Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Abstract

During the Progressive Era, American realist and naturalist writers frequently employed the gothic mode. In contrast with critics who contend that the gothic is a subversive or disruptive mode, I suggest that the relationship between realism and the gothic is one of collaboration rather than conflict. These modally mixed works, which I refer to as gothic realism, express class anxieties that arose during this period, concerns that resulted from the rapid urbanization, immigration, increased cross-class interaction, and economic precariousness that mark the latter end of the nineteenth and the early years of the twentieth centuries. Following Teresa Goddu, I consider the gothic that mode best suited to voicing cultural contradictions, or those things that are unspeakable to and unarticulable in a given culture. Class, I suggest, is perhaps the greatest cultural contradiction in America. The gothic mode steps in where realism fails to describe this contradiction; it both masks class anxieties with gothic language while simultaneously, through that masking, expresses the difficulties Americans have defining and describing class. By reassessing the gothic as it interacts with realism, my project uncovers the mechanisms by which both class and the gothic have been both obscured and effaced in American culture.

Through in-depth readings of works by Frank Norris, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain and others, I explore how a nexus of class anxieties, including the destabilization of class boundaries, the threat of downward mobility, and the reality of class in a democratic society, were expressed in Progressive Era gothic realist fiction. Concluding with a larger consideration of the canonical fortunes of gothic realist works, I contend that the critical void surrounding the discussion of this literature can be explained by Progressive Era cultural concerns that affected the formation of English departments and resulted in a scholarly environment inhospitable to modally mixed works today. I suggest that the absence of critical recognition of gothic realism is symptomatic of a pervasive middle-class blindness to class that manifests in insistence on modal purity. Returning the gothic to our discussions of realist fiction therefore makes class more visible in our studies of American literature.

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