Friday, September 16, 2011

QuickList: The Best Books of American Gothic Scholarship

School's back in session, and many students will soon be making academic foray into the dark side of American literature and culture.  For those who'd like to delve even deeper, here's a syllabus of superb secondary readings--a QuickList of six indispensable works of American Gothic scholarship.

*History of the Gothic: American Gothic by Charles L. Crow (2009).  The broadest, most complete survey of American Gothic literature.  Crow also provides a strong introductory chapter that traces Gothic conventions and archetypes.

*American Gothic Fiction: An Introduction by Alan
Lloyd-Smith (2004).  Does an excellent job of delineating
the "inherently Gothic" aspects of the American experience.  Smith's readings are over-reliant at times on psychoanalytical theory, but never fail to provide deeper insight.

*Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation by Teresa A. Goddu (1997).  An intriguing exploration of the ways in which American Gothic cuts against the idealizing/mythologizing grain and "unsettles the nation's cultural identity."  Goddu covers the major figures of 19th Century American literature, but also breaks new ground by focusing on female and African-American writers of the Gothic.

*Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic by Mark Edmundson (1997).  Considers the ways in which the Gothic informs not just literature but modern American culture as a whole.  Still, the wider analytical net cast here does not preclude literary interpretation, as seen in Edmundson's extended reading of works by Tony Kushner and Toni Morrison.

*Danse Macabre by Stephen King (1981).  The best-selling novelist proves himself to be both an entertaining cultural commentator and an astute literary critic.  His long chapter on modern horror fiction furnishes in-depth analysis of "new American Gothic" novels such as The Haunting of Hill House, Ghost Story, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

*Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie Fiedler (1966).  The grandaddy of American Gothic scholarship, which posits that American Literature is in essence a Gothic literature.  Fiedler's hefty tome devotes significant space to the study of writers such as Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, and William Faulkner.

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