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Reviewed by:
  • Queer Gothic
  • Scarlet Bowen
Queer Gothic. By George Haggerty. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Pp. 248. $65.00 (cloth); $20.00 (paper).

George Haggerty's Queer Gothic is remarkable in its scope, taking us on a fascinating tour of the first British gothic novels by Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe all the way to present-day vampire fictions by Anne Rice. By conducting such a sweeping historical survey punctuated with insightful close readings, Haggerty succeeds in illustrating the argument that gothic fiction is not just queer in an uncanny sense but that gothic fiction's queerness has always been and continues to be concerned with manifestations of nonnormative sexual and romantic desires. As Haggerty shows, from its very inception the gothic novel emerged in the late eighteenth century in Great Britain as a counterdiscourse to a host of novels, conduct books, and tracts about sexuality that increasingly promoted the organization of sexuality along heteronormative lines. [End Page 578]

What is most daring and therefore sometimes less successful, however, is Haggerty's methodological aim of showing how gothic fiction "anticipates the history of sexuality and gives that history its most basic materials" (5). What Haggerty refers to by this incredibly broad concept varies throughout the book, and thus it may be helpful to tease out some of the specific meanings he assigns to "the history of sexuality." On the one hand, "the history of sexuality" refers to theories of sexuality produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Europe. Thus Haggerty aims to show how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British gothic texts both anticipate and deviate from later theories articulated by Freud, sexologists, Judith Butler, and Foucault, to name a few. His investment in how early works are in conversation with these later theories exists in tension with another endeavor, which is to articulate how representations of sexuality reflect and produce historically and culturally specific attitudes toward sexuality and sexual identity. These two aims and meanings of "the history of sexuality" are not irreconcilable, and Haggerty in several parts of the book uses both approaches fruitfully, but one often feels that in his attempt "to look forward from the eighteenth century to understand how gothic fiction gave sexuality a history in the first place" (5) he neglects to examine the ways gothic texts speak to their own historical moment.

One of the principal challenges that historians of sexuality face is to divest ourselves of modern preconceptions and definitions of sexuality in order to be attentive to different formations of desire in the past or in cultures different from our own. Haggerty innovatively answers this challenge in part by foregrounding Western society's inherited ideas of sexuality and looking to early gothic fictions for signs of their alterity. This approach succeeds not only in revealing the historical situatedness of certain universalizing theories of sexuality but also in expanding our sense of the many ways there are to organize and theorize desire. In chapter 2 Haggerty shows how productive this approach can be by looking at how Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1764) and Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (1797) depict alternative configurations of Freud's "family romance." Walpole's gothic novel, instead of abiding by the logics of an Oedipal narrative, portrays a father who wishes to supplant his son and marry his son's fiancée. Reversing Freud's conception of normative female development, the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe predicate the heroine's transition to adult heterosexuality on a reunion with the maternal: "The maternal figure in 'female gothic' holds out the possibility of love, of self-realization, and of escape from the confines of patriarchal culture" (15). Haggerty also draws out the erotic associations of Ellena's attraction to her mother, in effect queering the heterosexual romance in the novel. Haggerty convincingly shows that Vivaldi has to compete with Ellena's love for her mother before he can marry her and that he is rendered attractive only insofar as he resembles the [End Page 579] attributes of Ellena's mother (35). This approach results in similar findings in his analysis of Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya (1806), but in this instance the protagonist, Victoria, is negatively...


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