Faculty of Arts


Theory and the Gothic

Please note: this is archived course information from 2019 for ENGLISH 321.


This course opens a door to the cellar. It is about the horrible, tormented, perverse world of the Gothic – and the pleasure we take in going there, book after book, film after film. We read many of the classic Gothic texts of the Nineteenth Century, view many classic films of the Twentieth and discuss the competing claims of psychoanalysis, new historicism, post-colonialism and queer studies in accounting for the appeal and significance of Gothic texts.

Our primary texts can be loosely organised into blocks treating a number of standard Gothic motifs. We begin with novels and films about "Making Humans" — most especially Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and its film adaptations — followed by H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau and, later, the movie Splice. A section on "The Undead" explores the threat — or the appeal — of the vampiric kiss in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its 1930 and 1992 film versions. We move from vampires to zombies with Night of the Living Dead — a film channelling the politics and paranoias of America in the 1960s. A number of texts involve gothic doubles and twins. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Single White Female introduce psychoanalytic theories of paranoia and narcissism, along with new historicist studies into the psychopathology of deviance. These themes are further explored in a section devoted to the master of horror, Edgar Allen Poe. We read his classic tales of imagination and detection and view the influential film adaptation, The Pit and the Pendulum. A section on "Ghosts" examines Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw alongside Robert Wise’s The Haunting, a film that opens up especially well to contemporary psychoanalytical approaches.The course itself concludes with some classic examples of Kiwi Gothic: David Ballantyne’s Sydney Bridge Upside Down and two films directed by Alison Maclean, the short film Kitchen Sink and the feature Crush. Maclean’s films, along with Cat People and several other texts mentioned above, might be re-bundled under the heading of "Female Gothic" — one of several recurring themes in a course that aims to draw on the richness of the Gothic in order to develop students’ capacity to process theoretical and critical argument.

"Theory & the Gothic" is taught by staff from English and Media, Film, TV. It is available to students enrolled in either programme of study.

Availability 2019

Not offered in 2019; planned for 2020


Lecturer(s) Associate Professor Alex Calder
Associate Professor Misha Kavka


Prescribed Literary Texts: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818 ed., Oxford World Classics); Bram Stoker, Dracula, (Oxford World Classics); H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, (Penguin); Robert Louis Stephenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Oxford World Classics); Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oxford World Classics); Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Tales (Oxford World Classics); Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (Oxford World Classics); David Ballantyne, Sydney Bridge Upside Down (Penguin).

Prescribed Viewing: Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1931); Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (Branagh, 1994); Nosferatu(dir. F.W. Murnau, 1922); Dracula (dir. Tod Browning, 1930; dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1992); Single White Female (dir. Barbet Schroeder, 1992); Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, dir. Rouben Mamoulian, 1931); Dead Ringers (Cronenberg, 1988); The Pit and the Pendulum(dir. Roger Corman, 1961); The Haunting (dir. Robert Wise, 1963); Cat People (dir. Jacques Tournier, 1962); Night of the Living Dead (dir. George A. Romero, 1968); Splice (dir. Vincenzo Natali, 2009); The Strength of Water (dir. Armagan Ballantine, 2009); Kitchen Sink (dir. Alison Maclean, 1989).

A collection of key critical readings and additional materials will be available on Cecil.

Recommended Reading

Andrew Bennet and Nicholas Royle, Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory, 3rd ed. (London: Prentice Hall, 2004); Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Darryl Jones, Horror: A Thematic History in  Fiction and  Film, (London: Hodder, 2002); Jerrold E. Hogle, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Gothic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); David Punter, A Companion to the Gothic (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2000).


Coursework + exam


ENGLISH 321: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II

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