Dr Vaidehi Nathan
The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction, Nick Groom, Oxford University Press, Pp 163, $11.95
“TYPE ‘Gothic’ into Google and you get over 250 million hits: images of ecclesiastical architecture, websites devoted to ‘bone chilling’ literature, and opportunities to purchase alternative footwear.” That’s how variedly the word Gothic is understood. Attempting to write a short introduction to the word in itself is unnerving. And yet, Nick Groom has done it in his The Gothic A Very Short Introduction. Gothic, the emergence and spread of it is inter-twined into the history of Church in England. The term Gothic has got distorted or has been claimed by such divergent connotations as dreams and ghosts, guilt and shame, macabre and even analyzing social taboos and sexual politics. Goths incidentally are a German tribe and were early on associated with violent uncouthness.
Architecture is what comes to the mind first when we say Gothic. It is easily the single most ‘style’ which influenced many a buildings’ constructions. The most identifiable feature of a Gothic architecture is lancet window (narrow, tall window with an arch at the top). Till then, the windows had tended to be small and insignificant. Gothic architecture influenced different people in different ways. The French finish and the English finish were different and yet had ‘Gothic’ in common.
Nick Groom goes on to discuss the poetry and literature, which were influenced by the Gothic. “The century’s (8th) obsession with vampires emerges from the Gothicization of science. Just as the Enlightenment’s thirst for empirical understanding was made Gothic by the notations of forbidden or dangerous knowledge, so William Harvey’s work on the circulation of blood, discoveries in electricity, the fashion for craniology (phrenology), the effect of drugs, and Darwinian evolution all became Gothic—a particularly medical form of the Gothic.”
The conclusion Groom makes is this: “Goth is therefore a lifestyle choice for an alternative culture that now covers not only hairstyles and clothes, music and art, but also, beliefs and philosophy (primarily the occult and the anarchic, although there are plenty of Christian Goths), sexuality, and body modification..”
After reading the book, the next time one sees Goth, one should be able to recognise it. Nick Groom is Professor in Chair in English at the University of Exeter and is the author and editor of many books.
(Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6DP, United Kingdom)