“From its inception,” Gerry Turcotte observes, “the Gothic has dealt with fears and themes which are endemic in the colonial experience: isolation, entrapment, fear of pursuit and fear of the unknown.” Explore these themes in the set texts of two authors on the unit.
Henry Lawson – ‘The Drover’s Wife’, ‘The Bush Undertaker’, ‘Hungerford’
Gothic can be described as a genre of English fiction that gained popularity in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. Gothic is usually characterized by a dreadful, usually fearful atmosphere, an isolated setting and characters that appear mysterious in a silent, brooding way. It creates a sense of foreboding, fear and entrapment in the minds of the readers. Novels like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Monk by Matthew Lewis to Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte have acted as the torch-bearers in the field of Gothic (D'Arcens & Louise, 1975-2000). The term ‘Gothic’ itself has been derived from the pseudo-medieval buildings, commonly referred to as Gothic architecture. Various genres of literature ranging from horror to romanticism were explored in Gothic Literature. This can be clearly understood by taking a few examples like ‘The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson’ and ‘A Dreamer by Barbara Baynton’ (Hiatt & Alfred, pp 6-19).
The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson
A classic example of the depiction of isolation and fear of the unknown is found in this story that has been penned down by Australian writer Henry Lawson. Published in the year 1892 by the Bulletin magazine for the first time, the story is about the hardships faced by a woman who is a drover’s wife and lives in a dilapidated hut along with her four little children and their dog whose name is Alligator. The sense of isolation is introduced in the opening paragraph of the story itself as the broken hut, with its kitchen and veranda, is located in the flat countryside with nothing but bush surrounding it for as far as the eye could see. The drover usually stays away from home for long periods of time (Hiatt & Alfred, pp 7-27). With no signs of civilization for nearly nineteen miles from the location of the hut, the drover’s wife, single-handedly manages the household and protects her children from the unknown dangers of the place. The dangers present themselves in many ways, in unpredictable forms (Lawson, pp 59-68). Some days she deals with the floods, or pleuro-pneumonia that killed her cattle, other days a mad bullock that ravaged her already suffering house, the crows and eagles that attack the chickens. The thing that scares her the most is some bushman who turns up on their door to demand money. The story culminates when a venomous snake enters her house and she, along with Alligator the dog, wait out the entire night in apprehension but finally succeed in killing the snake and ensuring the safety of her children. The author creates a sense of alarm and fear among the readers by presenting these situations (Lawson, pp 96 - 115). The drover’s wife, although a very strong character, is trapped in these circumstances and is miserable in her life. Bleak as the setting of the story is, she is also isolated from within. She has gotten used to the loneliness in her life, to the practice of her husband going away for indefinite stretches of time and the unpredictable future. The author has beautifully portrayed the character as one who steals little moments of joy in the face of the foreboding cloud of entrapment and isolation (Lawson, pp 243-248).
A Dreamer by Barbara Baynton
Set in the late eighteenth century, A Dreamer entices the audience by its crude portrayal of fear of the unknown and entrapment of the character, a pregnant woman in this case, in a terrible storm. ‘A dreamer’ is a short story written by Barbara Baynton and published in London in the year 1902. The novel is a grim, yet not unpleasant, realism of the sufferings of the character which one can relate to. The story begins with the character getting down at a railway station in a dark, remote area on a windy night, awaiting the arrival of a buggy. However, the person who was expected to meet her at the station did not turn up and she waited there all alone (Vidal & Mary, pp 97-156). In that isolated state, she decides to walk the distance to her destination which, till this point, is not revealed to the reader. As it turns out, she was visiting her mother at her childhood home and she thought that walking the distance, even on the windy and stormy night should not be a problem as she had grown up there and knew every landmark in the area and every nook and corner along the path. As she marches ahead, the storyline delves into a deeper and darker territory and the readers, in their minds, become apprehensive of her pursuit (Lawson, pp 59-68). The author recounts the series of incidents that went wrong during this walk. Losing her way at the crossroads, tripping over cattle while it was pouring, the forbidding willow tree that scares her badly as unpleasant incidents of the past that terrified her when she was a child come rushing to her, her almost drowning at the swollen creek before she reaches her house keeps the reader on the edges of the seats as fear of what may come next grips them (Wadeson, pp 159-203). The plot holds the attention of the reader at every point as it is unpredictable and unclear as to why the daughter, who is pregnant, is fighting all odds to visit her mother in such a hurry. Phrases like ‘atonement in these difficulties and dangers’ which are used by the daughter rouses curiosity as to what wrong deeds she has committed and what are the sins that she is being punished for. The story climaxes when the daughter finally reaches her childhood home, meets her dog, which does not recognize her and has forgotten the sound of her voice and is greeted by strangers at her own house (Vidal & Mary, pp 101-143). At this point, her pursuit and struggle seems to be in vain till one of the strangers silently leads her to a dark room with only a candle as the source of light. There, she finds her mother dead and unmoving.
By studying the above two examples, one can say that Gothic literature has exploited various fears like those of isolation, entrapment and fear of the unknown to emerge as one of the most popular and widely-read genres of literature.
D'Arcens, Louise. "Andrew McGahan." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume Three Hundred Twenty-Five: Australian Writers, 1975–2000, 2006.
Drexler, Peter, and Andrea Kinsky-Ehritt. "Writing an Alternative Australia: Women and National Discourse in Nineteenth-Century Literature." Pp 1-96
Hiatt, Alfred. "Petrarch's antipodes." Parergon 22.2 ,2005: 1-30.
Lawson, Henry. The Drover's Wife. Arsalan Ahmed, 2002. Pp 59-68
Lawson, Henry. "Hungerford." 1893, pp 50-123
Lawson, Henry. "The bush undertaker." The Bush Undertaker and Other Stories, Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1892. Pp 243-248
Vidal, Mary Theresa. Tales for the Bush. 1846. Pp 97-156
Wadeson, Dale Andrew. Accounting practitioners in rural Australian communities: a phenomenological exploration of social capital, professional role and community expectation. Diss. James Cook University, 2015, pp 1-384.