“This isn't exactly a ghost story”: Edith Wharton and Parodic Gothic
|JANET BEER a1 and AVRIL HORNER a2|
a1 Dean of Humanities and Pro-Vice Chancellor at Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, England.
a2 School of Humanities at Kingston University, London, England.
Edith Wharton's ghost stories have usually been seen as skilful appropriations of the Gothic that allowed her, in Kathy Fedorko's words, to dramatise “the conflict between male and female selves in a ‘dialogue with the unconscious.’” They are also vehicles through which she expresses not only her indebtedness to her precursors in the Gothic mode, such as the Brontës, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sheridan Le Fanu, but also her independence from them. In this article we shall argue that some of Wharton's ghost stories contain a further dimension, beyond allusion, where they shift into a parodic and humorous strain that enables her to engage self-reflexively with the Gothic tradition. Here we define parody as a literary mode that, whilst engaging with a target text or genre, exhibits a keen sense of the comic, an acute awareness of intertextuality and an engagement with the idea of metafiction. This is a deliberately generous and inclusive definition that differs, for example, from some postmodern definitions of parody which (perhaps in an attempt to elevate its cultural function) minimise or excise the importance of comedy as an aspect of parody. We would suggest, furthermore, that it differs from travesty, pastiche and satire in that travesty reduces the target text to something ludicrous, pastiche “works by imitation rather than direct transformation” and satire does not necessarily engage with precursive texts.