The Bog Gothic: Bram Stoker's 'Carpet of Death' and Ireland's horrible beauty.
Gothic landscapes are desolate, alienating and full of menace. (2)
The Bog Gothic: Ireland, Bogs, and the EcoGothic
Bram Stoker's overlooked novel, The Snake's Pass (1890), inaugurates what I refer to in this article as the 'Bog Gothic'. (3) Bridging the politically tumultuous period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Irish history, The Snake's Pass serves as a novel where the Irish bog demonstrates the mythic and atavistic elements of rural Ireland, while also introducing questions of modernity in an increasingly industrialised era. One way to conceptualise the Bog Gothic is through what has recently been minted the 'EcoGothic': ecological approaches to Gothic literature and culture where nature and the environment can be investigated through fear and anxiety, as well as the sublime and the supernatural. Conjoining the constituent elements of the Irish bog with the EcoGothic as a literary and cultural mode, the Bog Gothic illustrates the penchant of Irish artists to both extol and discredit the exotic and sublime dimensions of these marginalised landscapes, depicting bogs as untamed wastelands that resist incorporation into modernity and colonialism. Consequently, the Bog Gothic, emerging from the Irish Gothic tradition, draws on, synthesizes, and expands the natural history of bogs and their enigmatic fusion between human and non-human elements.
Stoker, more specifically, explores the incongruities between the nature preservationist views of Catholic nationalists and the modernising efforts of bog reclamation by Anglo-Irish landowners. Referring to the bog as a 'carpet of death', he contends that 'scientific and executive man exerts his dominance' over the shifting bog at the peril of its native inhabitants. (4) This article argues that investigating bogland in The Snake's Pass will draw attention to the ways in which Irish bogs are situated precariously among issues of national identity, colonial consciousness, and environmental history, which ultimately results in the marginalisation and degradation of these ubiquitous and emblematic landscapes of Ireland.
The Snake's Pass functions as a Gothic text due to its familiar plot of usurpation and murder, all while set upon the uncanny landscape of the bog. The presence of the mythic and mysterious mountain of Knockcalltecrore (Hill of the Lost Golden Crown) and the rocky pass of Shleenanaher (The Snake's Pass) located in the famously scenic West of Ireland evoke aspects of the sublime, grandeur, and horror. (5) Landscapes are central settings in the Irish Gothic mode and provide an exclusive look at many intersecting tensions and fears involving land ownership and political control that reach an apex at the end of the nineteenth century. While the characters in The Snake's Pass retain a stale two-dimensionality, Stoker focuses on the multidimensional bog as the central character. The Snake's Pass tells the story of an English tourist, Arthur Severn, who, while travelling in the West of Ireland, falls in love with a mysterious woman on the mountain bog (later to be known as Norah Joyce, the daughter of a local Protestant farmer). During Arthur's campaign to court Norah, he also becomes both attracted to and repelled by the bog on Knockcalltecrore. Although one could argue that The Snake's Pass is an unsuccessful attempt at the Romance genre, mainly due to the overabundant narrative of the bog, I contend that this almost singular focus is precisely why Stoker's novel characterises the Bog Gothic mode. Stoker synthesises aspects of colonialism, modernity, and the supernatural to form a distinctive environmental approach to these peripheral and quickly disappearing landscapes.
Before examining aspects of the Bog Gothic, however, it is important to first position my argument within relevant EcoGothic criticism. Ecocritics have only recently explored the Gothic as another mode of environmental investigation. In '"Deep Into that Darkness Peering": An Essay on Gothic Nature', Tom Hillard situates the EcoGothic through an American literary lens based on previous applications of the ecological sublime. His investigation of 'fear' as an ecological concept in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe connects to the familiar Gothic notions of fear, terror, haunting, and phobia. Hillard leans heavily on Simon Estok's previously published article, 'Theorizing in a Space of Ambivalent Openness: Ecocriticism and Ecophobia'. (6) While Estok does not engage with the EcoGothic per se, he does, as Hillard rightfully notes, foreground fear and phobia as a central concern in ecological readings of literary texts, as well as other cultural productions that have been Gothicised. Hillard builds upon the concept of fear as a byproduct of the ecological movement and takes it further by asking, 'what happens when we bring the critical tools associated with Gothic fiction to bear on writing about nature?' (7) He then indicates, 'ecocriticism has largely overlooked representations of nature inflected with fear, horror, loathing, or disgust' and the 'darker side of nature writing' in Gothic fiction. (8) These modes of investigation on writing about nature, such as ecological transgression and the uncanny, can be meaningfully applied in The Snake's Pass.
