The Gothic: Materials for Study


During the last decades of the eighteenth century, England found itself in the midst of a societal unravelling. The philosophies of Shaftesbury, Adam Smith, and David Hume, which for most of the century had provided the intellectual classes with theories of action and motivation that justified their self-interested behavior, began to reveal themselves as insupportable. The contradiction between the English ideology in which "individual desires and collective needs participated in perfect reciprocity" (Poovey, 307) and actual economic and political conditions began to surface. Incidents like the Gordon riots in 1780 (as well as the utterly terrifying reality of complete Revolution just across the Channel) revealed a rupture in what had been thought of as the time and place of "the well-bred gentleman."

It is out of this social climate that the Gothic novel grew: a new and fearful genre for a new and fearful time. The spectre of social revolution is manifest in the supernatural "spectres" of the Gothic: a crumbling way of life emerges as a crumbling and haunted Gothic manor; the loss of English social identity becomes the Gothic hero or heroine's search for identity. The Gothic is often criticized or even dismissed for its overly melodramatic scenarios and utterly predictable plots, but the incredible popularity of the genre in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as well as the "comeback" of gothic narratives within the past two decades, points to a resiliance that cannot be overlooked. What is it about these repetitive and fantastical works that is so seductive to readers both then and now?

With this question in mind, we have assembled this compilation of Gothic "materials for study." We imagine the project as a course reader for an undergraduate college course on the Gothic. The primary texts for the course include nine novels that we feel represent the"canonized Gothic"; novels whose popularity in both their time and ours attests to their appeal and longevity. Also included are four plays representing the Gothic drama produced during this period. These primary texts are listed below, along with the editions used:


William Beckford, Vathek (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983), ed. Roger Lonsdale.

William Godwin, Things As They Are; or the Adventures of Caleb Williams (London: Penguin, 1988); ed. Maurice Hindle.

James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner(New York: Penguin, 1983) ed. John Wain.

Matthew G. Lewis, The Monk (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980), ed. Howard Anderson.

Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1968), ed. Douglas Grant.

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980), ed. Bonamy Dobree.

Ann Radcliffe, The Italian (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992), ed. Frederick Garber.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Orchard Park: Broadview, 1994), eds. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf.

Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969), ed. W.S. Lewis.


Joanna Baillie, De Monfort. in Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789-1825, ed. Jeffrey Cox (Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1992).

James Boaden, The Italian Monk, in The Plays of James Boaden, ed. Steven Cohan (NY: Garland, 1980).

Robert Jephson, The Count of Narbonne , in The Plays of Robert Jephson, ed. Temple James Maynard (NY: Garland, 1980).

Matthew Lewis, The Castle Spectre, in Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789-1825, ed. Jeffrey Cox (Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1992).

The text of the project is divided into five sections, and each has an introductory page that can be accessed from the title page. Each section is then broken down into subtopics that include excerpts from both primary and secondary (critical) texts. These primary and secondary excerpts are intended to provide a kind of linear critical dialogue about each topic, and they can be viewed in full by clicking on the subtopic links. The user may also jump directly to a specific excerpt by using the index at the bottom of each section introduction. For example, users particularly interested in work done about The Monk can skip from section to section by clicking only on the links that cite Lewis' novel. A comprehensive annotated bibliography is also available from the title page.

Return to the title page.