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Gothic Romance 1764-Present


Module description

You're just off to a joyous wedding in your castle when the bridegroom is crushed to death by the sudden appearance of a gigantic, spectral knight's helmet. Unlucky. It could have happened to anyone. What follows is worse: portraits come alive, giant dismembered limbs wriggle in corridors, virgins are menaced, and the castle walls begin to crumble.

This is a rough outline of the short, disordered book by Horace Walpole called The Castle of Otranto, widely considered to be the founding text of the Gothic romance. The book has spawned a host of dreamlike imitators full of supernatural events, unnerving experiences in dungeons, scary nuns, vampires, ghosts and the occasional appearance of transdimensional squids.

We will track this tradition from its origins in Walpole's boutique castle at Strawberry Hill on the Thames through the nineteenth century and watch it transmogrify into modern horror in the twentieth century. If you enjoy horror or just want to find out why the hell anyone would enjoy this stuff, this could be the course for you.

Teaching is by seminar.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Eighteenth-century origins: an introduction - Horace Walpole, Anne Radcliffe, Lewis
  • Early nineteenth century: Frankenstein (book and Universal Pictures horror film), John Polidori, Ruskin, Wilkie Collins
  • Late Victorian Gothic: samples from Oxford World's Classics collection, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Machen, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde
  • The American twentieth century: Poe stories with Henry James' short story 'The Jolly Corner', H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, the modern horror film, a contemporary modern horror tale

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • an understanding of 'the Gothic'
  • used 'the Gothic' critically in contexts of different epochs, cultural traditions and artistic forms
  • explored why cultivating feelings of horror and terror can produce pleasure
  • learnt the best ways of neutralising the threat of vampires, werewolves and transdimensional squids.