Gothic Sensations, 1850–1880

Authored by: Franz J. Potter

The Gothic World

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415637442
eBook ISBN: 9780203490013
Adobe ISBN: 9781135053062


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There is a clear and constant misconception that the Gothic genre, after enjoying a season of literary success, took a long and well-deserved sabbatical following the publication of Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer in 1820. This misconception is due in large part to what William Harrison Ainsworth described in his 1849 preface to Rookwood (1834) as the excessive “rubbish” of imitations and adaptations that cluttered the Gothic landscape (Ainsworth 1849: xxxviii). Ainsworth predicted that once what another detractor had termed these “literary mushrooms” (Anon. 1797: 34) were finally and permanently extracted, and the genre placed in “the hand of the skillful architect to its entire renovation,” the Gothic would eventually find its “perfection” (Ainsworth 1849: xxxviii). While some critics see the fruition of Ainsworth's prophecy in the fin-de-siècle novels of Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Robert Louis Stevenson, the tendency runs the risk of ignoring and overlooking the manifold “Gothic sensations” of the mid-Victorian period (see Chapter 10 in this volume). For the truth is that the genre never disappeared in the early-to-mid-nineteenth century; on the contrary, it flourished. This chapter examines the way in which sensational fiction domesticated, appropriated and transformed the Gothic through the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

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