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  • The Heir Must Die:One Hundred Years of Solitude as a Gothic Novel
  • Claudette Kemper Columbus (bio)

A Brief Survey of the Salient Conventions that distinguish the Gothic novel may convince readers of Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude that the book suits the genre. Reading Solitude as a Gothic novel not only yields a comprehensive interpretation but also heightens appreciation of its wit and craftsmanship. If the reader bears in mind the Gothic conventions dear to devotees of Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Edgar Allan Poe canon, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and Alejo Carpentier's Explosion in a Cathedral, the reader will see how ably the Gothic conventions in any one of them can also pump the pedals of Pietro Crespi's pianola though the birds of magic realism sing other songs.

Gothic novels began in romances, sentimental novels, and Oriental tales, notably The Thousand and One Nights.1 Edmund Burke's theory of the sublime added the most distant geographical reaches to the influence of Gothic architecture that in itself accentuated effects of spatial stress through contrasting light and dark, height and [End Page 397] depth, succession and variation. After Burke, the Gothic novel raised exotic literature, satanic architecture, and polarized nature to a new pitch in that nature, seen through Burke's views on the sublime and his construction of an aesthetics of terror, provided no explanation for natural devastation. Neither religious nor marital resolutions redressed the imbalances of massive environmental distress that Burke conjoined with the vast, awful, obscure, identity-disturbing nature of nature and of aesthetic pleasure.

The Gothic novel united torturous terrain in the outside world with intemperate and tormented interior terrain. What Burke considered "sublime" in geography—its vastness and illimitability, the astonishment of its effects, its power, the obscurity of its meaning—was seen as indistinguishable from the ravages of fear and desire. Add to this combustible mixture of bizarre tales, strained architecture, an unsettling aesthetics of nature, and an unstable psychic life one simple notion, and you achieve an "A" in the awful. The one, additional notion on the part of characters within the Gothic novel was that protection from all that lies out of bounds could be had through possessions, through power and property, in which property consists of what one owns, of what one knows or might know, and of owning or being owned by bodies, including one's own. Bodies, unabashedly represented as objects in the Gothic novel, are properties, commodities. Flesh is territory.

To mistake property for a defense against the terrors of the unknown activates a devastating machinery in which those material buffers designed for protection against the unknown become in themselves insurmountable barriers against knowing. In their attempt to possess themselves and others, to possess the body of knowledge, to control the world's body, Gothic characters go beyond unintelligibility. Having confused property with power and authority, having confused property with control of consciousness, Gothic characters find themselves and their possessions locked behind skin or stone façades that are overpriced, overwritten, and misunderstood.

Through pathetic fallacy, writers show geography itself in the Gothic novel suffering Sybilline psychosexual vicissitudes. That is, the writers attribute human passion to the landscape, and sublime nature becomes psychotic. The climatic fuses with the climactic in a tangle of miasmic guilt and the world's worst weather.

Although to explore/possess territory seems to offer emotional, financial, intellectual escape from the mechanics of enslavement, neither the psyche nor its territorial double can be possessed and understood. Territory claimed, culturally imprinted, individually stamped or inscribed, remains ominously free, obscure, and, though much-lettered, inscrutable. For, like the psyche, territory is ours [End Page 398] and not ours. The property we inherit as we inherit our bodies and our drives and desires has been encoded by nature and imprinted by culture and imprisons us. Intricately implicated, the world outside and the world of the interior remain sublime: grand, miniscule, repetitive, variable, astonishing, obscure.

Appetites from the libido that Gothic characters cannot confess or control inscribe the territory they inhabit and write upon their bodies, faces, clothing, houses that which they would conceal...


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pp. 397-416
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