Review: The Gothic Child (Palgrave Gothic Series)

Posted by Donna Mitchell on March 20, 2015 in Blog, Donna Mitchell, Reviews tagged with , , , , ,

The Gothic Child.

By Margarita Georgieva.

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

ISBN: 978-1-137-30606-7

Reviewed by Donna Mitchell

The Gothic Child The Gothic Child offers a thoughtful and comprehensive discussion on the child in gothic literature using the genre’s treatment of this figure as an idea, concept, and/or memory within a text, as captured in Georgieva’s claim that ‘[t]he gothic world is, in fact, the world of childhood’ (Georgieva 60). Georgieva discusses the typical portrait and nature of the gothic child and traces its development both structurally and thematically by initially concentrating her study on primary sources from the first wave of gothic (1764-1824). However, her later inclusion of contemporary horror films creates a significant link between the two periods of gothic in order to emphasise how both portray the figure of the child as a receiving vessel and to investigate the significance of this uncertain identity.

The study begins by exploring the complexity of the term ‘child’ when considered outside of its contemporary context and also explains the different figures to which it is attached in earlier literature. This subsequently describes how various forms of the child’s identity in a gothic text can relate to either its innocent heroine or its childishly impulsive villain. Furthermore, Georgieva suggests that that the genre’s classification of children can be divided between those who function as supporting elements of gothic landscapes in the form of dead babies or child corpses, and those who act as main characters that contribute to the overall plot development. At this point the unstable nature of the child’s figure arises as the discussion focuses on his/her ability to trade in his/her childish form for that of an adult.

 The overall significance of the child’s influence on the structure of the gothic plot is considered in terms of how the story-line of a typical gothic novel often centres around a child who therefore functions as a carrier of the story. The child can even exist through an absence that leads to the creation of unhappy protagonists. Georgieva elaborates on the importance of the child in the gothic text through her declaration that the presence of children can be seen as a promise of continuity of the gothic family as well as the gothic novel itself. Additionally, she proposes that the gothic novel may be regarded as a child itself in terms of how it is considered a beloved child/progeny to its author/creator.

Georgieva’s detailed analysis of the children in the accompanying artwork of early gothic texts, in addition to her examination of Radcliffe’s savage children, Blake’s use of the child as a transcendental figure, the ghost child of Blair’s poetry and other monstrous children, confirms the chameleon-like quality of the child as a textual concept. The burden of parenthood is also explored through the simultaneous themes of infertility and the abandonment or death of children that are so common in the gothic genre. The link between children and death is further interpreted through the child’s loss of its parents and his/her consequent grief. The child’s own experience with death and his/her re-birth through a near death experience also feature in this section of Georgieva’s research. Separation of parents and child also occurs in the form of rebellion whereby the child challenges his/her position within the fragile gothic family structure. The vulnerability and co-dependence of all family members is considered in order to emphasise the notion that the preservation of the child is among the most widespread concerns within the gothic novel (Georgieva 130). Related themes such as monstrous mother figures and infanticide in literature as a reflection of real-life happenings during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are also included in this part of the discussion.

The child’s presence and influence on religious or spiritual themes is examined through the gothic novel’s ability to use him/her for good or evil purposes. This is found in plots such as Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer where children can be used as biblical or sexual sacrifices either for the sins of the father or in the Name of the Father. Vampire children and their role as colonial or political metaphors are thoroughly analysed in addition to the figure of the savage Eastern child and its distinctive link to religious and political themes. These demonstrate the versatility of the child in terms of its ability to exist within the text as a concrete character as well as a universal concept, which Georgieva argues is one of the main reasons why the gothic novel is doubly bound to the gothic child.

Contemporary horror films are considered in relation to the importance of the child’s perception of gothic architecture and surroundings, which in turn creates the desired atmosphere of the genre. Finally, the analysis turns to the horror film’s treatment of children as dolls or other objects of terror that further add to the ominous setting. Georgieva’s connection between the use of the child in early gothic literature and contemporary horror films confirms its importance as a fundamental element of the genre who, despite extensive reinterpretations, has never lost its appeal to its audience.

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