• During the past two and a half decades, it has become a widely used
category in both Irish and Gothic studies. Although some critics have used
it to classify a group of novels and short stories by Charles Maturin (1780–
1824), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814–73), and Bram Stoker (1847–
1912), others have extended the label to encompass work by Sydney
Owenson (1776?–1859), Oscar Wilde (1854–1900),W.B.Yeats (1865–
1939), and Elizabeth Bowen (1899–1973).
* W.J. McCormack: "At the risk of paradox, it has to be said that while Irish
gothic writing does not amount to a tradition, it is a distinctly Protestant
tradition" ("Irish Gothic and After" 837)
* Seamus Deane radically claimed Mangan's Autobiography "introduces us to
a new genre—what we may call Catholic or Catholic-nationalist Gothic"
(Strange Country 126).
The “Irish Gothic” – Catholic or Protestant?
…an overpowering sense of doom, related to criminality;
reference to German romances; dream-sequences and ruins; a
terrifying father-figure whose shadow falls over and dominates
the narrator's life; isolating illness; spiritual hauntings and
world-weariness; Promethean ambitions and humiliating
rebukes; appeals to a select audience for sympathy and
contempt for the mass of mankind; religious longings and the
refusal of conventional religious consolations.
-A Strange Country (126)
Seamus Deane’s Gothic
During the nineteenth century, however, not only were pictures increasingly
employed within books but the stock-in-trade figures of the gothic migrated
to newspaper and magazine illustrations, as well as to the penny
dreadfuls, and such well-known figures as the ‘‘Irish Frankenstein,’’ the ‘‘Irish
Maniac,’’ and the ‘‘IrishVampire’’ were frequently sighted in political
cartoons and satire.
Popularising the Gothic
The major program to build institutions to house the mentally ill in
Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century cannot be directly
attributed to the effects of 1798, but one of the most frequently recorded
reasons for admissions to lunatic asylums in this period was trauma related
to war. Post-traumatic stress could kill people or render them insensible, as
several observers noted after 1798.
Consider: mental asylums, Magdalene laundries, dozens of prisons for
Fenians, the ‘Lock’ hospital for prostitutes, state-run orphanages, young
Irish Maniacs and Asylum building
• Although his early poetry was often apolitical, after the Great Famine he
began writing poems with a strong nationalist bent, including influential
works such as My Dark Rosaleen or Róisín Dubh and A Vision of
Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.
• Mangan was a lonely and difficult man who suffered from mood
swings, depression and irrational fears, and became a heavy drinker. His
appearance was eccentric, and later in life he was often seen wearing a
long cloak, green spectacles and a blond wig.
• He was addicted to opium and alcohol and was friends with fellow Irish
Mangan – Biographical details
• He was the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century and was
central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era.
• His wife suffered from neurotic symptoms. She had a crisis of faith and
tended to attend religious services at the nearby St. Stephen's Church and
discuss religion with William, Joseph's younger brother, as Joseph had
apparently stopped attending religious services. She suffered from anxiety
after the deaths of several close relatives, including her father two years
before, which may have led to marital problems. In April 1858 she suffered an
"hysterical attack" and died the following day in unclear circumstances
• In 1861 he became the editor and proprietor of the Dublin University Magazine
• AlthoughThomas Le Fanu tried to live as though he were well-off, the family
was in constant financial difficulty.Thomas took the rectorships in the south
of Ireland for the money, as they provided a decent living through tithes.
However, from 1830, as the result of agitation against the tithes, this income
began to fall and it ceased entirely two years later – he died penniless
Le Fanu – Biographical Details
In contemporary English the word “monster” is used in a variety of ways. In applying it to folk
narratives, however, we can productively limit its range. We commonly use it to refer to legendary
or mythical beings in narratives that display, to greater or lesser extents, certain family
The anthropologist David Gilmore has sampled monsters described in the folk narratives of
diverse cultures and represented in paintings and sculpture from the Upper Paleolithic to the
present.6 He finds that monsters typically exhibit a constellation of features: great size and/or
remarkable strength; a prominent mouth with fangs or some other means of facilitating predation
on humans; an urge to consume human flesh and/or blood; and hybridism, for they often combine
human and animal features, or mix living and dead tissue, or manifest amalgams of discordant
parts of various organisms
While Le Fanu hints at the possibility that Carmilla may take cat form, he
characteristically blurs that possibility, in keeping with the ambiguity that
pervades his narrative. In other respects, however,
Carmilla is too beautiful by human standards, too romantically ethereal, and
too appealingly erotic to suggest discordant or repulsive shapeshifting
or other physically distasteful folkloric markers of the unambiguously
Carmilla as Monster?
