My reading list is all a bit dark and Gothic at the moment, something that has only a little to do with having moved near to Strawberry Hill House. As well as being a change from my normal tastes, it has also nudged me to remember a lengthy conversation I had about a housemateâs lecture, back in my student days, concerning the Caribbean and Gothic literature.
Not long after Horace Walpole, author of âThe Castle of Otranto,' advocated attempts to âblend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern,â [p. 9, 1765 edition, Shelfmark: C.40.c.24] authors of Gothic fiction frequently looked to the spaces of Britainâs colonies for frightening and surreal inspiration. In the Caribbean this could be found in the horrors and social conflicts that were an ever-present part of slavery and the plantation system; race, landscape, social order and sexual desire, overt concerns of many British and Caribbean colonials, were used as narrative drivers. The Library holds a significant collection of works which use Caribbean locations or people to create the above effect, including, Charlotte Smithâs, âThe Story of Henriettaâ [in âThe Letters of a Solitary WandererâŠ,' 1800, Shelfmark: RB.23.a.31619], Cynric Williamsâ âHamel, the Obeah Manâ [1827, Shelfmark: N.470] and many others.
The relationship between Gothic literature and the Caribbean is not one-note, however. The Caribbean was used to highlight metropolitan anxieties but Gothic styles were also used to illustrate the horrors of the plantation economy. For example, âThe History of Mary Prince' [Shelfmark: 8157.bbb.30] uses Gothic stylistic conventions to expose the horrors of slavery; although it is noted by critics that the essence of Gothic writing can mean that the power of such writing is also reduced and sanitised through the use of these conventions.
This work (James Mursell Phillippo, Jamaica, its past and present state, 1843) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions. [Shelfmark: 1304.h.4.]
The dynamic between place and literature also changes over time, with postcolonial novels such as âWide Sargasso Seaâ [Shelfmark: X.908/15430] not only commenting on the postcolonial Caribbean but reinterpreting works which used the Caribbean to drive part of their narrative [in this case âJane Eyreâ, Shelfmark: 12619.g.10]. Such work is not restricted to the Anglophone Caribbean, however - Francophone and Hispanic authors have also attempted to grapple with postcolonial realities through Gothicised abstractions, with works such as âLa cathĂ©drale du mois dâaoĂ»tâ [1980, Shelfmark: X.958/8996; trans. 1987, Shelfmark: Nov.1988/249] and âDel rojo de su sombraâ [1992, Shelfmark: YF.2008.a.11557; trans. 2001, Shelfmark: H.2003.3535] tackling aspects of politics, religion and culture in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
This is a taster of a large collection and area of study, with much left unmentioned â including, since youâre probably thinking of it, Zombies. I can recommend digging around on Explore the British Library, and reading Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebertâs contribution to âThe Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fictionâ [2002, Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.14753] if you want to know more.