Friday, September 25, 2009

A (Mediocre) History of Gothics

Jo Walton over at wrote a history of the gothic genre entitled "A Girl and a House: The Gothic Novel."  There were more than a few points that niggled at me just the slightest, such as the following:
  • Walton writes that the gothic "died at the time when women reclaimed their sexuality, because one of the things about the gothic is the virginity of the heroine, who is often abducted but never quite violated. Gothics don’t work with strong sexually active women, they need girls who scream and can’t decide who to trust."  Um, I don't know what gothics Walton was reading, but they are chock-full of sexuality, although I will admit that it is subtle because "society" didn't allow women anything but subtle sexuality.  Example: if a heroine is locked behind a door and her love interest is hammering at it trying to break it down, what does that stand for?  I think that Walton is making the mistake of assuming that the writers/readers are exactly the same as the characters of gothics.  This is what we who studied literature call "bad mojo."
  • What is Twilight if not a gothic romance?  Perhaps the gothic genre isn't quite the same as it was, but many romantic suspense novels written today still fit the bill for the most part.
  • Walton also writes: "She may be abducted and rescued, she may scream, but she earns her reward and wedding and her house—the hero is her reward, she is not his."  She seems to think that this is strange and noteworthy.  Here's the thing we must about the gothics: they were one of the first genres written by women for women--of course they're woman-centric.   Therefore, rather than focusing so explicity on the sexual repression of the characters, we should be grateful that there were female characters with any agency whatsoever.
  • Finally, Walton spends a looong time talking about romance in gothics and completely ignores the fact that some gothics don't have romance as a main plot point.  Frankenstein, anyone?
I think Walton is among that group of people who underestimate the gothic genre and therefore feel qualified to write about it. Those of us who know a little something about it, no matter what our opinion of it may be, however, wouldn't dream of writing a single article about an entire literary genre with such a tone of dripping disdain without risking censure in the comments below.

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