A few months ago I wrote a post on Horace Walpole‘s The castle of Otranto which is regarded as a pioneer in the Gothic novel tradition. I thought then that it would be good to explore how the Gothic translated to Australia where we have no castles in which the supernatural can rattle and clang. Australia though had (and has) plenty to inspire a Gothic imagination: strange unforgiving nightmarish landscapes, weird vegetation and imaginary creatures. Moreover, Australia was colonised by the British in the late 18th-early 19th centuries, the time when Gothic novels were at the height of their popularity in Britain.
Consequently, many of Australia’s 19th century writers did incorporate the Gothic into their writing, and today I’ll list just few (but it will be little more than a list as I’ve been away the last two weekends and am playing catchup in pretty much every aspect of my life.)
The following are just some of the authors whose writings are regularly included in Gothic anthologies or in discussions of an Australian Gothic tradition:
- Barbara Baynton
- Marcus Clarke
- Henry Lawson
- Rosa Praed (who, like Ada Cambridge, is not as well known as she should be, which is something I have been planning to – and will – rectify)
- Price Warung. I reviewed his Tales of the early days, a couple of years ago. One of the tales, “The Pegging-Out of Overseer Franke”, is commonly included in Australian Gothic anthologies. It tells the story of revenge against a cruel overseer of convicts … and explores the fine line between definitions of man and beast when cruelty and revenge become the modus operandi.
19th century Australian writers didn’t always need the supernatural to convey horror, evoke fear and portray disjunction between desire/hope and harsh reality. They had the forbidding Australian landscape, the threat of becoming lost in or being destroyed by that landscape, and the harsh unyielding authority of colonial male power. Who needed castle ghosts in this situation? This is not to say that the supernatural never appeared in Australian writing, but that this writing could, and often did, convey a Gothic sense of horror and dread through the concrete realities of 19th century Australian life. It’s fascinating to see what happened to the Gothic tradition in the second half of the 20th century (in, say, the work of Elizabeth Jolley) but that is a topic for another day.