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LITR/WGST 592: Gothic Literature

Winter 2010

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G

Office Phone: 734-487-0147 (messages only)

Office Hours: M 7:40-8:40 PM; TTh 12:15-2:15 PM

~ or email for an appointment ~

Pray Harrold Hall 608
Monday 5:00-7:40 PM
Registration #24560

Angelus Novus [by Klee] is how one pictures the angel of history.  His face is turned toward the past.  Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin ...  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.  This storm is what we call progress.”

— Walter Benjamin, “Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History”

LITR/WGST 592: Gothic Literature

LITR 592 is a course in which you will investigate a wide variety of British gothic novels spanning the mid-eighteenth to the late nineteenth century.  The gothic is arguably the quintessence of genres, much less a normative literary style with a strict set of conventions (like the sonnet or short story) than a roving yet still recognizable cluster of tropes found in a disparate array of artistic media and traditions.  Indeed, the gothic tends to be particularly pronounced in works relatively new or untested on the cultural scene, so much so that its emergence can unsettle the very conception and cachet of culture itself.  

Consider the prevalence of gothic tropes in early popular fiction (Defoe, Stowe, Dickens), in romantic poetry (Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge), as well as in countercultural forces like critical theory (Freud, Derrida), class critique (Dickens, Marx, Romero), multiculturalism (Kingston, Morrison, Silko), or postcolonialism (Rushdie, Marquez, Ondaatje)—as well as, most notably, in feminism, with the so-called “female gothic” extending all the way from Radcliffe, Perkins Gilman, and the Brontës to twentieth-century writers like Isak Dinesen and Angela Carter.  Gothic settings and themes have also been prevalent in almost every national canon upon its first flowering—British, American, Celtic, Caribbean, South American, Southeast Asian—along with each successive mode of new media seemingly in turn: from early cinema (Dracula, Citizen Kane, Chinatown), its reverberations in pop culture (Rocky Horror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), to the daytime soap opera, the MTV music video (New Order, Marilyn Manson), or the internet role-playing game.

All along the gothic has been the steadfast haunt of the marvelous, the monstrous, and the delectably horrific, yet notwithstanding the ubiquity and recurrence of its tropes, the protean genre remains one of the trickiest to classify definitively.  Ghosts, vampires, doubles, mutant creatures, haunted castles, orphaned heroines, forged manuscripts, wild landscapes, psychic fissures, secret hideaways, semi-candlelit labyrinths, and such like topoi of the supernatural litter its prolific pages—from the eighteenth-century orientalist tale, to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries of the nineteenth century, to the Twilight or Harry Potter sagas of today—although without any given one of these evocations being essential to subsequent iterations of the genre. 

Moreover, as befits a ghost- and goblin-ridden genre born illegit in the age of enlightenment, the gothic has impressed its contemporaries as decidedly cutting-edge and “modern” ever since its first inception; in fact, despite its unwavering fascination with the past and its insistence on the eternal return of the repressed, the gothic has sustained that aura of modernity now for three centuries and counting.  Perhaps even more curiously, the gothic encompasses everything from the utmost of conservatism to the utmost of radicalism, including everyone from the legendary Shakespeare (Macbeth) to the libertine Sade (Justine), the zealous counter-revolutionary Burke (Reflections) to his most outspoken public opponent Mary Wollstonecraft (Wrongs of Woman), not to mention her end-of-life partner, the anarchist philosopher Godwin (Caleb) and her famous daughter, Mary Shelley (Frankenstein).

The primary objective of this course is to investigate how the gothic genre transforms over time in relation to changing perceptions of modernity, beginning with the origins of the gothic—the seminal, if highly satiric, Otranto and the prototypical, although still highly parodic, Italian—and then continuing with an eclectic range of Victorian gothic novels: the queer gothic (Picture of Dorian Gray), the bourgeois detective mystery (The Moonstone), and the imperial adventure story (King Solomon’s Mines).  Throughout the term, we will test both the utopian and dystopian visions of the genre, not only putting the gothic works in dialogue with the historical or philosophical context of the time, but also examining how they shape the myriad claims to (and contestations against) modernity that continue to vex our own.