Despite the limited amount of criticism produced thus far on the EcoGothic outside of North America, there is a fruitful way in which we can also look at fear, loathing, transgression, doubling or disgust in connection to the ecological in the European Gothic context through other relevant registers, such as modernity, empire, and 'wasted' or peripheral landscapes. The European EcoGothic might look different than what has become the status quo in North American ecocriticism, especially in terms of contrasting environmental histories in connection with economic and political policies. The Bog Gothic, moreover, is a mode largely dependent upon recurring themes in Irish history. As such, critics might consider scrutinising issues of contested land and colonialism more than focusing on what prominent American ecocritic Lawrence Buell calls the 'first-wave' of ecocriticism, or the aesthetic praise of nature, represented in various texts. (9) In decolonised zones, such as Ireland, 'first-wave' ecocritics have tended to erase or ignore indigenous histories in favor of identifying with, praising, or protecting nature. (10) Such post-colonial distinctions are not voiced often enough in ecocriticism, and yet there is a movement afoot where post-colonial ecocritics are beginning to address previous colonial spaces in terms of their historical, cultural, and economic impacts upon specific environments and indigenous people. (11) Consequently, the Bog Gothic as another form of the EcoGothic provides a profitable way to examine the intersections of colonialism, culture, natural history, and the Gothic in Irish literary and cultural production.
Examinations of fear as a constitutive element in environmental criticism have been limited at best. Fear is not the only basis for translating concerns of class, genealogy, and gender into the Gothic; it also illuminates possible openings for an incisive study on the EcoGothic in past centuries as a result of clearly articulated environmental concerns primarily developed in the twentieth century. Accordingly, fear, awe, terror, and phobia as conditions of the sublime all appear in the Bog Gothic, but here such emotional responses emanate from the geopolitical milieu of a specific bioregion. Simply put, bioregions are ecological regions that are characterised by an array of natural communities in a specific geography. In the Bog Gothic, emotions and fears that are constitutive of the Gothic itself are tied to the bog as a liminal, political, and disputed space. The bog is a space that serves as a nexus for these concerns; it is not strictly the 'ecological' or 'environmental' history of the bog that conjures up these associations, but also its socio-economic, cultural, ethno-religious, and material history in relation to a specific natural environment. In other words, there is a bifurcated environmental history of the bog: on the one hand, a scientific history framing the bog as a specific bioregion, and, on the other hand, a political history associated with the space of the bog. It is not just the case that the bog has been a colonised space, but, viewed through the lens of post-colonial theory, it is a place in a colonised nation that also serves as a topography of resistance in decolonisation. And when viewed through the lens of ecocriticism, the bog has been a marginalised and exploited space, quickly becoming an endangered ecosystem. Due to these compounded factors, scrutinising the bog in The Snake's Pass illuminates the Gothic and colonial associations already attributed to the novel, along with additional ecocritical strains, into a new analysis of the Bog Gothic. (12)
One might ask when reading The Snake's Pass, why is the bog landscape particularly Irish and why is it particularly Gothic? After all, this is Stoker's only attempt to situate a novel in his home country of Ireland. According to Jarlath Killeen, 'What is peculiarly "Irish" about the Gothic tradition is that it emerged from a geographical zone which was defined as weird and bizarre. Indeed, Ireland as a whole was identified as a Gothic space'. (13) In connection to the Gothic, the bog naturally forms the ties to the land and its status as a solid, transhistorical space by representing an ubiquitous Irish landscape. It is also a bog, and as such is less solid than other landforms; (14) the word 'bog' is defined as 'soft ground' and is derived from the Irish word bogach. (15) In fact, its doubling quality --paradoxically solid and liquefied--resists categorisation and therefore management, organisation, and control. Its status as a counterpart of both Irish culture and the land creates a kind of palimpsest that holds all of those past associations even while it continually adds new ones. Much of Gothic fiction is located on opaque landscapes where demarcations between the known and unknown are unclear. Or, as Fred Botting notes in Gothic, 'Gothic landscapes are desolate, alienating and full of menace'. (16) Bogs are themselves liminal spaces, ecosystems that both extol and resist human populations, scientific explanation, colonialism, and cultural representation. And because the dark history of colonial occupation is so strongly preserved in the anaerobic environment of a bog, an unconscious reverberation with past cultural eradication surfaces not just in the residents of the bogs but in the Irish ethos.
Gothic Oppositions of the Bog: Supernatural and Modernity
Bogs, as an example of an EcoGothic landscape that contains the dialectic between superstition and modernity, are home to many supernatural phenomena. The 'pooka', for instance, is a shape shifter capable of morphing into various forms. Another Gothic tale of the bog elucidates the distant lights that appear randomly in uninhabited locations on the bogs. Irish lore maintains that these lights represent spirits called the 'Bog Sprite' or 'Water Sheerie' who cajole travelers to their untimely deaths. (17) The mythic explanation of this occurrence has also been credited to 'will-o'-the-wisps', also known as 'ignis fatui', which are flickering lights that dance on the bog and indicate a malevolent spirit.
Looking through the lens of modernity, however, scientists have claimed that bogs produce several gases in the layer just below the surface that assist in the decomposition process. Two of these specific gases, methane (marsh gas) and phosphine, when exposed to oxygen can be highly flammable, insomuch as they will often spontaneously combust on the surface of bogs. (18) In addition to this uncanny phenomenon, Irish bogs contain over eleven species of carnivorous plants, including sundews, butterworts, bladderworts and pitcher plants. Both literally and metaphorically, then, bogs are not only geographical zones of mystery, but also territories of consumption and death. (19) It is no wonder that myth and folklore have been historically fashioned in an attempt to explicate the inexplicable horrors that exist on the bogs.
