, the reprinted criticism seems appropriate for both topic and target audience. One wonders, however, why Fred Botting is included twice when someone such as Allan Lloyd Smith on the American Gothic is omitted.

The other divisions in volume 1 follow the same format and suffer from the same sense of being a bit random in terms of what primary and secondary texts are included. In addition, the final two divisions, "Performing Arts and the Gothic" and "Visual Arts and the Gothic," are skimpy in comparison to the three preceding sections and, given the final section's emphasis on the visual, the relative absence of illustrations is surprising. These criticisms aside, the volume offers a valuable starting point for researchers new to the Gothic.

To my mind, the real meat of the project is volumes 2 and 3 which include 37 entries on literary figures associated with the Gothic. Each entry consists of an author heading, a picture or portrait (if available), an introduction including biographical information, a list of principal works, extracts from or entire primary and secondary works, and an annotated bibliography of further criticism. Taking Matthew "Monk" Lewis as an example, his entry starts with an overview of his life, major works, and critical reception; provides a list of his principal works; and then provides a poem that prefaces The Monk and an essay by Lewis addressing his The Castle Spectre. Critical essays on Lewis are provided from Montague Summers, Samuel Coleridge, Mark Hennelly, Jr., and Angela Wright, and the entry ends with suggestions for further reading. While the entries vary--sometimes widely--in terms of length, all of them offer good coverage and are extremely useful.

As with the selections of primary and secondary sources included in volume 1, the selections in volume 2 and 3 are intended as representative samplings rather than as being in any way comprehensive, and the decisions are at times curious but mostly make good sense. Of more immediate interest, however, are the omissions from the project altogether. Included in the volume are the vast majority of canonical figures including Lewis, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker, and the editorials should be commended for including a handful of lesser-known or more tangential figures including Joanna Baillie, Daphne du Maurier, and Washington Irving. However, although Anne Rice is included, Clive Barker is not. Among those also not included in the project are Louisa May Alcott, Ambrose Bierce, Charlotte Dacre, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Lafcadio Hearn, George Lippard, H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Clara Reeve--not to mention anyone not American or European, which is problematic to put it mildly.

All of this is to say that this is a fabulous resource--one that all university libraries should order--but far from complete. (At $405, it's a bit steep for those without vast sums of expendable cash--although an e-version is available.) Tell your libraries to get it and direct your students to it, but then make sure to counsel them to use it as its intended--as a starting point for further research rather than the definitive end-all be-all encyclopedia of the Gothic.
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Author:Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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