Gothic Narrative as Psychoanalytic Event

Steven Bruhm

The University of Western Ontario

F 9:30 am-12:30 pm

Winter 2009

Freud’s 1919 essay “The Uncanny” is the most frequently quoted psychoanalytic text in discussions of the Gothic, laying out the psychological investments in repression and the horrors of the return of the repressed.  However, the emphasis on a repressed “thing” or “event” to which the Gothic seems to gesture has created a too-easy template for naming and diagnosing, a template that psychoanalysis wants to trouble as much as to deploy.  Moreover, the traditional privileging of the Uncanny also neglects a number of other crucial ideas in Freud, ideas that illuminate much in Gothic narrative.  This one-term course addresses a wide range of Gothic fictions through a psychoanalytic lens.  We will look not only at the theory of repression, but also at the importance of identification, symptom formation, and repudiation in the formation of the ego.  What Gothic texts demonstrate in these psychic mechanisms is a number of crises that have come to structure western culture: crises in paternal and maternal identification, mandatory yet forbidden homosociality, the narcissistic investments of child-rearing, and perhaps most importantly, the production of language that attempts to describe an unconscious that it can never adequately portray.  Ultimately the psychoanalytic events recorded in or created by the Gothic will offer us a critique of our culture’s strategies of normalizing.

Required texts:

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Norton)

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin)

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw (Oxford)

King, Stephen. The Dark Half (Signet)

Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire (Ballantine)

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein (Broadview)

Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto (Penguin)


Demme, Jonathon (dir.), The Silence of the Lambs

Friedkin, William (dir.), The Exorcist

--Plus readings to be kept in the English Department Office

Course Evaluation:

Teaching Presentation:15%

Short Essay  (8-10 pp)25%

Major Essay (15 pp.) 40%

In-class Participation10%

Blog Participation10%


Professor Steven Bruhm
University College 378
The University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7
519.661.2111 ext. 85837