[F]ilthy, bestial, and abominable corruptions: Reassessing Gothicism and Antebellum Reform in The Blithedale Romance
University of Kansas
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My essay will explore the narrating character Miles Coverdale as the primary Gothic subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1852), and moreover it will tie in aspects of the Gothic environment, showing how dungeons and dark corners depicted in the narrative correspond with Coverdale as a maddening figure. My claim is not that Coverdale actually loses his sanity, but that he secludes and excludes himself as a response to a constant threat of institutionalization. I will build on the ideas of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1980), which argues that Gothic structures like castles, tombs, and prison chambers should be read as places of restraint or exclusion. Additionally, I will refer to Julia Kristeva's theory of the abject to elucidate the significance of Coverdale as the "radically excluded" subject and (2), in accordance with that, I will draw on Michel Foucault to claim that Coverdale's confinement to the sick-chamber (a make-shift hospital room, as it were) resembles what Foucault describes as "the hospital for the incurably mad" (41). One important aspect of my argument is to show that Coverdale appears monstrous when he is on the loose, an outcast of the community. Ultimately, I will show that Hawthorne appropriates these gothic conventions to present a social critique of institutional reform on the tenet that reform culture had established unattainable ideals and values for individuals like Coverdale. Christopher Castiglia's Interior States explains that during the 1840s the focus of reform expanded to include individual vices like drinking and gambling in addition to social injustices such as slavery (8). Through his portrayal of Zenobia, Hawthorne explicitly questions the collective issue of women's rights but, as my essay will explore, he more importantly challenges readers to address the developing problem of regulated identities. Understanding Coverdale as the central Gothic figure of Blithedale, then, identifies Hawthorne's larger concerns with the political injustices of reform.
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