13. “Gigantic Paradox, Too … Monstrous for Solution”: Nightmarish Democracy and the Schoolhouse Gothic from “William Wilson” to The Secret History

  1. Charles L. Crow
  1. Sherry R. Truffin

Published Online: 13 SEP 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118608395.ch13

A Companion to American Gothic

A Companion to American Gothic

How to Cite

Truffin, S. R. (2013) “Gigantic Paradox, Too … Monstrous for Solution”: Nightmarish Democracy and the Schoolhouse Gothic from “William Wilson” to The Secret History, in A Companion to American Gothic (ed C. L. Crow), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118608395.ch13

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 SEP 2013
  2. Published Print: 25 NOV 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470671870

Online ISBN: 9781118608395

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Keywords:

  • Class;
  • Democracy;
  • Enlightenment;
  • Education;
  • Poe;
  • Edgar Allan;
  • Schoolhouse Gothic;
  • The Secret History;
  • Tartt;
  • Donna

Summary

To review the history of the Gothic as counter-Enlightenment discourse, albeit an ambivalent one, is to see the suitability, if not the inevitability, of the Gothic treatment of education and educators. Presumably benign institutions, schools may seem more like unfeeling bureaucracies, brainwashing factories, militaristic zones, or lawless waste lands. Ostensibly democratizing, leveling meritocracies that create conditions for social mobility and prepare students for citizenship in an egalitarian nation, American schools nevertheless remain resistant to democracy and often reproduce rather than challenge the existing class structure. They may, therefore, appear frustratingly classless to the elite and forbiddingly or tantalizingly aristocratic to the middle or working classes. Such tensions animate two works of the Schoolhouse Gothic, Edgar Allan Poe's “William Wilson” (1839) and Donna Tartt's The Secret History (1991), texts whose protagonists emerge from school damaged and dangerous, texts in which the promise of democratizing education becomes a grimly parodic threat.