Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
English & Film Studies
Faculty of Arts
Michael D. Moore
My dissertation, “Phantoms of Old Forms: The Gothic Mode in the Dramatic Verse of Tennyson and Browning” situates Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning within a lineage of writers who experimented with the Gothic mode in dramatic and verse forms. This study is, in the first instance, an experiment in applying a specific strain of Gothic critical theory, one that addresses issues of gender, to canonical literary materials not ordinarily approached in that light. Definitions of the Gothic are notoriously elusive, and this project is not an assertion that the Gothic is always, in all of its manifestations, about gender. Rather, my project draws on a substantial critical history of Gothic literature that identifies gender dynamics within familial relationships as one of many themes within a much broader constellation of Gothic signifiers, though, I would argue, a prominent and important one.
In particular this project seeks to illustrate how those critical strategies utilized with Gothic fiction can be adapted and extended to the interpretation of poetry. In fact, the shape and focus of this topic were formed out of a need to redress Gothic scholarship's conspicuous, almost exclusive, emphasis on the genre of novelistic fiction with its roots in prose Romance. While new work has appeared on Gothic tales, Gothic serial writing, and Gothic drama, poetry remains the neglected genre in the critical rehistoricizing of that literary mode. With this in mind, the project proposes as a test case the poetry of Tennyson and Browning, chiefly major dramatic works that were rather unfavorably received in their day and are still somewhat problematic today. In doing so, it proposes that a “Gothic” critical framework draws out implicit features of such texts that represent a critique of patriarchal stabilities in Victorian social ideology.
In general terms, Tennyson and Browning, though otherwise more different than alike, shared at least four common points of interest, all of which fell under the purview of early Gothic fiction. Both poets are curious about abnormal emotional and psychological states, though Tennyson is more often associated with the former and Browning more often with the latter. Both poets investigate the troubled relationship between individual identity and larger social structures. Both also relate this trouble to dissonance between and among genders, and lastly, both poets experiment with poetic forms that could give critical expression to this nexus of interrelated concerns.
More particularly, this dissertation investigates how these concerns, especially as they pertain to a crisis of masculinity, are expressed through the language and themes of the Gothic with an emphasis on characters who are caught between the dissolving matrices of old power structures and newer, more mobile forms of signification. By utilizing dramatic forms and a Gothic mode to depict these sets of relationships, Tennyson and Browning obliquely critique the evolving social codes through which masculinity was established, recognized, asserted and maintained. The poems that interest me most are the ones that investigate the unraveling of this social “text” within a moment of broader cultural crisis.
Ackerman, Michael E., "Phantoms of Old Forms: The Gothic Mode in the Dramatic Verse of Tennyson and Browning" (2009). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1073.