Le Gothic: Influences and Appropriations in Europe and America.
Le Gothic emerges out of the 'Gothic Voyages' conference organised by the editors in Paris, 2004, a conference which aimed to explore the relationship between Anglophone Gothic and European culture. The importance of Paris, and in particular 'The Terror', to the history of Gothic fiction has been long acknowledged, but while Gothic studies has now broadened to include such areas of study as film and fashion, the focus has, until recently, still remained geographically bound to the Anglo-American Tradition. As Horner and Zlosnik observe in their introduction, there is a 'constant need for Reassessment of our cultural histories' (1), and this book, like Horner's previous European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange, 1760-1960, makes an important contribution towards unearthing the European dimensions of the Gothic. Presenting 'new research into the ways in which cross-fertilization has taken place in Gothic writing from Europe and America over the past two centuries' (2), the collection is divided into four parts.
Part I, 'The Paris Nexus', focuses on writers who set their works in Paris and considered the city as a Gothic space. First is Jerrold E. Hogle who, noting various connections between Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris and Leroux's Le Fantome de I'Opera, nevertheless argues that while the Gothic mechanisms remain similar, the cultural agenda clearly changes. Hogle achieves what is managed by the best essays in this collection--moving beyond the specificities of particular texts to focus on the wider issues involved in material being adapted and transported. Linnie Blake next draws on the work of the Situationists and their notion of the derive to challenge Walter Benjamin's association of Poe's 'The Man of the Crowd' with 'Baudelairean formulations and celebrations of the modern world' (42). Instead, author and narrator both, Blake argues, make a doomed attempt to contain potentially dangerous diversity and control what is ephemeral, thereby becoming both 'agents and instruments of the substantive rationality of the capitalist economy' (42). A little more direct commentary on the significance of this for the Gothic generally would have useful, but it is an otherwise stimulating and original essay. Raphael Ingelbien then looks at two works less obviously Gothic, and shows how the psychological dramas at the centre of James's The Ambassadors and Bowen's The House in Paris assume the Gothic overtones precisely because of their Parisian settings. In each case, a vampiric subtext, rather than contributing to psychological terror, is instead linked to 'The Terror'. For Ingelbien, the Gothic associations of the setting have allegorical functions, linked, he suggests, to James's conservative anxieties about capitalism and to Bowen's concern with the highly charged political context of the 1930s. As with Hogle's essay, what is particularly interesting here is the focus on the changing cultural agendas as material is adapted and transported.
Part II, 'Channel Crossings', consists of four essays focusing on interchanges between British and French authors. Angela Wright begins by highlighting the complexity of these interchanges with an examination of links between Rousseau and Radcliffe. Radcliffe's success in securing her position within a specifically English literary heritage, Wright argues, only 'conveniently glossed over a rather more suspect continental inheritance' (68). Despite widespread suspicion of Rousseau's 'seditious' ideas, English women writers held him in high regard. As Wright demonstrates through an astute analysis of Radcliffe's engagement with Emile and self-love, she escaped the cultural contempt her peers consequently suffered only because of her qualified responses to, and modifications of, Rousseau's ideas. Moving to the end of the nineteenth century reveals further French and British connections. Alison Milbank offers a convincing argument for Huysmans as a Gothic writer through a comparison with Arthur Machen and reads La Bas in relation to The Three Imposters with specific reference to the horrific and tormented body. While approaching this body specifically in terms of the literary grotesque, Milbank takes a quite different position than Bakhtin, and shows how the grotesque here forces an acknowledgement of the mysterious duality of human nature. Both authors explore the 'transcendental purposes of the horrible grotesque' (94), and show that, in the words of Milbank's subtitle, the 'The Way Up is the Way Down'.
