The American Gothic

In his book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Leslie Fiedler asked, "why has the tale of terror so special an appeal to Americans?" The gothic literary genre is vast, with dark iconic themes including death, madness, and the supernatural. In British classics like Wuthering Heights, we get the mysterious moors, and in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the gin-soaked corruption of urban London. Yet what are the settings and characteristics that give the gothic literary genre a particularly American flavor? We will explore the nuances of the American gothic through short fiction by the American writers Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mary Wilkins Freeman. We will explore how subgenres like the Southern Gothic and Female Gothic allow us to approach the genre from the vantage points of region and gender, as well as national and religious identity. Additionally, with the help of the Newberry's extensive collections, we will examine various iconographic representations of these writers' classic American stories in their various illustrated editions, and theatrical adaptations for the nineteenth-century stage.