Nina Auerbach's Our Vampires, Ourselves
(University of Chicago Press, 1997) points out that
vampires reflect the cultures that they inhabit (6).
However, what distinguishes the vampire from other monsters—whether in
folklore, literature, art or film—is that the vampire has a recognizable, if not
an often beautiful, human form. The vampire often demonstrates very
human characteristics, such as regret and depression about its monstrous
nature, which distinguishes it from other monsters.
Can this be thought about in relation to colonisation? Gender studies?
Carmilla “does not have a neat resolution in which evil is
banished.”9 It is a tale distinguished by its “open-endedness and
irresolution” (p. 60). Sullivan notes that some characters—the woman
who claims to be Carmilla’s mother, her coachmen, and the mysterious
black woman—appear and then are heard of no more. Carmilla’s fate,
once she is dispatched as a vampire, is unclear, and we are left with the
unresolved possibility that Laura may not be free of vampirism. In
Carmilla, Sullivan writes, “Ambivalence is the controlling principle
throughout the story” (p. 64).
Le Fanu and the open-ended narration
Carmilla – Styria (Near East) (Vampire women)
Green Tea – England (Followed by demons)
The Familiar/Watcher – Dublin (A captain in the British navy haunted by a
menacing dead dwarf)
Mr Justice Hardbottle – London (condemned to death by his monstrous self)
The Room at the Dragon-Volante - Englishman in Paris (swindling countess)
Consider the location of le Fanu’s Stories
Postcolonialism: the study of the interactions between European nations
and the societies they colonized in the modern period.
The European empire is said to have held sway over more than 85% of the
rest of the globe by the time of the First World War, having consolidated its
control over several centuries.The sheer extent and duration of the
European empire and its disintegration after the Second World War have led
to widespread interest in postcolonial literature and criticism in our own
Edward Said – Orientalism
Some commentators date the beginning of postcolonial thought to Said’s 1978
book on Orientalism. He sees the Orient as a mirror image of what is inferior and
alien ("Other") to the West. He is criticising racial prejudice and assumptions about
the colonial ‘savages’.
Western knowledge about the East is not generated from facts or reality, but from
preconceived archetypes that envision all "Eastern" societies as fundamentally
similar to one another, and fundamentally dissimilar to "Western" societies. [i.e.
This discourse establishes "the East" as antithetical to "the West" (i.e. the Orient is
constructed as the negative reflection of Western culture)
Edward Said – Orientalism (1978)
The Oriental is the colonised Eastern man. The man is depicted as
feminine, weak, yet strangely dangerous because poses a threat to white, Western
women.The woman is both eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic.The
Oriental is a single image, a sweeping generalization, a stereotype that crosses
countless cultural and national boundaries.
(Consider this in relation to the supernatural beings that appear in the Irish Gothic
Consider this in relation to Dracula
The Oriental /The colonial ‘Other’
Re-education of the natives drastically reduces the amount of necessary physical
violence on the part of the colonizer, for the re-educated native (ideally) is
submissive instead of rebellious. Thiong'o describes the ideal function of re-
education: "[the colonizer] would like to have a slave who not only accepts that
he is a slave, but that he is a slave because he is fated to be nothing else but a
slave. Hence he must love and be grateful to the master for his magnanimity in
enslaving him to a higher, nobler civilisation."
The imperfection of the natives is often considered bestially, as in the
description of the Irish by colonial Britons, who characterized them as being
"lazy, morally depraved as well as subhuman," thus leading Dr. James Kay to
write: "this race must really have reached the lowest stage of humanity". The
natives often had a functional, labor-focused status in the colonizer's hierarchy—
a position similar to that of livestock, who are considered for their efficientness
in labor. Another common form of the anti-native myth presents an image of the
native as sexually deviant. Lewes discusses the "view of 'the wild exotic'," which
portrayed "Eastern men…as paragons of effeminacy and self-indulgence; [and]
Eastern women as immoral, sexually insatiable courtesans.“
[Lewes, Darby, Nudes From Nowhere]
[Literature and Society, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o ]
The Native asViolent Savage, Ignorant
Labourer, and Sexual Deviant
In “The OccidentalTourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Stephen D.
