‘Gothic’ is a defining term that need not be localized or particularized. It is subjective by inclination and impact and denotes a mood or a temperament that delights in a liberation from the rational, the pragmatic, the definitive in a thrust towards the super-real, the fantastic, the irrational, or the grotesque. Turning away from the expected or the familiar, it delves inward to explore and expose, above all, the darknesses and abysses within. Thus, in its predilection for and sponsorship of the dark, mysterious inner world as mysterious and dark as the interiors of Gothic cathedrals, it moves beyond the prohibitive restrictedness of a particular age, time, space or race to experiment with diverse modes, genres, or art-forms. It migrates fluently, therefore, from architecture to sculpture, to literature, to painting, to music, and even to cinema just as it climbs down the ladder of time from the sixteenth century, bearing the stigma of Giorgio Vasari’s descriptive epithet, ‘barbaric’, to Post-modern films and popular fiction. Equally truly, it migrates from continent to continent.
The American soil was especially conducive to the nurture of Gothicism for reasons as varied as the continent itself. Historically speaking, the intense loneliness of the early colonial settlers, exiled from their land of birth, placed in an alien, perhaps hostile, environment, and confronted by vast, open and unexplored spaces or fearsome dark forests, could lead to an overwhelming fear and anxiety (‘Angst’ in the original German sense is perhaps a more appropriate word) that displaced rational thought and tarnished all aspirations of a brave new world . Moreover, the colonists’ religious legacy, the Puritan awareness of guilt, and the primacy given to it by the flourishing Calvinism of New England, was exacerbated by some hard facts: the displacing and disinheriting of the Native American population, the destroying of the ecological balance of the continent by rapid and uncontrolled urbanization precededby a tampering with the native flora and fauna, and above all , the seeking of material affluence by ruthlessly instituting slavery. This consciousness of immanent guilt in the American dream of innocence could lead the American Adam to abandon pragmatic objectives and turn to the world of Gothicism where the inexplicable but haunting psyche held sway. The greatest of American writers–Irving, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain or Henry James, as well as Faulkner and the other Southern fiction-writers–could not escape being branded Gothic . Nor could the other liberal arts remain untouched by the Gothic incubus . Even if we descend the spiral of time into the post-modern world of playfulness and grotesquerie, it is easy to detect a conscious artistic resort to the Gothic mode and style in order to record the paradoxical nature of contemporary experience.
The present essays, mostly papers read at a JUSAS seminar on the subject in November 2014, trace the tracks of Gothicism as it mutates into different art-foms or offers apparently bizarre permutations and combinations between the genres. Thus, while Gautam Kundu gives us a take on that archetypal American Gothic novel, Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, Arnab Chakraborty investigates the continuation of the psychological horror tradition of Gothic literature in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction. The Gothic foray into the world of American painting is discussed in Debnita Chakrabarty’s essay on Grant Wood’s iconic painting, American Gothic, and in Arkaprabha Chakraborty’s analysis of Gothic elements in Edward Hopper’s art-work. On a broader plane of criticism, Ajanta Paul anatomizes on the Gothic short story in its relation to society while Sobha Chattopadhyaya, in an inclusive essay examines some salient features of Southern Gothic fictio. While opening windows on to the world of American Gothicism these essays, however brief, throw up disturbing questions which, we hope, will provoke further research in the area.
This issue contains the following papers:
‘Society and the Gothic Short Story in America’ by Ajanta Paul, Professor and Principal, Women’s Christian College, Kolkata
‘Gaslight Gothicism: Interminable Darkness and Inescapable Loneliness in the Art of Edward Hopper’ by Arkaprabha Chakraborty, Postgraduate student, Jadavpur University and Student-Editor, JUSAS-Online
‘Futurity, Macabre and Fear in Ray Bradbury’s Short Fiction’ by Arnab Chakraborty, Project Fellow, School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University
‘Grant Wood’s American Gothic: A Brief Sketch’ by Debnita Chakrabarty, Head , Department of English, Shri Shikshayatan College
‘The Realm of Shadows and Chimera: Gothicism in Charles Brockden Brown’s “Wieland or, The Transformation” ‘ by Gautam Kundu, Professor of English, Department of Literature and Philosophy, Georgia Southern University, U.S.A.
‘Behind the Pointed Arches: An Exegesis of Gothic Architecture in Poe, Hawthorne and James’ by Indrajit Bose, Associate Professor, Department of English, Guru Nanak Institute of Technology
‘The Gothic Presence in the Fiction Of the American South: A Glance at Some Texts’ by Sobha Chattobadhyaya, Retd. Professor, Jadavpur University