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  • Queer Gothic
  • Rictor Norton
George E. Haggerty . Queer Gothic (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois, 2006). Pp. 231. $20 paper. ISBN 0-252-07353-3

George Haggerty's Queer Gothic belongs to the long tradition of treating gothic novels as repositories of case histories for psychoanalysis. In this instance, the Freud of pop psychology has become the Freud of queer theory: Freud filtered through Judith Butler, Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The family in gothic writing is the classic Oedipal family, replete with primal scenes, castration anxiety, incest, melancholic paranoia, and sadomasochistic fantasies. In Haggerty's reading, the hero or heroine, or their author-creator, is also the Foucaultian hero, whose transgressive desires push at the limits of the normative and show patriarchal repression to be the source of all evil. More specifically, homoerotic desire is seen to be the essence of what is repressed for the sake of establishing bourgeois culture, which is "always already" heteronormative. Homosexuals who suffer from this repression gain a kind of revenge by demonizing heteronormative relations, as does Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto (1764) and The Mysterious Mother (1768), both of which sensationally exploit incest. [End Page 96]

Certainly same-sex eroticism is central to the plot of Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796), and both W. H. Ireland in The Abbess (1799) and Maturin in Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) seem to take pleasure in fetishizing the stripped and suffering male, tortured by the Inquisition. In fact, most of the sadomasochism in The Abbess is highly heterosexual, but this does not seem to matter: the "always already transgressive potential" of sexual attraction of whatever sort is sufficient for Haggerty to class this novel as "queer."

The frequent celebration of female-female bonds in "the female gothic" is analyzed, most characteristically, in Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (1797), where the loss of daughter-mother love is the cause of the heroine's profound melancholy, and where the heroine marries the hero only after he has been tortured, and symbolically castrated, by the Inquisition. In Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya (1806), on the other hand, the heroine turns against her mother, who has destroyed the happy family by falling for a lover, and eventually the heroine tortures and murders a young woman who functions as a projection of her mother. So the maternal loss that is central to female gothic is mourned by Radcliffe but punished by Dacre. That one paradigm can have opposing outcomes perhaps explains the usefulness of Freudian theory for the literary interpreter: if projection does not work, perhaps some displacement will do the trick.

Melancholia, or specifically what Julia Kristeva calls abjection, seems to be central to the gothic, and Haggerty argues that what is mourned is preeminently the loss of homosexual love. The gothic is haunted by "the specter of the hidden sodomite." The homosexual is suppressed by having filth heaped upon him, or by being reconstructed as a monster. Thus Victor Frankenstein's abhorrence of his creature is a product of the homosexual's internalized self-loathing. The women in Victor's life are "sacrificed to a male same-sex fantasy because it is impossible to imagine male-male desire outside of the confines of heteronormativity." But we must remember, though Haggerty does not, that characters are not real: they are merely words upon the page, and they can be psychoanalyzed only insofar as they are regarded as projections of their author's mind. It is not clear to me how Mary Shelley can be projecting male same-sex fantasy, unless this is her interpretation of her husband's desires. Percy Bysshe Shelley in Zastrozzi (1810) does indeed seem to eroticize the passive male, but Haggerty goes too far when he claims that Verezzi's stabbing himself is an "auto-erotic gesture." Further, the homoerotics of Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826) are clearly an accidental by-product of heterosexual desire, since the hero represents Shelley, and his friend is the projection of Mary Shelley herself. Haggerty, in his analysis of Shelley's The Cenci (1819), oddly does not demonstrate any homoerotics at all, and just settles for the transgressive meaning of the word queer. [End...


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