Arata proffers the theory Dracula succeeded as a gothic horror by harnessing British
xenophobia in order to scare readers. Further, Dracula was frightening to readers not
only because it invoked the fear of the Other, but because it suggested that Britain was
just like this monstrous Other.
Arata begins by explaining the term “reverse colonization narrative” as a story common
to lateVictorian literature that expressed not simply fear, but also guilt; fear that the
British Empire was crumbling, and guilt towards the practices required to sustain the
Transylvania invoked the spectre of blood mixing, because all those cycles of empire
meant that there was a lot of intermarrying in Transylvania, and at the time, such rates
of intermarrying were beheld with horror by the English. (Intermarriage: muddying of
British purity, colonization by biology…) Arata argues that vampire myths can be read as
allegories for miscegenation: once you are bitten by (have sex with) a vampire (a
foreigner), you have a second life (a child) as one of them.
- “The OccidentalTourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Stephen
The Anxiety of Reverse Colonisation
Tabish Khair’s book The
Gothic, Postcolonialism and Othernesss: Ghosts
from Elsewhere (2009) seems to narrow her
reading of Dracula as the racial Other that
speaks to the fear of the foreign. In order to
put the novel in context, she defines the
Vampire myth, and Dracula, as a discourse of
the subconscious fear of “colonial Otherness”
concerned with “matters of ‘race,’ violence’
and ‘fiendish/diabolical’ presences . . .
miscegenation” and even the “depravity of
The ABJECT = defines the horror of being unable to distinguish between the ‘me’
and ‘not me’ – which is the experience of the foetus within the mother’s womb
The abject is what the subject seeks to dispel in order to have in independent
identity – throughout life this includes the food/waste that the body must take in
The abject is therefore the troubles and recurrent marker bordering the clean and
the unclean, the self and the other, the self and the mother.
The abject in Gothic literature = The irrationality and psychic disturbance
associated with the Other is regularly configured as female. ‘Woman’ is not
simply marginalised to a position outside social sexual norms, but she is
expelled and threatens from what is the outer realm.
The ambiguous nature of the vampire Carmilla in Le Fanu's work can be read as a
metaphor for loss of self in the love of another, the blurred boundaries of the self
Julia Kristeva and the Abject
Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (Columbia University Press, 1982).
Thus the unifying tropes of In a Glass Darkly -the figure of the living
dead, the Anglo-Irish devil's compact, the vampire--reflect the baleful
effects of a symbolic contract brought to Ireland through conquest, as free
laborers were transformed by colonialism into victims of a consuming
Some critics equate English colonialism with the destruction of an idyllic
communal economy. Capital is the "transhistorical vampiric force" (32);
commercial and exploitative relationships between the newly
proletarianized peasantry become "the devil's compact" that shatters
traditional society and creates a population of "the living dead" (33)
Margot Gayle Backus – The Gothic Family: Heterosexuality, Child
Sacrafice, and the Anglo-Irish Order (1999)
The Family – Marxist reading
The Gothic Family Romance argues that in Anglo-Irish society children
existed to serve an insecure colonial order dedicated to suppressing its
violent origins. Backus foregrounds "recurring narrative conventions
testify[ing] to the continuing cost that is being exacted from children born
within a settler colonial order that prioritized loyalty to an abstract national
identity above local cooperation and identification" (19)
Arguing that the Unionist community in Northern Ireland is an order
perpetuating itself through the psychic destruction of its children, Backus
reads Patterson's novel as exploring, through a repeated motif of the
unsuccessful live burial of a dog, the Gothic trope of the "return of the
repressed" on the lives of colonial children.The hidden narrative that cannot
be buried recounts the violence upon which their society is founded.
