In a recent study, scholar Ardel Haefele-Thomas contends that Gothic horror developed as a place “in which to explore ideas about race, interracial desire, cross-class relations, ethnicity, empire, nation and ‘foreignness’ during the nineteenth century.” Gothic horror of the Victorian Age serves the complex function of giving rise to our fears, while also exploring and critiquing them. As Haefel-Thomas states, “these texts transgress monstrosity in the sense that they help interrogate the very idea of what is monstrous, opening up spaces where we can read sympathy for others who are queer, who are multiracial, who live outside of the” norms of society.
For part one of this blogpost, then, I would like you to pick a specific character or scene from one of the excerpted works found on the syllabus for this week: Frankenstein, “Ligeia,” The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. For whatever character or scene you choose to explore, I want you to focus on the horror embodied in/through that character or textual moment. How, specifically, does the author create horror in the audience, and use it to play with the reader’s darkest fears? What ideas are in question here, and what social issues – or fears – are rendered problematic and indeed horrific?
For part two, I want you to flip the script and consider the ways in which Gothic horror does not necessarily reject but sometimes welcomes the horrific monsters and their problems. To borrow Haefele-Thomas’s words, in this section I would like you to consider how a given character or scene does not create horror but quite the opposite, opening up a space “where we can read sympathy for others” who are different. In other words, how does this character, or textual moment, “transgress monstrosity” and view the monster with empathy, and to what end is this sympathy established? If we are meant to embrace the monster somehow, why so — and how so? What does this teach us? I will be curious to see your responses to the ways in which Gothic horror creates fear and promotes horror, while also (sometimes) embracing those creatures that lead to horror and panic in the humans that encounter them.