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How is a Raven like a Writing Desk? or An Attempt to Compare Gothic and Young Adult Novels(16 Sep 2014)
By Miss Meghanne Flynn
Hello everyone, my name is Meghanne Flynn and I am entering my second year of a Ph.D. in Children’s Literature at the University of Cambridge.
When people think of Gothic, it is typically in terms of “Adult” entertainments, such as horror films. In actuality, Gothic shares a great deal with Children’s Literature. Both are full of forbidden spaces, absent parents, “monstrous” or changing bodies, and exploration of the unknown.
Much like Ms. Rachey Taylor who posted on this blog last month, my research largely focuses on gender and Gothic Monsters. I am trying to give a literary context to the trend in contemporary Young Adult Supernatural Romance novels by studying it in light of the Gothic novels of the nineteenth century particularly through the different uses of monsters and the ‘monstrous’.
My research has led me to consider whether the original Gothic novels are a kind of proto-text for Young Adult novels.
In terms of narrative, both Young Adult and Gothic tend to have young, female protagonists (always attractive, although most often unselfconscious of it) with one or more absent parents (they can be dead, bad parents, or just really, really busy) who has been recently removed to an unfamiliar place (Castle, countryside, secret underground city of the dead, for example), living in a state of relative freedom or independence, on the cusp of developing a significant romantic attachment, who must negotiate a relationship with the dominant power structure (Catholic Church, School Administrators, Vampire High Council, whatever) which eventually leads to increased knowledge about her self/family and a rise in social status (she’s adopted, she has a long lost brother, she is actually the heir to a throne, etc. The fantastic nature of these elements can actually be the same in both genres of books). Both genres frequently come into contact with the supernatural. Both genres typically incorporate a Shadow Male/Other Woman who represent what is both monstrous and attractive according to the social norms. Both genres often utilise an exploration of space as a metaphor for exploration of the body or self (for both sets of books this exploration can be read as emblematic of a quest for sexual knowledge and expressions of fear regarding it).
It is difficult to determine the extent of influence between Gothic novels and Young Adult, when several of these narrative points are emblematic of other genres as well. For example, both Gothic and Young Adult typically involve Romance. The Romance genre is another which strongely features female protagonists, the female’s rise in social status and the Shadow Male/Other Women. Or the Young Adult genre shares many narrative elements with Children’s Literature, in which the child protagonist must be removed from the known (often by the absence of parents) in order to explore the world and gain knowledge. Is it too hasty to assume that the Young Adult novels are more influenced by the Gothic than other genres of literature?
It has been suggested that the experience of being a Young Adult is inherently Gothic in nature. This would perhaps explain why the original Gothic novels of the late 18th and early 19th centuries attracted a young audience of females, such as those lampooned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. But beyond reading audience, both genres contain at least two elements without which it would be impossible to define them as either Gothic or Young Adult: transgression and uncertainty.
Perhaps it is less important to analyse from where these elements come, and instead, as Henry H.H. Remak suggests, focus on the questions of, “what was retained and what was rejected, and why, and how was the material absorbed and integrated and with what success?”. It is less important to prove a direct link between Gothic novels and Young Adult novels than it is to examine what has been retained and what has been discarded.
Agree? Disagree? Have a mad idea of your own? Respond in the comments section below!