Le château de Rheinstein, L. Bleuler

The Gothic Subject

Engl 450

Bus 4-9. Mon/Wed/Fri 11.00-11.50; Autumn 2000
Department of English, University of Alberta

David S. Miall. HC 4.27 Tel. 492-0538

Office hours:
Wednesday 13.00 - 13.50

Student Projects
Course description | Required reading | Additional reading | Course schedule | Assessment | Web resources

Course description

"I am going among Scenery whence I intend to tip you the Damosel Radcliffe -- I'll cavern you, and grotto you, and waterfall you, and wood you, and water you, and immense-rock you, and tremendous sound you, and solitude you." By the time Keats wrote this in a letter of 1818, the Gothic genre that had been so productive for over thirty years (Radcliffe's first novel was produced in 1789) might have appeared good only for parody. Yet the lure of the genre remained powerful: Frankenstein was published the same year and Polidori's The Vampyre appeared in 1819. In this course we will focus in particular on the psychology of the Gothic and consider how far it enabled writers and readers to explore alternate forms of subjectivity. In particular, long before Freud, Lacan, or Kristeva, Gothic writers attempted to probe Oedipal themes, the power of the symbolic order, or the experience of the abject. This inquiry will be pursued through an interplay between Gothic fictions, the evidence left by their first readers, and some study of modern critical writing on the Gothic.

Rather than seek to read a wide range of fiction, the study will focus in depth on several poems by Coleridge and Keats, and novels by four writers: Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Dacre, Mary Shelley, and Charles Maturin. Students will then be invited to make a special study of one or two other novels from the list below. Coleridge's "Mariner" examines the state of alienation, while his unfinished "Christabel" and Keats's "The Eve of St. Agnes" both offer ambivalent studies of sexuality within Gothic settings. Radcliffe's writings suggest an exploration of subjectivity particularly through landscape, with a critical role assigned to female sensibility; Dacre, in contrast, focuses explicitly on sexual politics with her exploration of the female body, while in Melmoth Maturin creates paranoid worlds involving the deconstruction of the individual subject under extreme stress in a novel whose narrative stresses continually threaten to pull the novel apart. Frankenstein questions basic understanding of generativity and the masculine romantic stereotype.

Students will be able to make use of Romanticism: The CD-ROM, ed. Miall & Wu (Blackwell, 1997), which includes a comprehensive set of contemporary reviews of Gothic fiction and other resources. It is available on CD workstation #2, Rutherford N.

Required reading

Additional reading

Most or all of the following titles should be available from reserve, Rutherford North. In some cases additional copies will be on the open shelves.

Additional novels might include:

(NB. Other texts outside this list could also be chosen, but we will observe an upper publication limit of 1830 in order to keep study during this course within the Romantic period.)

Further critical reading:

Also, various journal articles will be suggested. See Romanticism: The CD-ROM, Gothic section, for contemporary critical reviews and other resources; and for bibliographies and web reading see below.

Course schedule

Week beginning:
Sept 6 Introductions; Coleridge, "Frost at Midnight" [all versions]  
Sept 11 Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" [1817; 1798]  
Sept 18 Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho  
Sept 25 Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho. Notes 1; Notes 2
-- student groups: Andrea et al. / Karli et al. /
Oct 2 Radcliffe, The Italian. Plot outline; Notes;  
Oct 9 [Monday no class] Coleridge, "Christabel" [text]; Notes  
Oct 16 Dacre, Zofloya. Plot and notes Essay I, 18th
Oct 23 Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" [text] and "The Eve of St. Agnes" [text]; Notes  
Oct 30 Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer; Notes; story structure; para. analysis  
Nov 6 Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer
Nov 10: Melmoth para, Tara et al.
Nov 13 [Monday no class] Shelley, Frankenstein. Notes  
Nov 20 Special study. Projects: advice Essay II, 22nd
Nov 27 Special study  
Dec 4 Presentations on special study Project reports
Dec 13, 9:00-11:00 Final examination

Student projects

Monday, Dec 4.

Wednesday, Dec 6.


There will be three written assignments and a final examination, as follows:

Essay I 20% 1000 words October 18
Essay II 35% 2000 words November 22
Project report 15% 500 words December 4/6
Examination 30%   December 13

Essays and reports, which should be typed, must be handed to me in person at the beginning of the class period at which they are due. Essays should under no circumstances be put under my office door, or given to another student to submit, or faxed to the Department. Late essays will only be accepted if valid medical or other reasons are presented in advance of the due date. An essay showing evidence of plagiarism will be awarded no marks, and the student concerned may face other penalties in addition. Essay work must be completed and marked prior to the final examination. No essays can accepted or reconsidered after the final examination.

Marking scale. I use a percentage grade for assignments and the final exam. Here is how the percentage translates into grade point: 90-100% = 9; 80-89% = 8; 73-79% = 7; 65-72% = 6; 58-64% = 5; 50-57% = 4 (pass); 46-49% = 3 (fail), etc.

Essay Topics. For the first essay (due Oct 18), choose one of the Gothic aspects we have been discussing, such as education, sensibility, position of women, the semiotic, etc., and examine its bearings on one or more of the texts by Coleridge and/or Radcliffe. In so doing, you should briefly indicate your overall interpretation of the text(s). You are expected to make some reference either to critical reading or to the historical resources available on the CD or the web, or both. NB. essays should be 1000 words (approx. 3½ pages double spaced); please adhere closely to this limit.

Second essay (due Nov 22): taking the "Gothic trap" as the overall framework, discuss how effectively this view accounts for the Gothic genre during the Romantic period. You may call on either cultural or psychological considerations, or both. Your account could focus on one novel or poem (not already discussed in Essay I), or compare and contrast two novels, or treat several texts. As with Essay I, you should make constructive use of either your critical reading or the historical resources available on the CD or the web, or both. (Note that work done for the essay can be carried forward into the Project: you and your group don't need to initiate a wholly new topic for this.)

Citation. Use the most recent MLA citation style for your essays. For electronic citation, see MLA, citing from the World Wide Web.

Special Study Project. Students will present a Project during class time in the last week of term. Normally the Project will be carried out with students working in groups of four. After presentation of a report in class (which may take the form of a poster display with verbal report, play, or hypertext document), each student will submit a short report (approx. 500 words) on his or her own contribution to the Project. The grade will reflect both the quality of the Project and the written report. For guidance on projects, methods of study and presentation, see the Projects section of the Romanticism CD; for examples of previous projects see Archived Courses on my web site (listed at: http://www.ualberta.ca/~dmiall/archive.htm), such as Romantic Poetry and Prose, and The Shelleys.

Criteria for evaluation:

1) a relevant and interesting topic that genuinely illuminates the chosen texts in some way; 2) effective use of additional research, whether from the library, CD-ROM, or Internet; 3) a coherent approach that shows the project to be the outcome of productive collaboration; 4) good use of display techniques and convincing verbal presentation, that offers a persuasive perspective while showing the possibility of further questions.

Web resources

To: Miall home page; Department of English

Document created May 25th 2000 / Last revised December 12th 2000