A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 03 January 1998
It's pointless to speak of a Gothic "revival" in our culture for the simple reason that the ghoulish genre never goes away. Gothic parodies have drawn squawks of recognition for the 200 years that separate Northanger Abbey from Addams Family Values. You could argue that the original Gothic - of gloom and ghosts and curses - can only now exist as spoof or irony, while the essence of the business dons another guise to reappear (for example) in a show like The X Files.
So it's hard to know how earnestly to treat Penguin's New Year stunt. Night Thoughts is a pounds 2.99 anthology of nocturnal ruminations culled from the Classics list, and adorned with a fetching lamplit still-life-with- a-skull. Just the thing for that teenage Austen heroine, then or now, to tote around the smart dives of Bath. The book amounts to an exercise in Gothic editing rather than a Gothic anthology per se, as it skips most of the 19th-century prose landmarks (Mary Shelley, Poe, Stoker, Stevenson). Instead, the great Metaphysical poets, tenebrous Jacobeans, and Romantic gloomyguts all contribute passages of sombre night-time cogitation. This looks more like an accoutrement for the flour-faced, gore-lipped, raven- locked Goth lifestyle (and a break from those Anne Rice novels) than a coherent package.
According to some critics, most of today's popular culture can fall under the enveloping shroud of a "Gothic" rubric. For a witty, lucid but fanciful essay in this vein, read Mark Edmundson's Nightmare on Main Street (Harvard University Press, pounds 15.50). To Edmundson, Gothic visitations from the buried powers of desire and destruction underpin not just the obvious works - Alfred Hitchcock or Stephen King - but phenomena that stretch from the daytime talk-show (with its victims "haunted" by past loves, abuse or addiction) to the O J Simpson trial. (Simpson has, or is, a doppelganger, and the courts did indeed split persecuted O J Jekyll from "responsible" O J Hyde).
This is fascinating, smartly-written stuff, but you begin to suspect that when one hold-all concept can explain almost everything a bit, it ceases to explain anything very well. Besides, I can't really see dear Oprah as a bloodsucking Gothic harpie, "an apostle of fate worthy of Edgar Allan Poe". Now, Vanessa Feltz...
Life & Style blogs
Ebola outbreak: Why has a disease that's only ever killed 2,000 people captivated the darkest side of our imagination?
Ebola virus: UK health officials issue warning to doctors as experts admit the outbreak 'is not under control'
Topless sunbathing is no longer 'du jour' in France
Watch: Vogue Italia's plus-size models in fetish-inspired lingerie shoot
Ebola: UK is ready to deal with outbreak, says Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
- 1 Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 4 Zayn Malik on Israel-Gaza: One Direction singer bombarded with Twitter death threats after posting #FreePalestine
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
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