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Reviewed by:
  • Queering the Gothic
  • Patrick R. O'Malley
Hughes, William and Andrew Smith , EDS. Queering the Gothic. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. xii + 195 pp. $84.95.

"Gothic," William Hughes and Andrew Smith write at the opening of their introduction to this handsomely produced book, "has, in a sense, always been 'queer'" (1). They are certainly in a position to know; Smith and Hughes have, over the years, co-edited Bram Stoker: History, Psychoanalysis and the Gothic (1998), Empire and the Gothic: The Politics of Genre (2003), and Fictions of Unease: The Gothic from Otranto to The X-Files (with Diane Mason, 2002) in addition to significant single-authored books. Hughes is the editor of the journal Gothic Studies, while Smith co-edits the Gothic Literary Studies series. These are scholars who have dedicated significant parts of their careers to the analysis of the Gothic in its many forms, and I for one have literally been waiting for this book for years. In the interim, George E. Haggerty's excellent Queer Gothic (2006) appeared, perhaps stealing some of the thunder but none of the importance of this volume, which is in many ways a sort of companion to that book, as well as to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1980) and Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). It is, the jacket text tells us, "the first multi-authored book concerned with the developing interface between Gothic criticism and queer theory."

Queering the Gothic brings together ten essays, in addition to Hughes and Smith's introduction. The contributors are predominantly British (although chapters by one American and one Canadian appear), as are the texts under analysis, at least those [End Page 118] published before the late twentieth century; neither Poe nor Melville nor Charles Brockden Brown nor Harold Frederic, all likely candidates, are represented. Neither, despite the wonderfully horrific and brilliantly chosen cover image of William-Adolphe Bouguereau's 1850 painting of Dante and Virgil in Hell, do the chapters for the most part engage with texts other than literary ones (the exceptions here are Mair Rigby's juxtaposition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein with James Whale's film version and Steven Bruhm's reading of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Ghosts videos); critical analyses of the visual artistic work of William Blake or Henri Fuseli or any of a number of visual artists from the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first century—including Bouguereau's painting itself—could only have deepened and enriched the archive for this volume's concerns. That said, the historical range of the book is impressive, beginning in the late eighteenth century and ending in the twenty-first; the chapters, ordered chronologically by their primary focus, cover Ann Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, Charles Maturin, Mary Shelley, George Eliot, the multi-authored pornographic work Teleny, E. M. Forster, Antonia White, Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Rice, Melanie Tem, Michael Jackson, Will Self, and a number of others along the way. Each essay is not long—and they are all eminently readable—but they collectively pack a lot in.

The major challenge for any collection of this sort is coherence, and that is all the more true when the key words of its title—"Gothic" and "queer"—are themselves so precariously poised between the historically and culturally specific and the impossibly capacious. "Queer" in this book can refer to same-sex erotic attraction; or the culturally-contingent affects that signify that attraction even if there is no actual homoerotic desire; or simply resistance to dominant norms, whether they relate to sexuality (through which incest, for example, is also "queer") or not. As Smith and Hughes write in their introduction (about Poppy Z. Brite, whose work appears as a focus in two chapters of this book), "Even when her lovers are heterosexual, Brite herself is somehow queer, and with a queerness that far exceeds the specific homosexual content that has seen her work applauded by an aware gay readership" (3). That's a suggestive—and importantly true—claim, but it leaves me wanting a somewhat more stable basis for structuring the theoretical underpinnings of the book. One of the best—and...


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