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For many, the opening swells of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor” (1703-1707) will immerse them immediately in the world of classical music. But for most people, a rather more sinister image is conjured up—perhaps (pre-Lloyd Weber), the Phantom of the Opera, pining for his loved one. Disfigured, injured by society and nature, wounded in body and soul, the Phantom broods on his tragic fate, dreaming of love and music, which he will conjoin in a grotesque fugue that will culminate in kidnapping and murder.

A tad melodramatic, perhaps, but then again, for connoisseurs of the Gothic, this will no doubt strike a chord. A thunderstorm, threatening in the background, complements the image, yet another in a long line of “atmospherics,” which have become quintessentially associated with the Gothic and its haunted landscape.

Of course, few would disagree that Gothic landscapes can be dark and sinister. What surprised many when this essay was first appeared was the thought that this Gothic landscape could be in any way Australian. This essay, and the radio program it developed out of, originated from an early interest in charting a comparative theoretics examining colonial Gothic fiction in Australia and Canada and its postcolonial developments. The work began as a PhD thesis that appeared in 1990. When I told people of my research interest, I was often met with disbelief. “Surely there’s not much Australian Gothic Literature,” I was told by one researcher studying Christina Stead. Another, who had just read through Hal Porter’s short stories, suggested that the Gothic was all in my mind. A British scholar I met on a guided tour of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney thought I was mad. Australia was “provincial,” he assured me, but “Gothic” never. So we visited the University of Sydney where I pointed out a Kangaroo Gargoyle on one of the principal towers of the main quadrangle—all of which, like Saint Mary’s Cathedral, is built in the Gothic style. And just for good measure, I read him a passage from Barbara Baynton’s Bush Studies (1902).

ISBN 81-902282-1-8


Reading Down Under: Australian Literary Studies may be accessed as a Google Book from the National Library of Australia here

The Author:

Professor Gerry Turcotte