The Gothic opposition between modern scientific explanations and supernatural accounts form the bedrock of The Snake's Pass. Such oppositions, indeed, are central in the ambiguous Gothic form where relations between real and fantastic, supernatural and natural, modern and atavistic, civilised and barbaric, and rational and fantastic remain in constant tension. (20) For example, there exists an extreme contrast between Andy, the local Irish storyteller, orally conveying the myth of the King of the Snakes, and Dick Sutherland, who investigates what he calls 'the correlation of bog and special geological formations', particularly limestone. Sutherland goes on to say, 'The main feature of the geological formation of all this part of the country is the vast amount of slate and granite, either isolated patches or lying side by side. And as there are instances of limestone found in quaint ways, I am not without hope that we may yet find the same phenomenon' (64). One of the many Gothic oppositions in The Snake's Pass is between Dick, the resident geologist and engineer, and Black Murdock, the moneylending 'Gombeen Man', both of whom are trying to find a different sort of treasure in the Irish soil. Dick is driven by geological exploration and excavation while Murdock is impelled by superstition and story. This opposition between modernity versus tradition parallels the novel's tension throughout.
One of the three treasures found in the bog on Knockcalltecrore is the deposit of limestone. All three treasures--the jeweled crown of the King of the Snakes, the French chest of gold, and the limestone underneath the bog--signify the layering of the Bog Gothic, which consists of myth, colonialism, and landscape. It is the limestone, however, that signals the materialist treasure. 'Limestone', as William Hughes notes, 'becomes a metonym for the changes that will take place consequent to Arthur's possession of the land and draining of the bog'. (21) By dividing the 'productive from the commercial' in English capitalism, (22) Arthur and Dick challenge Irish methods of subsistence farming and come to believe that the real treasure is not in the mythic (buried in the past), but in the capital of the economic (obtainable in the immediate future). After realising the resource potential of Knockcalltecrore, Dick suggests,
With limestone we could reclaim the bogs cheaply all over the neighbourhood--in fact a limekiln there would be worth a small fortune. We could build walls in the right places; I can see how a lovely little harbour could be made there at a small expense. (64)
Their underlying hope, however, is that they 'could fathom the secret of the Shifting Bog, and perhaps abolish or reclaim it' (64) in order to comercialise the purchased land at the expense of the existing bogland. Dick goes on to proclaim,
A limestone quarry here would be pretty well as valuable as a gold mine. Nearly all these promontories on the western coast of Ireland are of slate or granite, and here we have not got lime within thirty miles. With a quarry on the spot, we can not only build cheap and reclaim our own bog, but we can supply five hundred square miles of country with the rudiments of prosperity, and at a nominal price compared with what they pay now. (205)
In opposition to the modern explanation of geologic progress is the supernatural account that the bog was used as a barrier to conceal the King of the Snakes. The supernatural, while seemingly less important, confirms the uncanny aspects of the Gothic mode generally, as well as its connection to the bogs more directly. The uncanny that was derived from Sigmund Freud's landmark 1919 essay of the same name is a common method of reading uncertain or unexplainable occurrences in Gothic texts. What is particularly useful about investigating Stoker's Irish bog is that several of the taxonomies of the uncanny all exist in varying registers, from animism and anthropomorphism to the fear of being buried alive and repetition. (23) One way of explaining the unexplainable in the Gothic is to animate inanimate objects in order to reinforce that they may have some sort of consciousness.
In The Snake's Pass, animism can be applied to the bog as a landscape that is described as an animal, particularly a snake that moves depending upon the water content in the bog. Stoker writes,
[A] long, low gurgle, with something of a sucking sound--something terrible, resist- less, and with a sort of hiss in it, as of seething waters striving to be free. Then the convulsion of the bog grew greater; it almost seemed as if some monstrous living thing was deep under the surface and writhing to escape. (233)
In addition, Dick metaphorically defines the bog as a 'carpet of death' that embodies qualities that both repel and attract.
What you see is simply a film or skin of vegetation of a very low kind, mixed with the mould of decayed vegetable fibre and grit and rubbish of all kinds, which have somehow got mixed into it, floating on a sea of ooze and slime--of something half liquid, half solid, and of an unknown depth. It will bear up a certain weight, for there is a degree of cohesion in it; but it is not all of equal cohesive power, and if one were to step on the wrong spot--. (58)
Dick's definition brings together both the ecological and Gothic oppositions of the bog. Placing somatic characteristics on the landscape personifies the haunting and horrific actions of the bog, portraying what one would typically define as an ecosystem instead as a living creature waiting to devour living intruders. Animating the bog as a symbol of the horrific with its 'sea of ooze and slime' creates an inverse reaction that forces the reader to recoil from this landscape, thereby supporting more modernised positions of production capital proposed by Arthur and Dick.
