Haunted house in mid-to-late Victorian gothic fiction
Bussing, Ilse Marie
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This thesis addresses the central role of the haunted house in mid-to-late Victorian Gothic texts. It argues that haunting in fiction derives from distinct architectural and spatial traits that the middle-class Victorian home possessed. These design qualities both reflected and reinforced current social norms, and anxiety about the latter surfaced in Gothic texts. In this interdisciplinary study, literary analysis works alongside spatial examination, under the premise that literature is a space that can be penetrated and deciphered in the same way that buildings are texts that can be read and interpreted. This work is divided into two main sections, with the first three chapters introducing theoretical, historical and architectural notions that provide a background to the literary works to be discussed. The first chapter presents various theorists’ notions behind haunting and the convergence of spectrality and space, giving rise to the discussion of domestic haunting and its appeal. The second chapter examines the Crystal Palace as the icon of public space in Victorian times, its capacity for haunting, as well as its ability to frame the domestic both socially and historically. The third chapter focuses on the prototype of private space at the time—the middle-class home—in order to highlight the specificity of this dwelling, both as an architectural and symbolic entity. The second section also consists of three chapters, dedicated to the “dissection” of the haunted house, divided into three different areas: liminal, secret, and surrounding space. The fourth chapter examines works where marginal space, in the shape of hallways and staircases, is the site of intense haunting. A novel by Richard Marsh and stories by Bulwer-Lytton, Algernon Blackwood and W.W. Jacobs are analyzed here. The fifth chapter is a journey through rooms and secretive space of the spectral home; works by authors such as Wilkie Collins, J.H. Riddell and Sheridan Le Fanu are considered in order to argue that the home’s exceptional compartmentalization and its concern for secrecy translated effortlessly into Gothic fiction. The final chapter addresses an integral yet external part of the Victorian home—the grounds. Gardens in works by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Margaret Oliphant, M.R. James, and Oscar Wilde are inspected, proving Gothic fiction’s disregard for boundaries and its ability to exceed the parameters of the home.