By Anna Williams
Directions: read the plots below and determine whether they describe a Gothic novel or grad school.
- A young woman finds herself irreparably distanced from her family and loved ones, holed up in a once-glorious edifice that’s now decaying from years of neglect. She’s not really sure how to escape, but she suspects it has something to do with appeasing the angry egotist who controls her and everyone around her.
- A young man grows up fascinated with the natural world. He spends a lot of time alone, discovering things. One day he discovers something remarkable that ignites his intellectual curiosity, but when he shows it to a paternal figure who supposedly knows more than he does, he’s rudely dismissed. He feels ashamed for liking the thing in the first place, but also angry and misunderstood, so he sets out to make something that will prove the paternal figure wrong. He succeeds, but then he doesn’t show anyone because he’s too scared of being shamed again.
- A young woman finds herself irreparably distanced from her family and loved ones, so she embarks on a quest for self-improvement. She faces great personal hardship and puts herself through many trials to test her own character. (Read: she’s really fucking hard on herself.) She becomes a teacher, and because she’s so hard on herself, she’s also hard on her students. They begin to hate her. She falls in love with the meanest teacher in the school because she equates moral goodness with personal sacrifice and harsh judgment.
- A young boy finds himself in rough circumstances that were created by a nation’s prejudice against his entire ethnic group. He gets ‘rescued’ from those circumstances only to find himself isolated in an insular, white, upper middle-class community. Being neither white nor middle-class, he’s treated like an alien. Even after he learns to speak their language, none of the white people seem to realize they should just shut up and listen to him, except for one. He comes to trust her deeply. She betrays him.
- A young woman finds herself irreparably distanced from her family and loved ones. She’s punished for showing any sign of emotion, so she learns to repress all of her feelings. She has a sneaking suspicion there’s something badly wrong in her place of employment, but everyone tells her she’s just imagining things. They’ve been there much longer than she has, after all. It turns out she was right, and eventually the whole place burns to the ground.
How’d you do?
- The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (1794), and also grad school
- Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818), and also grad school
- Villette by Charlotte Brontë (1853), and also grad school
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1851), and also grad school
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847), and also grad school
*Quiz shamelessly inspired by this piece from McSweeney’s.
Anna Williams earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa in 2019, producing the first-ever podcast dissertation. Titled My Gothic Dissertation, the project is part literary analysis and part audio documentary, comparing the pursuit of a Ph.D. to being trapped in a Gothic novel. You can subscribe to My Gothic Dissertation on Lyceum or wherever you get your podcasts.
Anna’s article ‘Grad School Gothic: The Mysteries of Udolpho and the Academic #MeToo Movement‘ appeared in July 2020’s issue of Gothic Studies, the journal of the International Gothic Association that covers the field of Gothic studies from the eighteenth century to the present day, providing an international platform for dialogue and cultural criticism in the sphere of Gothic from within every period and media form.