Skip to main content Skip to navigation

EN930: Gothic

Tutor: Professor Stephen Shapiro: s dot shapiro at warwick dot ac dot uk

Office Hours: tbd
Seminars: tbd - but possibly Wednesday 5-7 pm (location tbd)

1 X 6,000 word summative essay to be submitted week tbd of Term tbd
(For MAEL students, CW students willl have deadlines determined by their own department).

See the schedule below for the weekly reading guidance.

Primary Book List: Books that you need to acquire for the course, either by the library, or through purchase. Please see syllabus below

Secondary Criticism The selected, recommended bibliography for each week can be found by typing in the module code on the library's reading list site (link forthcoming).

Overview: 2019-2020 theme: Horror and Terror in the USA

Leslie Fiedler, in Love and Death in the American Novel(1960), wrote that American fiction is “bewilderingly and embarrassingly a gothic fiction, nonrealistic and negative, sadist and melodramatic—a literature of darkness and the grotesque in a land of light and affirmation.” The best American writing, for Fiedler, was that which tells “the story of slavery and black revolt, of Indian warfare, of urban violence, of quiet despair in the world of the freak and the invert and the maimed.” Taking up Fiedler’s perspective and updating it for a new era of readers and scholars, we will shine a light into this fearful American “darkness.”

While ‘Horror’ and the ‘Gothic’ often overlap, there are perhaps some generic differences. While Gothic has historically been characterized by its architectural or costumed apparatus, often involving psychological disturbance and the collapse of (psychic) boundaries, Horror has instead foregrounded the materiality of terror – the deformed, the wounded, the possessed, the decaying. If Fredric Jameson once said that History is what hurts, then perhaps Horror is what bleeds. Indeed, what makes Horror such a popular form of expression for American writers and artists is that while Gothic seems burdened by the genre’s German and British origins, Horror has emphasized blood-letting and obliterated flesh as a more fitting mode of expression for the contradictions and tensions within American culture and society.

If American Horror highlights corporeal rips and convulsions, it can also be considered as a form that specifically stages a set of critiques and counterpositions with regards the rise of economic and political liberalism and its celebration of the free-acting, self-possessive individual, especially in its cosmopolitan, heteronormative, and rational identities. The horrific stands as a means of registering the hypocrisy of Enlightenment progress by drawing attention to the legacy and continued force of aboriginal genocide, Atlantic slavery, and disciplinary capitalist exploitation of immigrant labor.

As Fiedler notes, the mythology of modern egalitarianism, melting pot consensus, and gender roles are challenged and overturned through the expression of Horror and its creation of alternative consumer audiences. This confrontation with progressive liberal narratives that buttressed American common sense is nowhere more present than today. Horror tales and televisual materials have recently received an almost complete revaluation of prestige and acceptance. Once relegated to the paraliterary and the samizdat, Horror now achieves mainstream academic and popular audiences. Moreover, in what was once thought to be a genre solely for white men, Horror’s audiences have a conspicuous racial, ethnic, and gender heterogeneity.

Anchored in a wide range of readings and viewings (fiction and film, as well as theoretical and sociological writing) our discussions will centre on the ways in which horror culture registers, indexes, and makes cathartically manifest the otherwise sublimated and repressed realities of existence in a post-Enlightenment republic and global economic superpower – from the contradictions of U.S. racecraft and heteronormativity, through the struggles of economic life and social mobility, to the intimacies and fleshy materialities of the biopolitical body.

**Important note: some of the readings and viewings on this module will present you with disturbing material and images. If you are likely to find this difficult, or are easily put off by such material, we strongly urge that you carefully consider whether this is a suitable module for you to choose.**


**Note: Some of the shorter texts will be provided as print-outs, but many of these texts will need to be purchased (or will be available in the library) - where this is the case, I have provided to the link to the specified edition.

There will be required secondary reading each week. This will be updated before the start of term. The handouts will be provided electronically on the forum


Seminar Schedule 2019/20

forum readings, click on this link

Week 1. Introduction: Gothic? Horror? Terror? - the question of Genre Categories

Week 2. Intersectional Horror: Sex/Race/Class

1. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011, dr. Chad Friedrichs).

Please watch here (you need to put in the password below!)

password: americanhorrorstory

2. Candyman (dir. Bernard Rose, 1992) - to be watched prior to seminar,

Content Note: contains disturbing images and psychological tension

Please watch on the Box on Broadcast link: You will have to select Warwick as your institution and then log in. Please note this is an on-air broadcast, so actual film (rather than adverts) starts around one minute in. The film is also interrupted with advertisements that are not part of the film, and there may be parts that were edited out for too graphic content.

3. Frank B. Wilderson III, "Blacks and the Master/Slave Relation" (handout on forum)

Week 3. Primitive Accumulation and Native American Genocide
1. Edgar Huntly; or, Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, with Related Texts, Charles Brockden Brown (1797) (purchase Hackett edition)

2. Barnard and Shapiro.intro to Hacket Edition (handout on forum)

3. Intro to the Columbia Guides to Native American Literature (handout on forum)

3. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, intro to An Indigenous People's History of the United States (handout on forum)

Week 4. Nevermore: Edgar Allen Poe and the Nimbus of Atlantic Slavery

1. Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Tales (Oxford) (1820/30s). Read in this order: "The Masque of the Red Death"; "The Imp of the Perverse"; "William Wilson"; "The Pit and the Pendulum"; "The Black Cat"; "The Fall of the House of Usher"; "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"; "Hop-Frog"; "The Raven."

and read forum readings: Fielder, Morrison, Erikkila, and Wiki entry on the magical Negro [on forum]
optional, Jill Lepore (2009),"The Humbug: Edgar Allan Poe and the economy of horror"

2. Watch: The Fall of the House of Usher (dir. Melville Webber and James Sibley Watson, 1928). watch here

Week 5. HP Lovecraft and the Birth of the Weird
Get this edition: Classic Horror Stories (Oxford):

a) Please Read: “Horror at Red Hook,” “Call of Cthulhu”; "The Shadow over Innsmouth," "Beyond the Mountains of Madness."

b) China Mieville, Introduction [to his edition of Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness] [on forum]

Week 6. Graphic Tales I

1. Charles Burns, Black Hole,

2. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (chapter on forum)

Week 7. Graphic Tales II

Emil Ferris, My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Week 8: Folk Horror: Snake-Handling

Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia and forum readings

Week 9: The Horror of Postwar Suburbia and Lesbian Desire

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

Week 10: Zombies and Zombies

I Walked with a Zombie (dir. Jacques Tourneur, 1943) - to be watched prior to seminar, viewing link provided

Night of the Living Dead (dir. George Romero, 1968) - to be watched prior to seminar, viewing link provided


Learning Objectives and Outcomes:
1. Demonstrate a detailed and advanced knowledge about the historical contexts that gave rise to this particular literary and artistic genre;
2. Demonstrate a critical understanding of some of the key themes, topics, and debates that emerge in different kinds of Horro fiction, graphic media, and Televisual materials.
3. Engage in significant critical debates surrounding such issues as gender, race, class, and political rights;
4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literary, cultural, and artistic narratives to relate aesthetic concerns and modes of expression to its social, cultural, and historical context;
5. Demonstrate an advanced ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary and visual texts.

Skills acquired
• Students will participate and sometimes lead seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to work both individually and in groups;
• Through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, an advanced capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose;
• Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.