chapter  11
12 Pages

IRISH GOTHIC

ByRichard Haslam

Here is the first one. When did ‘Irish Gothic’ enter the critical world? Its birth date remains obscure, but an early perambulation occurred in 1972, when John Cronin discerned in Somerville and Ross’s An Irish Cousin (1889) ‘a social novel struggling to break through the book’s overlay of Irish Gothic’ (27; cited in Kreilkamp 1998: 118). Alluding to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas (1864) and Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800), Cronin implicitly defines ‘Irish Gothic’ as the creation of an ‘atmosphere compounded of equal parts of Brontean Gothic, Le Fanu-like mystification, and Rackrentish disorder’ (27; cited in Kreilkamp 1998: 118). Since Brontë was an Anglo-Irish emigrant’s daughter, Le Fanu was both AngloIrish and Huguenot-descended, and Edgeworth was not Irish-born, Cronin’s allusion raises questions about critical and national classification. For example, how are Irish Gothic works ‘compounded’ of different literary elements? And how should we gauge the relationship between the term’s ‘Irish’ and ‘Gothic’ components? By exploring the changing parameters of ‘Irish Gothic’ over the past three decades, I hope not only to address such questions but also to contribute to a critical idiom that can do justice to the intricate liaisons between literary stances and historical circumstances.