Written by David Punter and Glennis Byron (who previously collaborated on 1999's Spectral Readings: Towards a Gothic Geography), user-friendly The Gothic is a handy addition to the ongoing scholarship in the Gothic, its presence as part of the Blackwell Guides to Literature series reinforcing the Gothic's move from the margins to the mainstream. The guide is divided into four sections: "Backgrounds and Contexts," "Writers of Gothic," "Key Works," and "Themes and Topics." Its "extras" include a Chronology of Gothic publications (from Edmund Burke in 1757 to the 2000 film version of American Psycho) and a thorough "Guide to Further Readings." Throughout, Punter and Byron emphasize key concerns of the genre, including ways in which the Gothic manifests itself across and beyond borders not only in literature, but also in art, architecture, film, and various subcultures. Punter and Byron thereby discuss the genre in terms of both the "classic" Gothic and more recent permutations, such as Southern Gothic or postmodern Gothic.
The first section, "Backgrounds and Contexts," contains entries that explore various ideologies by considering the social and political changes that have influenced the development of the Gothic. Sections on "Science, Industry and the Gothic" and "Imperial Gothic," for example, illustrate how the Gothic was neither born nor remains in a vacuum, while "Gothic Film," "Gothic and the Graphic Novel," and "Art and Architecture" further demonstrate how other fields are brought into contact with the Gothic, whose elements are ever present in places one might not expect. The second section, "Writers of the Gothic," addresses the still controversial issue of what actually constitutes the genre. While Punter and Byron help the reader understand the Gothic in its classical sense (there are plenty of entries on heavy hitters like Ann Radcliffe, M. G. Lewis, and Horace Walpole), they do not neglect nineteenth-century authors who use Gothic elements in their works (Charles Dickens, the Brontes, Walter Scott) or those writers who use a mutated outgrowth of the classical Gothic (Jane Austen, Bret Easton Ellis, Joyce Carol Oates). Section three, "Key Works," Punter and Byron advise, should "allow for the tracing of key motifs over the centuries and suggest the connections between these frequently quite disparate texts" (x), beginning with the classics The Castle of Otranto (Walpole, 1764) and The Mysteries of Udolpho (Radcliffe 1794). The list follows a chronological progression through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries--including such works as Robert Bloch's Psycho (1959), Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire (1976), and Stephen King's The Shining (1977)--which not only shows how multifaceted the Gothic can be, but also helps the reader envision the versatile future of the Gothic. The last section, "Themes and Topics," provides constructs of the genre such as "The Haunted Castle," "The Monster," and "The Vampire"--nothing new for the Gothic scholar, but still immensely helpful for the student. Some topics, like the "Female Gothic," also provide a platform from which to position critical approaches like gender studies or psychoanalytic interpretation.
Although Punter and Byron specify their intended audience as primarily advanced undergraduate and post graduate students, the instructor of a course on the Gothic will find herself referencing this text as well, relying on it as a handbook with its helpful lists, brief discussions of works, key elements of storylines, and ideas for further scholarship with bibliographies for further reading. Reminding us that part of the definition of the Gothic is that it defies clear definition, Punter and Byron have provided a guide to promote interest, facilitate learning, and aid comprehension of what they term this "staggering, limping, lurching form, akin to the monsters it so frequently describes" (xix).
Lock Haven University
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|Publication:||Studies in the Humanities|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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