Maria Vara next considers the connection between de Sade and the Gothic with a reading of his representation of the persecuted maiden in Justine. Vara describes Justine as 'ultra-Gothic' (106) in the way de Sade exposes his heroine to all the dangers only suggested in Radcliffe's texts and parodies 'the whole ideology of the enlightenment' (106). The only problem with this essay was the sudden jump into the 1970s and the rather cursory look at rewritings of Justine by British and American women who, like de Sade, were interested in dismantling mythic versions of women. There seems to be the material here for a promising monograph rather than a short essay. The concern with feminist rewritings continues in Rebecca Munford's analysis of reworkings of the female vampire. Bringing together Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus with Pierrette Fleutiaux's rewriting of Stoker's female vampires in Histoire de la chauve-souris, Munford argues that while Fevvers remains imprisoned in Gothic scripts, Fleutiaux's 'bat girl' is released through a reappropriation of the 'Gothic heroine's vampiric/menstrual identity' (128). Munford takes us in some exciting new directions by introducing a Gothic writer still unfamiliar to many. This is something I had rather hoped to find more of in this volume.
Part III, 'Transatlantic Voyages', takes us to interchanges between the European and the American. Kathy Justice Gentile looks at a range of versions of Beauty and the Beast, but the 'Gothic' angle has the air of being slightly superimposed, and the impact of the cultural or historical contexts somewhat underplayed. The contextual implications of the interchanges are more directly addressed in William Hughes's subsequent essay. Dracula, Hughes shows, is more important to Eliot's poem than previously recognised, and Stetson, rather than being 'Pound in a big hat' (158), refers to the author of 'The Animistic Vampire in New England', a work which, like The Waste Land itself, is preoccupied with cultural decline. Carol Margaret Davison follows with 'Calvinist Gothic', drawing parallels between Brockden Brown's Wieland and Hogg's Justified Sinner and considering the nature of the double in connection with Calvinism as manifested in two national contexts. Perhaps the most interesting essay in this section is the last: Andrew Smith's consideration of the Gothic elements in Dickens's work through an examination of The American Notes for General Circulation. Smith begins with what Dickens perceives, when visiting America in 1842, as a 'language of mimicry' (185)--both in its connection to the uncanny, and in the sense of the term as used by Homi Bhabha. Analysing examples from Dickens's visits to such places as an asylum for the blind, the 'State hospital for the Insane' in Boston, and the American frontier, Smith then considers the ways in which Dickens uses spectrality as a means of interpreting what he as outsider does not understand and for the purposes of political critique.
The presence of this essay, plus the two that follow in Part IV, 'Coda: Other Directions', means the collection ends on a particularly strong note. Barry Murnane continues the interest in Dickens, but what is more important now is Murnane's consideration of the idea of translation as advanced by Walter Benjamin, as something in which traces of the original remain 'as a ghostly, defamiliarizing presence, a trace of foreignness' (201-2). Murnane first considers Kafka's Der Verschollene/America as a Gothic translation of David Copperfield and then, turning to translation in a second sense, the translation of technology into literature, examines the links between Dickens and Kafka in their 'comparable Gothicization of technologies' (201). In his focus on these modes of translation, Murnane makes a significant contribution towards the more general theorising of the process of adapting and transporting Gothic texts.
The final essay, David Punter's 'A Voyage through the Phantom Museum', considers some of the objects collected by Henry Welcome in the first part of the twentieth century. Welcome's somewhat fantastic aim was, as a recent curator quoted by Punter observes, 'to trace the history of the human body, in sickness and in health, throughout the whole broad sweep of human history' (219). There are some oft-quoted lines from 'Andrea del Sarto' that spring to mind here. The collection soon became too big to catalogue, and many of the items were unidentified. Many cases of objects, still unpacked, remain in a West London vault. Others have been sent to other museums around the world. Punter's overall point, he suggests, is that there is a 'museological dimension' (222) to the notion of imperial return (but there is much more to this essay than that proposition might suggest) and he muses upon just a few of the items from the exhibition at the British Museum in 2003--what they are, what they might mean. When you reach this point, just sit back and listen--you'll see what I mean by 'listen' when you read it. Punter reveals himself to be a born storyteller. This is an endlessly fascinating piece of writing ... at least, you won't want it to end.
University of Stirling University