Australian Gothic (and its families) – Smith


Anna Smith’s study of how Gary Crew and Sonya Hartnett situate families in their (Australian) Gothic tales is an enjoyable one. Some of her statements which I found appealing include:

“Fear thrives on distorting the familiar: nothing is more terrifying for a child than to find that ghosts, aliens and bad fairies can haunt a real bedroom, a school, a neighbourhood. Making connections between stories and places is thus an integral part of childhood, one could almost say an integral right of growing into one’s culture. That these pathways between imaginative tropes, texts, and places are highly varied, though, is what makes children’s literature so arresting.” (p.131)

“…if the Gothic has any determining feature, it is in its claims to deal with unfinished business: with hauntings, returns, doublings, and with secrets that won’t go away – things  undead, in other words.” (p.133)

Gothic Hospital“…if Gothic Hospital is empty of sick children, it’s simply humming with the baroque fall-out from an oedipal scene. Castration anxiety and fears of a devouring doctor/father figure, and uncanny resemblances between things that are familiar and those weirdly out of place cannot help but affirm the Gothic’s enduring indebtedness to Freudian dysfunctionality. The ambiguity of this latter expression is deliberate. In his early work, Freud never disguised the fact that his interpretation was sired by taking the anomaly and turning it into the narrative of a general, universal condition: a dysfunctional narrative of dysfunctionality, if you will.” (p.136)

It is an accepted convention of the genre that Gothic writers cut figures from the dark imagination of popular, as well as literary culture, which is why the trademark of a Gothic text is the curious, resurrected feel that animates the characters: a trace of that return from the dead (a limp, a stutter, or a coterie of peculiar eccentricities) remains to mark their behaviour with the sign of the made-up.” (p.136)

“It has frequently been said of Gothic tropes that they not only ‘transfer an idea of otherness from the past into the present,’ but because of this action, they inevitably import an anti-historicising context into the contemporary (Sage & Smith 1996: 1).” (p.137)

“Hartnett’s Gothic pays its dues to a different rendition of ‘scary,’ one where the physical and emotional dangers are more real than textual….” (p.134)

“In The Devil Latch, random native objects acquire that menacing resonance traditionally associated with Gothic landscapes. Instead of a pine forest and snow-covered crags, Hartnett offers the glimpse of a nervy bird without tail feathers, oleander leaves that can poison, and Kitten Latch’s antique farm tools perfectly restored.” (p.138)

The Devil latchUnquestionably, the Gothic genre lends itself particularly well to dramatizing narratives of lost and broken families. Contemporary writers for children and teenagers have adopted Gothic chronotopes with the same finesse with which they have appropriated other adult modes of writing. The covert question that drives this paper, however, has little to do with whether we are beginning to see a local [Australian] tradition of children’s writing which could broadly be called Gothic. Rather, it seeks to investigate whether the ‘Gothic’ can stand for anything other than a failed or psychotic family. Do scary narratives, in other words, always have to address – and spring from – scary families?” (p.139)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Anna Smith ’The Scary Tale Looks for a Family: Gary Crew’s Gothic Hospital and Sonya Hartnett’s The Devil Latch’ pp.131-143 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York


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