Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English (PhD)

Degree Level





Lissette Szwydky-Davis

Committee Member

Robert Madison

Second Committee Member

Sean Dempsey


Gothic, Narrative, Nineteenth Century, Reader, Reader Response, Reading


Characterization of nineteenth-century literary Gothic is usually confined to affective response. This project argues that literary Gothic works constitute an intellectual, empirical endeavor. Because authors of literary Gothic intentionally left voids in their narratives, they invited their readers to participate in making narrative through speculation and conjecture about missing information. The practice of Gothic reading makes the reader an active partaker in filling those voids with rational conclusions. Reading is not just textual encounter. Rather, it incorporates making meaning of one’s surroundings. In their experiences, literary works’ characters “read” their environments: people, objects, events, etc. Chapter 1 characterizes Gothic reading as the employment of logical processes; Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland uses induction, deduction and syllogism to make sense of—read—her world. In Chapter 2, Frankenstein presents reading as audience engagement between characters as they tell their stories. Shelley uses sympathy as a social-bonding device in which characters read other characters through listening. Chapter 3 examines Jane Eyre through the motif of the legend of Bluebeard’s House. The house serves as a narrative that Bluebeard’s Wife must read and decode for its danger. With her keys, she can unlock the spaces of that narrative. Standing in for the reader, Jane attempts to unlock Thornfield’s narrative through investigation. Both Jane and the reader use “keys” of unexplainable things to unlock the secrets within the narrative; the Gothic author endows the reader with keys of mysterious objects, people, and events. Reading continually opens up answers. In the final chapter, this project argues for Gothic as detective fiction. In their narrative structure and storylines, Dracula and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde allow for the reader to sleuth out mysteries. Dracula’s Seward and van Helsing perform detective work on Renfield and Dracula, respectively. Additionally, each man represents a different style of reasoning, Seward algorithmic and Helsing heuristic. Meanwhile, Utterson the attorney must play detective to determine the nature of the relationship between Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. All three characters read their environments as part of their detection.