CFP: Trans-National Gothic, 1764-1831.

Posted by Dale Townshend on February 17, 2014 in News tagged with

Compar(a)ison: An International Journal of Comparative Literature: a special issue on Trans-national Gothic, 1764-1831

The notion of ‘Gothic’ presently witnesses, in literary and cultural studies, at least a double acceptation: on the one hand, it may refer to single national (and eminently British) literary experiences, normally located within the time-span between Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and the final edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1831); on the other, it may be used as a broad and all-encompassing critical category (and even the label for sub-cultures of various kinds) beyond national and chronological borders, as well as beyond literary genres and critical definitions such as horror, the fantastic, or the uncanny. Through this call for contributions, we aim to go to the roots of the Gothic as a phenomenon – and therefore to the years 1764-1830 – by stressing, however, its trans-national dimension, through a quintessentially comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. Indeed, the raise of Gothic fiction chronologically corresponds to the so-called ‘second printing revolution’, giving birth to unprecedented possibilities for the circulation of texts; at the same time, this unstable and fluid political moment – from the decades immediately preceding the French Revolution to the one following the Congress of Vienna – determines peculiar and equally unprecedented forms in the dissemination of texts through translations, adaptations, and rewritings, moreover in a historical moment witnessing a still uncertain understanding of such notions as those of copyright and intellectual property. Just to give an example, the collection of ghost stories Fantasmagoriana, anonymously edited by the French geographer Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès in 1812 – and generally renowned for having been the inspiration to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre – is an unauthorized selection from German tales by such authors as Friedrich August Schulze and Johann August Apel, whom Eyriès had probably been in contact with while travelling in Germany on behalf of Talleyrand and Napoleon; whereas, in France, the book pump-primes the publication of such clone-works as Spectriana by J.P.R. Cuisin (1817), Demoniana by Gabrielle de Paban/Collin de Plancy (1820), and Infernaliana by Charles Nodier (1822), in England, in 1813, it witnesses an equally anonymous translation by Sarah Elizabeth Utterson, who interestingly stresses the stories’ continuity with the tradition of the British gothic. This process gives birth to a peculiar case of optical illusion, by which it seems as if Utterson’s translation had made these texts to come back home: although, in England, Gothic fiction was commonly perceived as the imitation of a quintessentially German taste, Apel’s and Schulze’s works – as well as such genres as the Schauerroman – had been remarkably influenced by Ann Radcliffe and M.G. Lewis, while another tale by Johann Karl August Musäus – an author who was equally present in the collection – had been one of the (uncertain) sources for The Monk.

This special issue of Compar(a)isons, edited by Fabio Camilletti (University of Warwick), welcomes proposals addressing questions of translation, adaptation, and metamorphosis of Gothic texts in the years 1764-1830, from a trans-national perspective. Contributions tackling theoretical and methodological issues are particularly welcome, as one of the main aims of this issue is to reassess notions that are too often given for granted – such as those of the ‘fantastic’ or of the ‘uncanny’, or even that of ‘Gothic’ itself – by going beyond the ‘traditional’ corpus of texts (Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis, Shelley, Polidori, Hoffmann, Mérimée…), in order to redefine our critical vocabulary through a direct approach to texts, rather than through the plain superimposition of pre-made categories. Topics may include but are not limited to:

– trans-national circulations of texts; translations, adaptations, rewritings of literary works; issues of intertextuality, plagiarism, and metamorphosis; problems of intellectual property;
– media analyses and issues of material culture; editors, publishers, and literary markets; issues of readership;
– literary genres: definitions and inter-cultural and/or inter-linguistic shifts (e.g.: is ghost story the same thing as Gespenstergeschichte or Gespenstersage?)
– theoretical definitions: Gothic, fantastic, uncanny; Todorov’s distinction between le fantastique and le merveilleux; can a trans-national analysis of Gothic fiction help us in reassessing long-established theoretical categories?
– issues of terminology, e.g.: ghost-Gespenst-revenant/fantôme-fantasma; terror/horror/fear-Schrecken/Angst/Furcht-terreur/horreur/peur-terrore/timore/orrore/paura; the wanderings of such words as ‘imagination’ and their implications in literary, philosophical, and even medical terms;
– circulation of themes between fiction, journalism, essay writing, and oral culture; literary fiction being metamorphosed into fait divers, or anecdotes and folklore legends incorporated into literary works (as Lewis and Musäus do with the legend of the ‘Bleeding Nun’);
– the Gothic and the Enlightenment: negotiations between rationality and the irrational in a disenchanted world, as well as between science and superstition; the role of literature as a subversive space for the survival of ancient beliefs through a willing suspension of disbelief; interrelations between Gothic fiction and scientific and pseudo-scientific writings on the supernatural;
– issues of nation-building and cultural-geographical stereotypes: the Gothic as a ‘Northern’ phenomenon, opposed to Mediterranean ‘rationality’, rooted in an alleged continuity with the Greco-Roman world; the Gothic as a survival of national folklore and its implications in terms of cultural identity; projection of Gothic settings and situations on cultural contexts that are deliberately constructed as spaces of ‘otherness’.

Please send an abstract (500 words maximum, in English) together with a brief bio-bibliographical profile to Fabio Camilletti ( by 15 March 2014. Notifications will be sent by the end of March. Length of final articles (in English) will be between 6000 and 8000 words. Deadline for finished articles is 1 October 2014.

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