Texts and Materials

The following books are available at Ned’s (; 483-6400; 707 W. Cross).  Make sure to get the same edition pictured below by double-checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for the book:

Ann Radcliffe, The Italian (Oxford UP, 1998; ISBN #0192832549)

Horace Walpole, Castle of Otranto (Broadview, 2003; ISBN #155111304X)

Willkie Collins, The Moonstone (Oxford UP, 2008; ISBN #0199536724)

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (Modern Library, 2002; ISBN #0812966295)

Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray (Oxford UP, 2008; ISBN #0199535981)

The remaining texts can be accessed online and printed for free on any campus computer from the Electronic Reserves (ER), password 592: ** Make sure to bring copies of the required texts we are covering to class.  You will need everything on hand for group work and class discussions.

Assessment Weights


Weekly Coursework & Class Participation

minimum length:

due dates:


Proposal for Research Paper

5 pages

March 29


Conference-Style Presentation on Topic

8 minutes

April 19


Research Essay

15-20 pages

April 23 (4:45 PM)

Coursework & Assignments

Instead of cumulative exams, there will be informal assignments due almost every class period to ensure ongoing participation and progress: composing discussion questions, writing responses applying the theory to the literature, or presenting select quotations from the optional reading to the rest of the class.  You will cycle though these tasks twice over the term, beginning with a different one based on your group number and then doing the rest of them in turn.  See the Weekly Coursework (/cwk.htm) handout for detailed information about each task, and see the Schedule (/scd.htm) to figure out which ones you will be doing week by week.  *Note: most hyperlinks begin with the same sequence:

The groups are simply a way to organize which sets of students do what (and with which texts) each class period: diversifying the topics that we highlight in the discussion, the people who are responsible for bringing issues to our attention, as well as the skills and approaches which they use to do so.  Most of the class period will revolve around the interactive discussions that result from the weekly homework.  There is no “groupwork” properly speaking—that is, collaboration with peers on an identical project—so you do not have to meet with fellow group members outside of class.

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns in person (603G Pray Harrold) or by phone (487-0147) during my office hours, as well as through email (acoykenda at at any time.  (Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my office phone is dysfunctional at best.)  Emails with straightforward questions typically receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues usually receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit emails inquiries to those which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries of other students the attention that they deserve.  If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the schedule (/scd.htm), the handouts (/hand.htm), or the peers in your group (/ga.htm), and then email me only if that confusion persists.

Academic Resources & Campus Safety:

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the Academic Projects Center, located in Halle (Room 104).  This support center, open from 11:00-5:00 Monday-Thursday, assists with research, writing, and technology skills necessary for success in this and any other course.  Another support center is the International Student Resource Center (200 Alexander, 487-0370) dedicated to second-language students from abroad.  Also consider availing yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the campus


Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial.  You never need to explain your absences, as I always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class.  However, students who miss more than TWO classes for any reason will not be eligible to pass.  Reserve the allowable absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that truly prevent you from coming to class and make sure not to exhaust these absences too early in the term.  When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group (/ga.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  The first two absences are excused automatically, the missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is essential to come on time.  Try arriving early in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  Arriving well into the period or leaving well before its conclusion each count as half an absence.  Habitual lateness that disrupts the class will eventually be counted as an absence as well.

Classroom Etiquette:

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself.  Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency.  If you have a medical condition requiring you to exit from time to time, bring a formal doctor’s note affirming as such; otherwise, reserve all personal business for the break midway through the class period. 

Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical; students unprepared to discuss the readings for the day, or students using phones or laptops for purposes unrelated to the course, will be asked to leave and marked absent.  This course has a no-laptop, no-cell-phone policy, so do not bother taking these instruments out during class time unless specifically asked to do so to look something up.

Academic Integrity:

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all coursework on your own, is imperative.  Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for works that you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays written for other classes for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to college; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.  The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  You must acknowledge when you make use of concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be in drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to signal as such (e.g., So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says “X”).  Any writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.

Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; any second instance will result in outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy, so make sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in.


 [Syllabus last modified January 10, 2010]