1. Gothic comes to America

2. First American Gothic Novel

3. Transcendentalism Vs Gothic


Gothic  comes to America

The Gothic has flourished in the United States from the beginnings of a distinctive American literature. But its cultural role was entirely paradoxical because writers of 'the optimistic country, founded upon the Enlightenment principles of the pursuit happiness', produced a strain literature fascinated by the strange beauty of sorrow. Why? Probably because the Gothic embodies and gives voice to the dark nightmare that is the underside of 'the American dream'. The dream and the nightmare are in opposition and interact with each other.

The writers of the new nation were deeply influenced by the narrative situations, conflicts, settings, and motives that made British Gothic so popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Early American literature contain some distinctive features of the Gothic, such as atmospheric gloom, the imminence of violence, standard architectural locates (the haunted house, the prison, the tomb), familiar plot elements (parental curse and the ghost showing a fierce desire to punish someone for the harm they have done).

But the Americans were able not just to borrow some plots and situations but also to innovate it by means of adaptation to the situation in the New World.

American Gothic was an innovative and experimental literature that appeared in the outstanding cultural and political circumstances after the revolution and perfectibility of human beings in a democracy.

 The tension between the ineffable and reality, on the one hand, and a strange textual surface, on the other, constitute this experimental game played by American Gothic writing. Gothic writers refuse everything explicit and always offers a sort of double meaning and, therefore, represent symbolic orientation that organizes in the end a complex unknown.

Gothic texts return to the personal, to the familial and to the national pasts to complicate rather than to clarify them. The sense of past that pervades Gothic literature doesnt encourage the writer to explain origins; on the contrary, history controls and determines the author.


First American Gothic Novel

In the 1781 an intensely religious farmer in upstate New York ritually murdered his wife and four children after hearing the command of religious voices. This bizarre and unaccountable story eventually caught the attention of Charles Brockden Brown, a lawyer from Philadelphia who is often regarded as the first professional Gothic author in the United States. Brown used this bloody murder as the premise of Wieland; or the Transformation(1798), the first major novel to adapt the conventions of British Gothic American circumstances. This is a story of 'transformation' of the self-governing and responsible man into a murderous monster.

The sins of the fathers (their excesses, their violence and predisposition towards the irrational) haunt their children, who, despite their illusions of liberty, find themselves in an ironic situation of a compulsion to repeat the past.

The role of the Gothic is figuratively to embody an intergenerational tendency, when the son finds himself, to his horror, transformed into his father. The spectral and disembodied voices Gothic instrument of present and past are also traditional. These are voices of those who were shamed during their lifetime or those who took unspeakable secrets to the grave.

In the tradition of verbal devices especially important is personification by which abstract ideas are often given a 'body' in the figure of the ghost.

Browns achievement, which would influence Gothic followers tremendously , was to resituate 'history' in a return of repressed whereby the present witnesses of terrible destinies incipient in the American past.

Gothic novels usually represent authors thoughts and rising doubts concerning the ability of individuals to govern themselves in a full-fledged democracy. They also in the majority of cases demonstrate that neither the personal nor the cultural past is dead and that both can easily return.

Transcendentalism Vs Gothic

American literature during the postcolonial period accelerated in two directions:
    - the transcendentalism (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman)
    they exposed to skepticism the Romantic faith in the individual ego or selfhood;
    - the Gothic tradition (Poe, Hawthorne)
they addressed the shadows cast the past upon the present.
American writers adapted the major themes of English Romanticism to their own cultural circumstances with astonishing success. Washington Irving, Edgar Alan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne were among those who developed the tradition of creating the Gothic novel



This site is a part of the course on American Literature taught at the Faculty of Foreign Languages, MSU

Comments and suggestions are welcome

Hosted by uCoz