Animism, then, strangely serves as an ecocritical argument here because it assumes, similarly to the environmental philosophy of Deep Ecology, that natural communities or bioregions have agency and individual identity completely separate from the managers that control and often exploit them. (24) By providing such a direct spotlight on the Irish bog, Stoker not only recognises the significance of the landscape in the novel, but he also literally establishes it as a central character containing an identity. To this effect, once an inanimate object becomes animated, it assumes consciousness, thereby complicating any actions toward its elimination or oppression.
While Dick's geologic motivations propel the narrative on one level, the pre-Christian lore of the King of the Snakes antithetically propels the narrative on another level. Because of this, the bog itself functions as an oppositional and therefore Gothic landscape: the bog simultaneously underpins and eschews culture. It contains, holds, and preserves culture by acting as an historical repository. Artifacts, for instance, have been repeatedly found in bogs usually during turf removal for fuel. Over extracting peat produces another antithetical result. Although fuel is beneficial for supporting human populations, it has also been exploited at dizzying rates, resulting in the disappearance of almost ninety-two percent of Ireland's raised bogs. In turn, while Irish culture benefits from what the bog contains, both in terms of fuel and historical artifacts, it also mourns the loss of a quintessential national landscape. The point here is that, clearly, the oppositions that frequently occur in Gothic fiction also are characteristic of bogs: they produce a form of horrible beauty that contradicts itself and because of this antithesis draws the viewer closer to the paradox of disgust and pleasure inherent in the Gothic sublime.
Transgression also plays a key role in the EcoGothic. Black Murdock's ecological transgression pertaining to the disruption of the bog culminates in his horrific demise where he is sucked into the pit of the shifting bog as it slithers toward the ocean during the torrential storm. Since transgression signals a recurring Gothic trope, we can read this analysis as an environmental parable of sorts which tacitly states that violating the ecological 'law of nature' will result in retributive consequences on the transgressor. Botting argues about the nineteenth-century Gothic,
In an age that developed philosophical, scientific and psychological systems to define and classify the nature of the external world, the parameters of human organization and their relation to the working of the mind, transgression is important not only as an interrogation of received rules and values, but in the identification, reconstitution or transformation of limits. (25)
The function of transgression in the late nineteenth-century Gothic novel forks between earlier issues of virtue, estate takeovers, and lineage disputes, to the present concerns of race, political sovereignty, and modernity. The ecological transgression associated with Murdock's obsessive treasure hunt is reminiscent of early Gothic forms where greed and selfishness result in some untimely and gruesome death, thereby reinforcing a violation of not only moral, but also environmental codes.
In contrast, Arthur and Dick transgress the ecological through their ideology of modernity, namely in natural resource development and economic production. Initially Arthur and Dick spend their days researching the bog for scientific inquiry. However, after Arthur purchases most of Shleenanaher and Knockcalltecrore, complete control of not only the land, but also the resources on the land, quickly becomes a primary objective. When planning his future estate, Dick remarks to Arthur,
Let us once be able to find the springs that feed the bog, and get them in hand, and we can make the place a paradise. The springs are evidently high up on the Hill, so that we can not only get water for irrigating and ornamental purposes, but we can get power also! (179)
Initially framed as subsistence living, Dick suggests that Knockcalltecrore will provide all of the necessary elements to live quite comfortably. He then contradicts himself, 'I suspect, that there is a streak of limestone in the Hill, the place might be a positive mine of wealth as well!' He continues, 'We can build a harbour on the south side, which would be the loveliest place to keep a yacht in that ever was known--quite big enough for anything in these parts--as safe as Portsmouth, and of fathomless depth' (179). Propelled by the lure of natural resource extraction and production, Arthur insists, 'Dick, this has all to be done; and it needs someone to do it' (179). Modernity supplants atavistic notions of subsistence living often associated with rural Ireland as Arthur and Dick push for a project that will ultimately have an extensive ecological impact on the mountain and surrounding land.
References to the 'edge' also indicate the unknown aspects of the bog that are marginalised, which can be regarded as a response to crisis in what Eric Santner sees as 'stranded objects' of historical consciousness. (26) Bogs are stranded forms of history that Irish culture struggles to access because of its transhistorical status as existing on the edge or margins of history and culture. In their parallel to a complicated and traumatic national history, bogs--seen as a synecdoche for an environmentally challenged Ireland--have been equally dispossessed and pushed to the periphery, similar to the people living on the edge of them, such as Phelim and Norah Joyce in The Snake's Pass. The benefit of the Bog Gothic, then, is to reconceive the place of bogs in the Irish literary imagination and gather and then synthesize a number of prevailing discourses on the phenomenology of bogs that are 'stranded', in that they cannot be successfully mourned or reconciled with other dominant narratives. In fact, such narratives highlight in detail, in light of the bog as a central character in The Snake's Pass, the ambiguous and antithetical status of bogs as national landscapes in Irish history.
