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American Nightmares

The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction

Dale Bailey

Publication Year: 2011

 When Edgar Allan Poe set down the tale of the accursed House of Usher in 1839, he also laid the foundation for a literary tradition that has assumed a lasting role in American culture. “The House of Usher” and its literary progeny have not lacked for tenants in the century and a half since: writers from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Stephen King have taken rooms in the haunted houses of American fiction. Dale Bailey traces the haunted house tale from its origins in English gothic fiction to the paperback potboilers of the present, highlighting the unique significance of the house in the domestic, economic, and social ideologies of our nation. The author concludes that the haunted house has become a powerful and profoundly subversive symbol of everything that has gone nightmarishly awry in the American Dream.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book grows out of a misspent youth—a twenty-plus-year love-affair with the macabre begun during clandestine raids on my eldest sister's tattered collection of Stephen King paperbacks, confirmed by late-show reruns of Hammer's classic horror films of the fifties and sixties, and perpetuated through a junior high and high school career ...

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1. Welcome to the Funhouse: Gothic and the Architecture of Subversion

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pp. 1-14

My first haunted house—maybe the one that matters the most—stood just west of the courthouse in the small southern town where I grew up. By the standards we'll outline in the chapters which follow, it was wholly atypical. It boasted no ill history. No murdered children lamented from its windows by the light of the harvest moon, ...

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2. The Sentient House and the Ghostly Tradition: The Legacy of Poe and Hawthorne

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pp. 15-24

In Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Carol Clover describes a process by which the mainstream cinema of the nineties gradually absorbed the materials and formulae of the early eighties slasher film. The process was not without its ironies, among them the 1991 Best Picture Oscar win ...

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3. June Cleaver in the House of Horrors: Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

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pp. 25-46

In terms of development, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House stands halfway between the haunted house tales of Poe and Hawthorne and the psychological ghost story as practiced by James and Wharton. In many of its particulars-its depiction of a tortured family (albeit a symbolic one), its presentation of a sentient house, ...

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4. "Too bad we can't stay, baby!": The Horror at Amityville

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pp. 47-66

By the 1970s, the self-consciously literary tradition Shirley Jackson found in the genteel ghost story of the nineteenth century had begun to diverge from the more visceral efforts of writers like William Peter Blatty, Ira Levin, and Stephen King-writers who, not insignificantly, would soon begin to identify themselves as genre writers, ...

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5. Middle-Class Nightmares: Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings and Anne Rivers Siddons's The House Next Door

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pp. 67-90

Jay Anson wasn't the first writer to employ the haunted house as a symbol of the sometimes grim economic realities of American life. Hawthorne touched upon the idea in The House of the Seven Gables—remember that grim little shop Hepzibah opens up to make ends meet?— and Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings, ...

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6. Unmanned by the American Dream: Stephen King's The Shining

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pp. 91-106

When Stephen King sat down in 1974 to write The Shining, he was a young writer with one moderately successful novel, Carrie,1 and a handful of short stories in lower-echelon men's magazines to his credit. Doubleday had bought Carrie for $2500 the previous year; in the three years preceding that break, ...

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7. Ghosts in the Machine: The Future of the Haunted House Formula

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pp. 107-114

Conceding Douglas E. Winter's point that Stephen King's Overlook Hotel is the quintessential expression of the "Bad Place" archetype in American literature, we might conclude that the haunted house novel is already a thing of the past-that it found its roots in the fecund soil of the American Renaissance, ...


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pp. 115-124

Works Cited

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pp. 125-136


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pp. 137-145

E-ISBN-13: 9780299268732
Print-ISBN-13: 9780879727901

Page Count: 156
Publication Year: 2011