- Modernity & the Gothic
IN THE PAST TWENTY YEARS scholarly interest in the intertwined histories of modernism and the gothic has increased noticeably. The publication of edited collections, including Andrew Smith and Jeff Wallace's Gothic Modernisms (2001), John Paul Riquelme's Gothic and Modernism: Essaying Dark Literary Modernity (2008), and now Daniel Darvay's Haunting Modernity and the Gothic Presence in British Modernist Literature (2016), all identify and argue for the importance of the overlaps connecting these seemingly distinct ideas. Studies of the gothic and modernism share in the conviction that modernist writers adopted the conventions of the gothic form because these were generative for addressing psychical, political, social and other aesthetic and historical questions. Many also wrestle with the desirable, but seemingly impossible, end of defining the gothic in a manner that does not succumb to negation. As Chris Baldick and Robert Mighall expressed in A New Companion to the Gothic (2012), the gothic—especially as the modernists used this literary form—had to represent more than merely "anti-Enlightenment rebellion." In fact, the continuing significance of the gothic depends upon what it accomplishes and advocates. What Darvay's monograph newly argues is that this difficult literary form signals modernity's commencement.
In Haunting Modernity, readers learn that British modernist writers engaged with the often overdetermined gothic tradition for a variety of reasons, but these motives were intentional and never extrinsic to the author's intent. Darvay's researches concerning the history of modernist literature in the gothic form focus particularly on late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century authors preoccupied with sexuality, specifically Oscar Wilde and D. H. Lawrence, as well as shifting definitions of Englishness, evidenced in the fictions of Joseph Conrad andE. M. Forster. His study is sure to interest literary scholars of the gothic mode and modernism, but his discussions of electricity will also appeal [End Page 118] to history of science scholars, and his concern with subject formation will attract historians of politics and liberalism.
Darvay has written a monograph that sweeps broadly in time, seeming to adopt a longue durée approach to literary history. Instead of structuring his project as a survey of twentieth-century British modernist texts, Darvay begins his inquiry in chapter one with the English Reformation. Noting the influx of works published on the topic of sacrilege, he identifies England's fraught relationship with Catholicism during the seventeenth century as the source of this theme's popularity. Religious upheaval rested uneasily beside the cause of maintaining the monarchy's authority. The English nobility were particularly upset by the rootedness of their country houses in a now disavowed Catholic past. Darvay suggests that gothic novelists beginning with Walpole were actually seeking out creative retribution for the perceived sacrileges for which these aristocrats felt guilty. Studying Andrew Marvell's "Upon Appleton House" as a template for later sacrilege narratives owing to its themes of usurpation, ancestry, and punishment, Darvay traces these ideas in The Castle of Otranto before examining its vestiges in modernist literature. The psychic crisis of guilt, doubling, and the enemy within is what connects these early gothic fictions to modernist texts like Conrad's Under Western Eyes and Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Modernist fictions revel in the imaginative space this genre provided so that "the Gothic paradoxically emerges as guardian of modernity." The remainder of Haunting Modernity focuses predominantly on one author for each chapter.
Chapter two studies Augustine, Luther, and Descartes to locate the gothic modernism of Wilde. Wilde set aside Protestantism and toyed with Catholicism not only because, like so many Decadents, he found ritualism aesthetically appealing, but also because the Catholic faith permitted him to abandon the Enlightenment search for certainty. The repercussions of the Catholic sacrament of penance were national and not only metaphysical, because reliance on an intercessor threatened to undermine the self sufficiency required of modern English subjectivity. Deploying the gothic staple of the labyrinth, Darvay shows that these complex obstacles functioned to not only entrap gothic heroines in castles; they also acted as a philosophical and...