Children and the Gothic
In 1851 the preliminary results of Ireland’s census [The Dread Census]
revealed that the population had fallen by nearly two million since 1841 and
that the regional focus of this “ecological jolt” was the rural West.1 In many
parts of Clare, Galway, and Mayo, the population had decreased by 50
percent, and contributors to the local press warned that the return of normal
harvests had done little to stem “‘the exodus from this part of Ireland
[which] is going on at a rapid rate.
The Shannon River had become a symbolic boundary between two markedly
distinguishable regions in Ireland: one to the east where the impact of the
Famine was intense—but manageable—and one to the west, where the
evidence of devastation was so overwhelming that even the most ardent
proponents of progress were overcome with feelings of powerlessness and
The Impact of the Famine
As he toured his native Connaught in 1849, Sir William Wilde, who served as
assistant census commissioner, declared that the Famine had thrust the
region suddenly into a “great convulsion,” which affected not only the
landless and most destitute portions of the Irish peasantry but “society of all
“Bankrupt landlords, pauperizing poor laws, grinding officials, and
decimating workhouses,” he wrote, “have broken up the very foundations of
social intercourse, have swept away the established theories of political
economists, and uprooted many of our long-cherished opinions.”
After the Famine
At the beginning of the year 1845 the state of Ireland was, as it had been for
nearly seven hundred years, a source of grave anxiety to England. Ireland
had first been invaded in 1169; it was now 1845, yet she had been neither
assimilated nor subdued.The country had been conquered not once but
several times, the land had been confiscated and redistributed over and over
again, the population had been brought to the verge of extinction—after
Cromwell's conquest and settlement only some half million Irish survived—
yet an Irish nation still existed, separate, numerous and hostile.1
The Famine left hatred behind. Between Ireland and England the memory of
what was done and endured has lain like a sword. Other famines followed
as other famines had gone before, but it is the terrible years of the Great
Hunger which are remembered, and only just beginning to be forgiven
CecilWoodham-Smith’s The Great
Terry Eagleton asks how it is that the Anglo-Irish register so
much paranoia in the allegorical dimension of the gothic, since
they are, from the viewpoint of the masses, the persecutors.
Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso, 1995, 191.)
Their paranoid fiction is the evidence of their guilt, but might it
be useful to think of this guilt as having more characteristics
than those of bad conscience?
IN Siberia's wastesThe ice-wind's breath Woundeth like the toothed steel;
Lost Siberia doth reveal Only blight and death.
Blight and death alone. No Summer shines. Night is interblent with Day. In
Siberia's wastes alway The blood blackens, the heart pines.
In Siberia's wastes No tears are shed, For they freeze within the brain.
Nought is felt but dullest pain, Pain acute, yet dead;
Pain as in a dream, When years go by Funeral-paced, yet fugitive, When man
lives, and doth not live. Doth not live -- nor die.
In Siberia's wastes Are sands and rocks Nothing blooms of green or soft, But
the snow-peaks rise aloft And the gaunt ice-blocks.
And the exile there Is one with those;They are part, and lie is part, For the
sands are in his heart, And the killing snows.
Therefore, in those wastes None curse the Czar. Each man's tongue is cloven
by The North Blast, that heweth nigh With sharp scymitar.
And such doom each sees,Till, hunger-gnawn, And cold-slain, he at length
sinks there,Yet scarce more a corpse than ere His last breath was drawn.
Laura and Carmilla exist in a world of male gaze and control, often citing the
power and knowledge of the male doctors that appear within the
story, withholding knowledge from Laura (Heller 83) regarding the power
that’s overtaken her. Heller fixes “Carmilla” in terms of female illnesses of
the time — nervousness, nymphomania, anorexia, and hysteria — drawing
many ties between the symptoms that both Carmilla and Laura suffer
(languidness, paleness, dark circles, weakness, etc.) and these “diseases”.
This vampiristic homosexuality challenges the heterosexual, male
dominated world in that this lesbian vampirism ends in propagation (88)
wherein a new vampire is created at the climax of the act
- Heller, “The Vampire in the House: Hysteria, Female Sexuality, and Female
Knowledge in Le Fanu’s “Carmilla””
Queer Reading of Carmilla
Michelis seeks to “explore the extent to which psychoanalytic criticism and
fin de siècle gothic writing are both similarly fascinated and haunted by a
concept of anxiety” (6); the anxiety addressed in this article centers around
aspects of the maternal and the maternal relationship during identity