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Topics in Romanticism: The Gothic Novel cancelled

ENGL 250.301
MW 5-6:30 pm

Haunted castles, machiavellian schemes, incest, betrayal, and hyperbolic violence: Gothic fictions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries drew their power from shock and terror. Novels such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho became extremely popular, in part because of the way they engaged with cultural taboos and responded to a time of political turmoil. Representing the obverse of enlightenment rationality, the Gothic creates an imaginative space for fear, superstition, and emotion. 

In this course we will consider the form of the Gothic and its appeal—as a genre and as a historical phenomenon—from a variety of angles, considering how it represents politics, race, gender and sexuality, and the science and philosophy of its time. We will discuss the Gothic’s relationship to the Romantic movement in poetry and other literary trends: it emerged in a new publishing climate in which circulating libraries fed the popular taste for a genre often written by women. Readings will include work by Radcliffe and Walpole, and also William Beckford’s Vathek, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk,and various critical and historical accounts of the form. We will also read a few key reactions to this form: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey parodies the Gothic while still paying homage to the genre and its associated pleasures, while Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein melds Gothic conventions with scientific medical discourses. Students will be expected to read closely and thoroughly, bringing a spirit of inquiry and engagement to all written work and in-class discussions. Assignments will include weekly responses, a presentation, literary analysis papers, research papers, and a creative project. 

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