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Keywords:

  • prison architecture;
  • prison literature;
  • Gothic

Abstract

In relation to the early American penal experiment, we might imagine an unbroken line of development that takes us from William Penn's code of 1682 through to the monumental structures of the Jacksonian era. These were to be sources of civic pride and would locate the penitentiary as a utopic site (Rothman 1990). However, at each stage of this evolution of imprisonment, there was a Gothic undercurrent. In analysing these early penitentiaries, their architecture and the popular literature relating to them, we can begin to unpack the ongoing construction of the ‘place myth’ of the prison within the penal imagination.