- Ecogothic by Andrew Smith and William Hughes
Manchester: Manchester UP, 2013. 198 pages.
Authors Andrew Smith and William Hughes assert that their Ecogothic is “the first volume to explore the Gothic theories of ecocriticsm” (1). As it turns out, they are right about that; I would have welcomed this book when I was writing my own dissertation, “The EcoGothic: Pastoral Ideologies and the Gendered Gothic Landscape,” back in 2008. This new volume brings together a variety of voices examining literature and film from England, Canada, America, and India and attempting a connection between the literary gothic and ecocriticsm.
In their introduction, Smith and Hughes trace the ecogothic back to Romanticism, though one of their authors, Tom J. Hillard, manages to convincingly trace the ecogothic back further to the late seventeenth century, and one might even argue that the Graveyard Poets, who predate the Romantics, also provide examples of the ecogothic. Certainly, the roots of the ecogothic are dependent on the definition, which seems to vary widely in this anthology. Some of the authors base their definition on the primary texts, calling the texts themselves ecogothic, whereas others reach for an ecogothic approach so that it is not necessarily the primary text that is ecogothic but the critical framework through which they view the literature and films. The essays that more effectively convey their argument make use of the former approach.
Ecogothic begins exactly where one might imagine, with a treatment of Horace Walpole, Ann Radcliffe, and Matthew Lewis, the big three of the traditional gothic. Lisa Kröger applies Jonathan Bate’s critical framework from Romantic Ecology (1991), the idea that humans can better live in the material world if they are first in harmony with nature. Kröger points out that the gothic heroine finds solace in nature, whereas the evil characters would rather stay inside the constructed landscape, or in the case of these novels, the crumbling castle. Kröger claims that like the Graveyard Poets, Radcliffe inserts the divine into nature, so that without nature, there is no God. Kröger contrasts this with the way Lewis treats nature and argues [End Page 131] that “Gothic ecology” suggests that humans need to learn to live with nature, and if they don’t, it is nature that comes out as victorious in the end (Kröger, 26). While Kröger’s argument is reasonable enough, she misses an opportunity to discuss how when the innocent (read: good) virginal character enters nature—the space she so loves—it never loves her back; in fact, when the heroine enters the natural world in these early novels, the situation becomes gothic, showing, as Christina Rossetti famously says in “The Goblin Market,” that twilight is not good for maidens—the pastoral glen becomes the gothic nightmare for young women.
Catherine Lanone’s “Monsters on the Ice and Global Warming” connects Margaret Atwood’s fiction, which she calls ecogothic, back to both the arctic explorer John Franklin and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as providing an investigation of the allusion to Franklin in Dan Simmons’s The Terror (2007). Complementing this essay are the two chapters on the Canadian ecogothic by Allana F. Bondar and Shoshannah Ganz. Bondar explores the Canadian psyche in terms of a collective view of nature, analyzing the ecogothic of both Canada’s vast and wild landscape and the country’s colonial past. Bondar clearly defines her terms, calling ecogothic texts those that attempt to “expose how these manifestations of the uncanny have been unfairly propagated within the culturally defined labyrinths of racism, sexism, speciesism and fear of the marked and/or sexualized body” (74). Bondar creates a more complicated theoretical framework for her discussion of the Canadian ecogothic than Shoshannah Ganz’s. The focus of Ganz’s discussion is on Margaret Atwood’s gothic fiction as a way to “critique environmental destruction and advocate restoration” (87).
When the collection moves on to American literature, the editors have managed once again to choose essays that seem to be in dialog with one another; Tom J. Hillard’s “From Salem Witch to Blair Witch” leads logically to Kevin...