Readings in Restoration and 18th C Lit and Culture, 1660-1790

L626 — Fall 2020

Jesse Molesworth
Days and Times
11:15a - 12:30p TR (4 CR.)
Course Description

TOPIC: The Gothic: The History and Theory of a Literary Mode


The Gothic aesthetic traces its origins to 1764, with the publication of Horace Walpole’s short novel The Castle of Otranto.  In blending the “two types of romance”—one ancient and one modern—Walpole’s book inaugurated what might be seen as the most modern of all literary modes.  Indeed it crystallized a number of tropes and archetypes we now take to be familiar, especially in the horror tradition: a remote setting, a tyrannical villain, a young heroine, the threat of sexual violence, and the presence of the supernatural.  Its influence can be seen in everything from Stephen King to Jordan Peele to Kazuo Ishiguro.


This course surveys the rise, efflorescence, and ultimate endurance of the Gothic mode.  Why did it rise when it did?  Why did it take the novel as its principal medium of expression?  Is it indeed distinctly modern?  Where do we see its influence today?  With such questions serving as a guide, we will investigate topics such as following: the concept of the uncanny, the culture of ghost belief during the eighteenth century, the “camp” aesthetic, the sublime, the emergence of Gothic revival architecture, the aims of horror fiction, the British and American Enlightenment, the resonance of the French Revolution, and many, many more.   


Texts studied will likely include the following: Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1764); William Beckford, Vathek(1786); Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790); Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794); Matthew Lewis, The Monk (1796); Edward Young, Night Thoughts (1742-45), illustrated by William Blake (1797); Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly, Or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker (1799); E. T. A. Hoffmann, The Devil’s Elixir (1815); and James Hogg, Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824).  Critics studied will likely include the following: Keith Thomas, Terry Castle, Sigmund Freud, Susan Sontag, Jacques Derrida, Jerrold Hogle, Tzvetan Todorov, Marshall Brown, Cynthia Wall, and many others


Assignments include regular class attendance and participation, an in-class oral presentation, and participation in a course conference at the end of the semester.​

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