On the 'Edge of the Bog': Anglo-Irish Anxieties and Land Consciousness
Land in Ireland has remained a focal point of geo-political and ethno-religious tension in Irish historiography. Due to the unequal distribution and ownership of land for several centuries under colonial occupation, and particularly in the nineteenth century, the battle for land ownership and therefore political legitimisation reached a compendium around the time of Gladstone's Land Act of 1881. Before and after the Act was the Land War of the late 1870s and early 1880s, where disenfranchised Catholic tenants fought the Protestant Ascendency for land rights and ownership in order to create an 'owner-occupying farming class'. (27) In fact, County Mayo, which is the actual location of The Snake's Pass despite its fictionalised account, was one of the most tumultuous zones during the Land War and home to Michael Davitt who along with Charles Stewart Parnell led the Irish National Land League. The Land War of the 1880s drastically diminished power of the Anglo-Irish as a dominant class, both in terms of land wealth and cultural legitimacy, and consequently signaled a serious threat to the future of colonial rule. (28) Land and legitimacy not only represents the palpable anxiety expressed in the Anglo-Irish Gothic tradition, but it also becomes the cornerstone of Irish Independence. Within this period of geo-political struggle, Stoker fittingly places his first novel in the West of Ireland, pinpointing the contested space of the bog as central to Irish land identity.
The Land War and various Land Acts are particularly important events to examine in light of any post-colonial ecocritical analysis because of the way in which the Irish viewed the environment(s) as politically charged spaces that are repositories of cultural memory. The relationship with the natural environment, moreover, was based on the division of Irish labour (those who worked the land without any rights), Anglo-Irish landowners (those who held on to political power due to ownership), and British tourists (those who wanted to enjoy the landscape as an aesthetic commodity in the Empire). Due to the accretive layers of stratified culture and history in the bog, Catholic nationalists argued vehemently for its preservation. (29) The visibility of the bog, it was argued, needed to remain a presence as a reminder of national identity and Gaelic tradition prior to colonial occupation. Because of this, preservation became a political issue wrapped in the land debate. Ireland's inherent natural beauty also became a place of refuge for the nineteenth-century British traveler, like Arthur Severn, due to its close proximity, inexpensive travel itinerary, and distance from the pollution of England's industrialised factories. Maintaining any ecological balance was paradoxically more important to the gaze of the English traveler who often desired an aesthetic escape or 'picturesque' experience from an increasingly industrialised England than it was for the local Irish who were resigned to work for the privileged Anglo-Irish landowners.
Even for the Anglo-Irish landowners the bog was under threat not only for the potential to increase agricultural land, but also because it was a target against nationalist movements as an 'emblem for Ireland's intractable national character'. (30) In this context, there existed a disputed association between preservation and modernisation where ethno-religious tensions contained not only cultural, but also economic and environmental implications. The spaces where bogs existed represented wasted space and zones of decay where Catholics lived and who, like the bogs, were pushed to the margins. Because of this, policies were in place to reclaim the bogs through drainage with the intent to increase agricultural production for the British Empire and the Anglo-Irish landowners, but also to 'beautify' the sublime qualities of the landscape as a new form of land reform. So in one stroke of the spade for the Anglo-Irish, as they believed, the elimination of the bog would result in agricultural improvement and further dislocation and dispossession for the Catholic majority. According to Nicholas Daly, 'The bog suggests that what is really at stake in the murkiness of the Anglo-Irish past is the violence of colonial history', but also an environmental history of bog eradication. (31)
In The Snake's Pass, it is Arthur who takes more interest in the landscape than the local Irish due to his desire to possess and then alter the bogs on the mountain. Since he is also a privileged British traveler of wealth and class, Arthur eventually purchases the entire mountain so that he can save Norah's Cliff Fields and then Phelim Joyce's farm from Murdock's meddling, in part, but also so he can maintain the memory of its natural aesthetic. (32) By the close of the novel, however, Arthur decides, along with the guidance of Dick, that he wants to drain the bog in order to extract limestone for profit. By doing this, he fulfills a colonial preoccupation that dates back to the Tudor period where the 'wild Irish landscape' is transformed 'into a model of English settlement and to exploit in a much more organized and entrepreneurial way its rich resources of woodland, river and land'. (33) Viewing the environment in contrasting ways, the Anglo-Irish have tended toward the utility, organisation, and commodity producing policy previously established by the Tudors, whereas early Gaelic and later Catholic models predominantly practiced subsistence farming. Katie Trumpener incisively argues in Bardic Nationalism,
Anglo-Irish landowners secure their right to the land they occupy by molding the surface of the country in their own image, bringing new Irelands into being out of the void. Here colonialism and expansionism appear as progress and as the incontrovertible economic salvation of the whole country, Irish peasantry and all. (34)
Arthur's injection of British land-use ideology into the novel's plot, although initially motivated by chivalrous actions in order to support Norah and her father against Black Murdock, mirrors a past environmental history while concurrently foregrounding the future: bogs do not represent the Anglo-Irish and therefore through their reclamation will be used to reflect their own image as an 'economic salvation of the whole country'.
