"Lurid interiors" : the anti-Gothic impulse in early American war literature
- Chelsea Davis.
- [Stanford, California] : [Stanford University], 2019.
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- This dissertation builds a theory of anti-genre by attending to the surprising absences, mockeries, and active repudiations of the Gothic tradition in a swathe of literature where one would very much expect to see the Gothic thrive. "Lurid Interiors" asks in what contexts, and for what reasons, the Gothic (or indeed any genre) fails to appear. The dissertation discovers a counterintuitive case study in American Revolutionary and Civil War fiction, wherein—despite the seeming Gothicism of the subject matter, i.e. the profound bodily violence and cultural trauma that these wars produced—puzzling lacks, parodies, hoaxes, and vicious dismissals of the Gothic instead abound. I begin by showing that the starkly divergent ways in which character operates in Gothic fiction and Revolutionary War fiction reveal conflicting definitions of individuality and interiority. James Fenimore Cooper's tremendously unsuccessful attempt to combine the two genres into a single novel, Lionel Lincoln; Or, the Leaguer of Boston, stems from Gothic and military literature's incompatible visions of how much individuals—and particularly individual deaths—can be represented, mourned, and made to matter. Chapter Two focuses on setting, contrasting the places in which Gothic narratives and American Civil War narratives unfold. Whereas the haunted castles, houses, and forests of Gothic narrative imply a flattering (if eerie) perseverance of human history and memory, the material conditions of the Civil War—in which soldiers witnessed nature rapidly re-growing over the traces of battles fought only months prior—instead implied an amnesiac landscape that would rapidly swallow any traces of human event, however seemingly monumental. Ambrose Bierce's short story "A Tough Tussle" and Stephen Crane's novel The Red Badge of Courage demonstrate the extent to which the Civil War made the landscape anti-Gothic for Americans. The third and final chapter compares the respective ethics of witness that underlie Gothic versus war fiction. American authors felt compelled to record the violence of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, but were wary of the accusations of sadism that routinely greeted the era's other major literary genre that centered on violence—the Gothic. To avoid such backlash, writers of war fiction actively contrasted their presentations of bloodshed and death with those of the Gothic, making use of two character types to parody the Gothic: the perverse doctor (whose fascination with bodily suffering mimics that of the Gothic reader, spellbound by tales of brutality) and the overly superstitious dupe (whose gullibility renders him vulnerable to hoax ghosts). By offering up these ridiculous anti-Gothic characters, Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, " James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy, Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches, and John William De Forest's Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty posit that Gothic literature's means of portraying and relating to violence are improper, and indeed dangerous, in wartime.
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- Submitted to the English Department.
- Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2019.