Le château de Rheinstein, L. Bleuler

The Gothic Subject

Engl 409

Telus 134. Tue/Thu 11:00-12:20; Autumn 2009

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

(David.Miall (at) Ualberta.Ca)

Office hours:
Tues 3:30-4:15; Wed 10:00-10:45

Course description | Required reading | Additional reading | Course schedule | Assessment | Web resources | Course policies | Other essentials | Presentations

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, and 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 five writers: Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, 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 Romantic period. 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; Lewis and Dacre, in contrast, focus explicitly on sexual politics and violence, while in Melmoth Maturin creates paranoid worlds involving the deconstruction of the individual subject under extreme stress in a novel whose narrative fractures continually threaten to pull it apart. Frankenstein questions basic understanding of generativity and the masculine romantic stereotype.

Required reading

Dacre, Charlotte. Zofloya, or the Moor (Broadview)
Lewis, Matthew. The Monk (Oxford Classics)
Maturin, Charles. Melmoth the Wanderer (Oxford Classics)
Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford Classics)
Radcliffe, Ann. The Italian (Oxford Classics)
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein 1818 (Broadview)

Additional required readings are available through this course website (see links in the schedule)

Additional reading

These are among the more prominent Gothic titles, but other choices would also be possible:

Fenwick, Eliza. Secresy; or, the Ruin on the Rock
Hogg, James. Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
Maturin, Charles. Fatal Revenge
Polidori, John William. The Vampyre
Radcliffe, Ann. A Sicilian Romance
Radcliffe, Ann. The Romance of the Forest
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto

Further critical reading suggested:

Day, William Patrick. In the Circles of Fear and Desire: A Study of Gothic Fantasy (U Chicago Press, 1985).
Ellis, Kate Ferguson. The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology (U Illinois P, 1989).
Fleenor, Juliann E., Ed. The Female Gothic (Eden Press, 1983).
Hoeveler, Diane Long. Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës (Pennsylvania State UP, 1998).
Punter, David. The Literature of Terror, 1. The Gothic Tradition (Longman, 1996).
Punter, David. Gothic Pathologies: The Text, the Body and the Law (Macmillan, 1998).

Course schedule

Week beginning:
Sept 3 Introductions; Coleridge, "Frost at Midnight" [all versions]  
Sept 8 Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" [1817; 1798]  
Sept 15 Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho. Introduction  
Sept 22 22nd: Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho. Notes 1; Notes 2
24th: preparation of group presentations on the Gothic
Sept 29 Radcliffe, The Italian. Plot outline; Notes;  
Oct 6 Lewis, The Monk  
Oct 13 Dacre, Zofloya. Plot and notes Essay I, 15th
Oct 20 Keats, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" [text] and "The Eve of St. Agnes" [text]; Notes  
Oct 27 Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer; Notes; story structure; para. analysis  
Nov 3 Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer. Reviews
Nov 10 Shelley, Frankenstein. Notes Frankenstein file / Movies
Nov 17 Shelley, Frankenstein
Project preparation (group discussions). Projects: advice
Essay II, 17th
Nov 24 Project preparation  
Dec 1 Presentations on projects, 1st and 3rd
Final Examination
Project reports
Dec 15, Final Examination: hand in completed answers at 9:00 am.


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

Essay I 20% 1000 words October 15
Essay II 35% 2000 words November 17
Project report 15% 500 words Nov 26 or Dec 1
Examination 30%   December 15

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.

Essay Topics. For the first essay (due Oct 15), 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 historical resources. NB. essays should be 1000 words (approx. 3 pages double spaced); please adhere closely to this limit.

Second essay (due Nov 17): 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 to you, 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.)

Project. Students will present a report on a Project during class time in the last class periods 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, a Powerpoint, a dramatic representation, etc.), 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.

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 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.

Exam. This will be a take-away assignment. Questions will be handed out during the last class session on December 3rd and posted online. Completed papers are due on December 15 at 9:00 am.

Web resources

Course policies

Attendance: If you miss a class, please contact a classmate (not the instructor) before the next class to find out what you missed. Classes will begin promptly at the scheduled time.

Late Policy: Essays must be handed to the instructor at the beginning of the class session at which they are due. They must not be a) given to another student to submit, b) put under the instructor's office door, or c) faxed, or otherwise attempted to be submitted through the English Department office, or d) emailed to the instructor (unless arrangements to do so have been made ahead of time). An essay submitted in this or any other unauthorized way will be considered as having not been submitted and will receive no grade.

The penalty for late papers is a half-grade point per day, including weekends (e.g., a B will become a B-). Late papers may be accepted without penalty if the student has compelling grounds and speaks to or emails the instructor about an extension at least one day before the assignment is due.

Final Exam: The final examination questions will cover the entire course. You will not be able to make up a missed exam unless you provide a medical certificate or some other compelling personal reason for absence. Term work will not be reconsidered after the final examination has been written.

Plagiarism: Note that essay writing must be your own work. A student in whose work plagiarism is detected will face serious penalties, as outlined in the student code.

Other essentials

Policy about course outlines can be found in section 23.4(2) of the University Calendar.

The University of Alberta is committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and honesty. Students are expected to be familiar with these standards regarding academic honesty and to uphold the policies of the University in this respect. Students are particularly urged to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Code of Student Behaviour (online here) and avoid any behaviour which could potentially result in suspicions of cheating, plagarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence. Academic dishonesty is a serious offence and can result in suspension or expulsion from the University.

Because of the seriousness of plagiarism and cheating, it is suggested that students review the definitions of cheating and plagiarism and the related penalties available in the Code of Student Behaviour in the Calendar (pages 728-751) and from the link above; ignorance is not acceptable as a defence in cases of academic offences.


To: Miall home page; Department of English

Document created May 25th 2000 / Last revised December 3rd 2009