Date of Award
Program or Major
Doctor of Philosophy
Since Dickens and Mary Shelley, the Gothic has provided a rubric for literary conceptualizations of modernity. Dickens' depictions of industrial London characterize it as a labyrinth of temptations and horrors, haunted by monstrosity and by personal and social demons; the monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the disfigured byproduct of science and technology. Bram Stoker's Dracula, perhaps the most effective "global" narrative to come out of the British fin de siecle, grafted elements of a pre-Enlightenment atavism onto the turn-of-the-century liberal metropolis. In our own era, the literature of the postmodern technopolis---the fiction of William Gibson, for example---has continued to borrow Gothic motifs and devices.
This dissertation is a study of literary representations of technology, capitalism and the modern metropolis---representations based in the anxieties and desires that accompany middle-class self-fashioning. The Gothic, in its original guise, depicts the corruption and ruination of the estate, often by economic and cultural forces emanating from the city and associated with capitalism and modernity; thus, to invoke the Gothic is also to reference middle class guilt and doubts about legitimacy. At the same time, Gothic allusions allow the middle class to retell its foundational myth of a struggle for liberation from feudal constraints.
Much 19th and 20th literature, both popular and highbrow, entertains an ambiguous and complicated relationship to the city---the site of economic, political and cultural forces which are both liberating and traumatizing. Though capitalism and technology drove its ascendancy, the middle class has traditionally seen the city as a place both of opportunity and danger, of allure and revulsion or horror---a set of mixed emotions which tends to suggest an insecure, unstable or divided subjectivity. This complicated relationship to the city provided much of the impetus for the quest to build a "bourgeois utopia"---a refuge located at the fringe of the city in which the equilibrium of a romanticized pre-urban order is recovered. But because the contradictions within middle class identity can never be fully resolved, the "utopia" always harbors the potential to become a haunted grove, visited by that which has been repressed or abjected in the process of creating modernity.
Herschbach, Robert Adrian, "Gothic economies: Global capitalism and the boundaries of identity" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations. 118.