An essay I did for uni
Review of Danielle Carr’s (2013) Master of Arts thesis Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature
The nature of my research is to place the traditional forms of Gothic and dark romantic literature in a contemporary Australian setting, taking the genres away from their archetypal settings of castles, mansions and inserting them into the everyday, workaday world of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Danielle Carr’s thesis is titled Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature and her research parallels mine as she explored the psychological themes behind Gothic and dark romantic fiction, and separated them from their settings, thus enabling Gothic and dark romantic fiction to be effectively placed in any location. Additionally, Carr’s research includes creative components integrated into the thesis, which is a strategy I will use in my own research.
In spite of the title of Carr’s thesis including postmodernism, there is actual little emphasis devoted to this artistic movement. On the contrary, in form and shape, Carr adheres to traditional narrative structures in her creative works, with clear beginnings and endings, and no unreliable narrator techniques are used. In fact, as Patricia Waugh states, modernism is a fiction of consciousness, where postmodernism is one concerning itself with the fictionality of a text (Waugh cited in Nicol 2009, p. xvii). So postmodernism as a literary style is less interested in the working of the psyche or the soul than it is on the nature of the very text itself, using this definition. Another definition is that postmodernism is a blending of all styles to deliberately defy classification (Abrams 1999, p. 168). There is none of this experimentation in the thesis as Carr concentrates altogether on the nature of the Gothic and the dark romantic being fictions about the conscious. She makes a distinction between Gothic and dark romantic literature, stating that the latter is a subset of the former (Carr 2013, p. 5) and quotes Poe’s Ligeia as a salient example. She suggests that the seminal difference between the two is that dark romanticism features visionary, poetical writing. However, the distinction is often blurred as Dinçer points out that both are fictions of dark dreariness, usually concluding in an unhappy manner (Dinçer 2010, p. 220).
The methods Carr used were composing three creative works of varying length, The Conservatory, Psychosis and The Lady of Tangiers, then writing an exegesis on each, with an eye to psychological theory and how it can be applied to Gothic and dark romantic fiction. Carr worked alone on this thesis and there is no acknowledgement to any other contributor apart from a bibliography listing her sources. Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature draws heavily on the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung (Carr 2013, p.3), particularly Jung’s theories of Self and what Jung called the archetypes: psyche and soul (Stevens 1994) in which Carr identifies as being critically important to Gothic literature. She argues that the literature itself would be ineffective without psychological insight or the application of psychological theory. The literary symbolism in Jung’s theories has been utilised in Carr’s first creative work in the thesis, The Conservatory, is a short piece the author has constructed in a deliberately antiquated style. Within, Carr implements Jung’s archetypes and his theories on the mandala – the circle. The mandala, according to Jung, was emblematic of the what he termed the “psychic transformation” (Jung cited in Stevens 1994). Carr uses this symbolism in her short story to illustrate how a mental state can come full circle. The Conservatory also deals with the matter of the Faustian bargain, where the protagonist is searching for the elixir of youth. Carr cites Goethe’s work as being seminal to the Gothic canon (Goethe cited in Carr 2013, p. 13) and she has her protagonist seemingly forsake his life for the pursuit of the elixir.
In her second creative work, Psychosis, Carr again applies the psychological theories of Freud with regards to the repression of bad memories (Freud cited in Carr 2013, p. 27). In her creative work, Carr suggests that repressed memories are not a natural mental state and there had to be division between the conscious and unconscious. The character of Melinda in Psychosis is redirecting her suppressed memories into “anxiety hysteria” (Carr 2013, p. 28) which Carr suggests is a subset of psychoanalysis. The hidden or obscured memory aspect posits itself into Gothic literature in terms of the unstated or understated, which Carr exemplifies with her mentioning of du Maurier’s Rebecca (du Maurier 1938) in which the titular character is deceased but exerts a palpable and dark influence throughout the novel (Carr 2013, p. 5). So, Carr suggests that what is figuratively buried beneath the surface can be an effective ploy in Gothic and dark romantic literature.
Her third creative work, The Lady of Tangiers, is a novelette that draws upon Freud’s theories of the uncanny (Freud cited in Carr 2013, p. 49). Here, a unrequited love story is made ominous by the environment itself: the Sahara Desert. The visitors to this harsh land are a group of English aristocrats going for a sortie from the safer confines of the Moroccan city of Tangiers (or Tangier as it is more commonly known). Among the sands and the harsh winds, they encounter the supernatural and the romantic interest of the protagonist vanishes. Carr in her exegesis of this story makes comparisons with the colonial experiences of the British in Australia: the strangers in a strange land trope, thus shifting the genre of the story into the postcolonial. She states that Gothic fiction set in lands that have been colonised are by their very nature haunted (Mafe cited in Carr 2013, p. 50) which suggests that the land itself remembers or is capable of sentient deed. This is an important facet to my research as I intend to employ a similar methodology with my own creative work: imbuing the land itself with a slumbering malevolence.
Much of the thesis is a work of juxtaposition and intertextuality; comparing her creative works to previously published material and placing them into the Gothic and dark romantic canon. Interestingly, she makes comparisons between The Conservatory and previously published material insofar as stating that the garden is a place of innocence (Carr 2013, p.17) and that this innocence can be inverted by the application of Gothic and dark romantic tropes, especially those sourced from philosophical literature such as Jung and Freud. Thus, I feel that Carr is making a point here in her thesis that Gothic fiction is largely one of upending order and completion, and replacing it with disorder and unresolved issues. This is a crucial key in my own research as other works I have studied have drawn similar conclusions (Chudy, Cook & Costello 2010).
To summarise, Carr makes repeated references to psychology and symbolism and their importance in Gothic and dark romantic literature. There is stress made that these forms of literature depend heavily upon the usage of symbol and metaphor for their potency. Indeed, Carr draws a conclusion through exegesis and exposition that Gothic fiction would not work without such artifice. At its very core, both forms of fiction are works of psychology, where the fear and dread, or the sin and guilt, are sui generis. I do not believe that Carr has made a totally effective use of her fiction to convey the points she is making as all three works are in need of editing, as there are numerous phrasing and dialogue issues with them. Regardless, the core ideas are firmly there and the exegeses are sound, providing further avenues into deeper research. In summary, this thesis succeeds as an article of research into Gothic and dark romantic fiction, particularly in an Australian setting.
Abrams, M 1999, A Glossary of Literary Terms (7th ed.), Thomson Publishing, New York
Carr, D 2013, ‘Psychological Reflections on Post – Modernist Gothic Literature’, MA thesis, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria
Chudy, T, Cook, N & Costello, M 2010, A ‘ruined or fractured’ sublime: voice, identity and agency in reading and writing the gothic/noir in subtropical regional Australia, Strange Bedfellows: Refereed Conference Papers of the 15th Annual AAWP Conference, 2010
Dinçer, F 2010, The light and dark Romantic features in Irving, Hawthorne and Poe, The Journal of International Social Research, 3(10), pp. 218-224
du Maurier, D 1938, Rebecca, Victor Gollancz, London
Nicol, B 2009, The Cambridge introduction to postmodern fiction, Cambridge University Press, New York
Stevens, A 1994, Jung, a very short introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford