English R1B

Reading and Composition: Gothic Trash

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2019 Hobbs, Katherine
MWF 9-10 41 Evans

Book List

Braddon, Mary Elizabeth: Lady Audley's Secret; Mack, Robert L., editor: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Other Readings and Media

Additional readings will be available in pdf form on bCourses.


Gothic horror has never gone out of style. From the ominous castles of Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe in the eighteenth century to contemporary TV hits such as American Horror Story or The Haunting of Hill House (itself vaguely inspired by Shirley Jackson's classic novel), the Gothic is ever-adaptable and enduringly popular. But this popularity comes at a price. Gothic horror, despite—and sometimes because of—its wide appeal, is always at risk of being branded as "trash" or dismissed as aesthetically worthless. How can we account for this disparity between the Gothic's continuous hold on the popular imagination and its frequent exclusion from the realm of high literary art? In this course, we will explore the relationship of the Gothic to cheap popular forms, taking the rich periodical culture of the Victorian era as our archive. Nineteenth-century magazines and newspapers were home to a diverse range of literary genres—penny dreadfuls, sensation novels, ghost stories, detective fiction—that drew from the Gothic tradition. In the process of accommodating Gothic literary techniques to modern Britain, many of these works engaged with difficult questions of class and gender. But they did so in the dubious context of a print market associated with hack writing and mindless reading. We will consider these issues of genre, medium, political engagement, and reception as we practice our critical research and writing skills.

Primary readings for this course will include short stories and novels by Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Sheridan LeFanu, and others. In addition, we will read non-fiction articles and book reviews published alongside these fictional works in the Victorian press. Over the course of the semester, students will submit a series of writing assignments culminating in a final research paper.

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