Despite being in a superior position of class, Arthur is repeatedly assaulted with dread and worry in his recurring dream about the shifting bog, Black Murdock, and his own personal position in Western Ireland. These fears indicate a colonial unconscious brought into consciousness by unearthing the bog, a symbol of Ireland in the midst of colonisation. One prime example is the French treasure that Murdock is so keen to unearth; it signals an alternative history where the allied French might have helped liberate Ireland from the grip of British rule. The haunting and subsequent fear of Arthur is, in part, the unconscious reminder of the colonial history triggered by the land association, namely the bog, of what memory is buried in its depths. Regardless, the bog clearly represents a danger and as such invokes horrific dreams for Arthur. Such anxiety dreams could also result from supernatural retribution for devising ways in which the bogs on Knockcalltecrore can be developed for Arthur's personal/domestic space and also annexed for capitalist industrial use. Industrialisation in the form of reclamation and drainage for monetary gain underscores the lingering colonial ethos of reclaiming the Irish bogs for agriculture, not the least of which also has tremendous ecological impacts.
In A Tour in Ireland (1780), Arthur Young emphasised that supporting large-scale bog reclamation advantaged Anglo-Irish landowners and provided an economic union with Britain. (35) Since bogs were 'wasted' or unutilised space in such a modernised project, the belief was that they should be drained in order to produce higher profit yield for the owners and more resources for the British Empire. The environmental impact of bog reclamation began in the mid eighteenth century when clearing space for agricultural land became a priority and in 1731 an act was passed to 'Encourage the Improvement of Barren and waste Land, and Boggs'. (36) During the transition between the nineteenth and twentieth century, in contrast, peat from bogs was prioritised as fuel, mostly for indigenous consumption. Reclamation for agriculture and peat extraction for fuel had its consequences on what was considered a cesspool of wasted space, despite the ecological diversity now celebrated on bogs. Although Stoker disguises such underlying issues within a harmless romance plot, he underscores Arthur's Anglo-Irish position, confirming that bogs are not only useless wastelands, but they also represent economic enhancement if bog reclamation and draining can be implemented. The purchase of Knockcalltecrore is also a purchase of Norah, who symbolises both the bog and Ireland, and in so doing this Arthur also reclaims Norah by sending her to become educated on the European continent, thereby draining her Irish cultural identity.
In order to justify the exploitation and elimination of bogs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Anglo-Irish imposed a darker, ominous, and therefore Gothicised identification of bogland. What better way than to demonise the landscapes and people who were to be disposed of or eliminated? Just as the Anglo-Irish Gothic form became an expression of cultural anxieties due to their minority status, the treatment of bogs as parallels to the Catholic Irish served as an othering that supported the status quo. In the 'Introduction' to Empire and the Gothic, Andrew Smith and William Hughes point out,
One of the defining ambivalences of the Gothic is that its labeling of otherness is often employed in the service of supporting, rather than questioning, the status quo. This is perhaps the central complexity of the form because it debates the existence of otherness and alterity, often in order to demonize such otherness. (37)
In addition to the agri-economic argument for bog reclamation, there is a cultural and religious demonisation at work that assumes the bog is a source of 'sin and sloth, a site of social and moral darkness: drainage takes on the status of an exorcism'. (38) Reclaiming the bog, then, achieves two important ends in Anglo-Irish and Catholic relations: it provides increased economic revenue of agriculture for the Anglo-Irish and it also eliminates the iniquities of the landscapes and the people who live on them, namely Catholics. As a result, rhetorically framing bog reclamation as a saving grace from 'sin' is another form of religious and economic conversion used by the Anglo-Irish.
Why would policies be in place to restore or protect ecosystems that were simultaneously a wasteland and represent the unknown and frightening aspect of a colonial space? Not until the twentieth century, when the Gothic mode moved into the hands of Catholic writers expressing anxieties and fears about modernity as newly legitimated owners of land in Ireland, did the narrative on bogs change from viewing them as wastelands for elimination to considering them as politically charged landscapes which contain cultural memory. (39) Once artifacts were found in bogs and an environmental awareness increased of the damage peat extraction incurs on the land, in addition to local populations, were policies implemented to preserve and protect bogland as important symbols of historical memory.
