'Behind Harold’s Bloomsday Book: Gothic Secrets in Literary History'

Simpson, Michael. 2003. 'Behind Harold’s Bloomsday Book: Gothic Secrets in Literary History'. Women: A Cultural Review, 14(3), pp. 229-247. ISSN 0957-4042 [Article]

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Harold Bloom's influential theory of literary influence has been widely regarded as utterly patriarchal, and yet some feminist critics have adapted rather than attacked it. The theory argues that a great poem aggressively rewrites and thereby conceals its precursor in order to appear as completely original. Bloom's theory of precursors invites in its turn an application of itself to itself, and his Anxiety of Influence seems to trail several possible antecedents, such as Shakespeare and Freud. A more powerful precursor, however, is a novel written by a woman: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein . Just as Bloom's theory postulates only fathers replicating themselves through generational struggle and identification, so Mary Shelley's Gothic shocker represses the mother as both a source and an object of desire. What Bloom's theory thus represses behind its model of masculine sublime poets is a feminine Gothic novel. There is, however, a crucial difference: whereas Shelley's novel is profoundly critical of Victor Frankenstein's paternal shortcomings, such overweening Gothic masculinity provides the very basis of Bloom's Anxiety of Influence (1973), conceived as it is in the immediate post-Vietnam era. Such strong revision notwithstanding, behind the strong critic who re-asserts American masculinity after Vietnam stands the madman in the laboratory, and behind him stands the repressed mother, otherwise known to literary history as the Madwoman in the Attic. What she reveals is that literary history is Gothic rather than sublime, and that it will not ultimately cover and compensate for the worst creation of men: war itself. Even the enquiring spirit of the New Historicism emerges as a function of this Gothic exposure.

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English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

15 Sep 2015 15:58

Last Modified:

26 Jun 2017 10:37

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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