Young's A Tour in Ireland represents a microcosmic account of the Irish bogs that accentuated Anglo-Irish fears about these landscapes in a larger field of the Irish Gothic. Even though Stoker identified as a philosophical home ruler and a nationalist, the Protestant Ascendancy from which he came ran deep. (40) In addition to their economic value, bogs have functioned as spaces where the Irish rebels found refuge and solace from colonial armies. One of the Anglo-Irish writings on Ireland's bogs that Dick references in The Snake's Pass, along with Dr Gerard Boate and Edmund Spenser as precursors to his own work with the Irish bog, is Archbishop William King's 'Of the Bogs and Loughs of Ireland'. Here, King claims, bogs are 'a shelter and refuge to tories, and thieves, who can hardly live without them'. (41) The elimination of both forests and bogs in Ireland were colonial policies that have environmental and political impacts to this day. Eoin Neeson maintains, the Tudor 'policy in Ireland was a prototype for basic English policy in the colonisation of Canada and New England, namely to secure the timber supply'. (42) Beyond an increasing demand for lumber in the British Empire, the Tudors, especially the monarchy of Elizabeth I, ordered that all forests be cut in order to prevent clandestine meeting places or areas of defense for Irish rebels. (43) According to Trumpener, 'Once an actual barrier to the English conquest of Ireland, the bog remains an emblem of Irish resistance to the "burthen" of Anglo-Irish rule'. (44) This geographical and environmental history has contributed toward Anglo-Irish anxieties of the bog and what political underpinnings existed in these landscapes in the Irish Gothic mode. Since bogs were exploited for economic and ethno-religious gain, such policies over the last few centuries have contributed to their near extinction and firmly places The Snake's Pass as an EcoGothic text that examines the treatment of the Irish bog.
How does examining the Irish Bog Gothic profit ways in which we can access the EcoGothic? Is the Gothic mode a profitable way to read texts that address issues pertaining to landscapes, locality, geography, or ecology? The Irish EcoGothic must address, in part, post-colonial readings, where critics speak to not only environmental impacts of imperial policies within the colonies, but also an indigenous cultural response to particular forms of socio-economic agendas on the land they live. In such a context, social histories are fashioned by environmental representations. Bogs exist in the Irish Gothic imagination as contested and peripheral spaces that while representing significant cultural codes nevertheless have been treated as zones of waste, horror, and fear that are rife for exploitation. Existing as spaces in the British Empire bogs have adopted an identity of concealment akin to a political unconscious where the landscape serves as a repository of Irish culture and history. Therefore, there are significant links between colonialism and the Irish Gothic, but land and particularly the bog is one of the key elements. Perhaps this is why Stoker introduces the bog as a central character in The Snake's Pass: to reestablish geographical legitimacy of the land though the crumbling codes of the Anglo-Irish Gothic imagination. Mourning the status of the stranded bogs though a Gothic mode of opposition provides a way in which Ireland can access political and environmental legitimacy of the land. If, as Luke Gibbons asserts, 'The bog [...] stands for those aspects of the Irish past which will not go away', (45) then despite its near extinction as a fundamental landscape in Irish history and geography it will haunt the imagination of those who continually explore its cultural and environmental depths.
University of Alberta
Address for correspondence
Derek Gladwin, Department of English and Film Studies, 3-5 Humanities Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB Canada T6G 2E5. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Daniel Corkery, Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature  (Cork: Mercier Press, 1966), p. 14.
(2) Fred Botting, Gothic (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 2.
(3) The term 'Bog Gothic' has traditionally characterised the fiction of Co. Monaghan writer, Patrick McCabe, but its status as a Gothic form has been exclusively used to describe McCabe's own fiction. Even though the 'bog' in McCabe's Gothic fiction euphemistically represents the rural, marginalised consciousness of those who live on or around the bog, his novels do not focus on the bog landscape as a central concern. My use of the term here does not reflect McCabe's absurdist and macabre fiction, but rather an extensive study of the bog as a central landscape in the Irish literary and cultural imagination that also reflects Gothic modes and themes.
(4) Bram Stoker, The Snake's Pass in The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Bram Stoker, Vol. 5 (London: Leonaur Publishing, 2009), p. 55. Subsequent references are taken from this edition, and will be given in parentheses in the body of the text.
(5) The mountain itself is called Knockcalltecrore throughout, 'which is a corruption of the Irish phrase Knock-na-callte-cr6in-6ir, meaning, "The Hill of the Lost Golden Crown"', as the local Irish character, Andy, mentions in the novel, but it is sometimes called Knockcalltore, which is 'short for the Irish words Knock-na-callte-oir, or "The Hill of Lost Gold"' (27). Shleenanaher is translated as the 'The Snake's Pass' because it is a rocky inlet through the mountain that acts as a pass (12). In this article, I refer to Knockcalltecrore as the mountain where the 'shifting bog' lies.
(6) Simon Estok, 'Theorizing in a Space of Ambivalent Openness: Ecocriticism and Ecophobia', Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, 16.2 (2009), pp. 203-25.
(7) Tom Hillard, '"Deep Into Darkness Peering": An Essay on Gothic Nature', Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, 16.4 (Autumn 2009), pp. 685-95 at p. 688.
(8) Hillard, '"Deep Into Darkness Peering"', p. 688.
(9) Lawrence Buell, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination (Boston: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 8-9.
(10) Byron Caminero-Santangelo and Garth Myers, 'Introduction', in Byron Caminero-Santangelo and Garth Myers, (eds.), Environment at the Margins: Literary and Environmental Studies in Africa (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2011), pp. 1-21 at p. 4.
(11) For more on post-colonial ecocriticism see Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George B. Handley, (eds), Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Graham Huggan and Helen Tifflin, Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment (London: Routledge, 2010); and Pablo Mukherjee, Postcolonial Environments: Nature, Culture, and the Contemporary Indian Novel in English (London: Palgrave, 2010).
(12) There are presently only a few substantial articles written on Stoker's The Snake's Pass. See Chapter 2, 'The Imperial Treasure Hunt: The Snake's Pass and the Limits of Romance', in Nicholas Daly, Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siecle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), which was previously published as 'Irish Roots: the Romance of History in Bram Stoker's The Snake's Pass", Literature and History, 4.2 (1995), 42-70; William Hughes, '"For Ireland's Good': The Reconstruction of Rural Ireland in Bram Stoker's The Snake's Pass', Irish Studies Review, 12 (1995), 17-21; Luke Gibbons, '"Some Hysterical Hatred": History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival', Irish University Review, 27.1 (1997), 7-23; and Lizabeth Buchelt, '"Delicate Fantasy" and "Vulgar Reality": Undermining Romance and Complicating Identity in Bram Stoker's The Snake's Pass', New Hibernia Review, 16.1 (2012), 113-33.
(13) Jarlath Killeen, 'Irish Gothic: A Theoretical Introduction', The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies, 1 (Fall 2006), available online at http://irishgothichorrorjournal. homestead.com/jarlath.html, accessed on 18 March 2014.
(14) Derek Gladwin, 'Staging the Trauma of the Bog in Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats ...', Irish Studies Review, 19.4 (2011), 387-400 at p. 390.
(15) Peter Foss and Catherine O'Connell, 'Bogland: Study and Utilization', in John Wilson Foster and Helena C. G. Chesney, (eds), Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History, (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997), pp. 184-98 (184).
(16) Botting, Gothic, p. 2.
(17) Stuart McLean, '"To Dream Profoundly": Irish Boglands and the Imagination of Matter', Irish Journal of Anthropology, 10.2 (2007), pp. 61-8 at p. 63.
(18) David Bellamy, The Wild Boglands (Dublin: Country House, 1986), p. 19.
(19) Bellamy, The Wild Boglands, p. 20.
(20) Botting, Gothic, p. 9.
(21) Hughes, '"For Ireland's Good"', p. 20.
(22) Hughes, '"For Ireland's Good"', p. 20.
(23) David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), p. 293.
(24) Deep Ecology is a branch of environmental ethics based upon the work of the Norwegian philosopher Arne Nsess in the 1970s. See Arne Nsess, 'The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement', Inquiry, 16 (1973), pp. 95-100.
(25) Botting, Gothic, p. 8.
(26) See Eric Santner, Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990).
(27) Thomas Bartlett, Ireland: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 320.
(28) Daly, Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siecle, p. 68-9.
(29) Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p. 54.
(30) Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism pp. 46-7.
(31) Daly, Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siecle, p. 75.
(32) Although Arthur is British by birth, I agree with Nicholas Daly when he suggests that Arthur represents the Anglo-Irish due to his hybrid identity in both Ireland and England. See Daly, Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siecle, p. 69.
(33) Aidan O'Sullivan, 'Crannogs: Places of Resistance in the Contested Landscapes of Early Modern Ireland', in Barbara Bender and Margot Winer, (eds), Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place (Oxford: Berg, 2001), pp. 87-101 at p. 89.
(34) Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, pp. 42-3.
(35) Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, p. 37.
(36) Donal Clarke, 'Brief History of the Peat Industry in Ireland', Irish Peat Society Seminar Proceedings, (2006), pp. 6-12 at p. 7.
(37) Andrew Smith and William Hughes, 'Introduction: The Enlightenment Gothic and Postcolonialism', in Andrew Smith and William Hughes, (eds), Empire and the Gothic: The Politics of Genre (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 1-12 at p. 3.
(38) Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, p. 52.
(39) Seamus Heaney's bog poems are a notable example of the turn toward Catholic recognition of bogland as national symbols of struggle in the twentieth century. See North (London: Faber and Faber, 1975).
(40) Gibbons, '"Some Hysterical Hatred"', 15.
(41) William King, 'Of the Bogs and Loughs of Ireland', in Seamus Deane, (ed.), The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing Vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company), pp. 969-70.
(42) Eoin Neeson, 'Woodland in History and Culture', in John Wilson Foster, (ed.), Nature in Ireland: A Scientific and Cultural History (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1997), pp. 133-56 at p. 142.
(43) Neeson, 'Woodland in History and Culture', p. 140.
(44) Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, p. 46.
(45) Gibbons, '"Some Hysterical Hatred"', p. 14.
Notes on contributor
Derek Gladwin is a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar and PhD candidate in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. His research, through a combination of ecocritical, geographical, and postcolonial approaches, investigates twentieth and twenty-first century literature and visual culture in the context of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the North Atlantic. His recent articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Irish Studies Review, Photography and Culture, Visual Culture in Britain, and the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, and he co-edited the forthcoming anthology, Eco-Joyce: The Environmental Imagination of James Joyce (Cork University Press, 2014).
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2014|
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