Southern Gothic is an exciting genre that embraces Gothic topics and puts them in a modern-day American South context. Gothic literature first got its beginning in early 18th-century England, when writers were trying to explain the problems that they observed in traditional society. In order to deal with these issues, they turned to their dark and brooding mythology and came up with characters like Vampires and the undead. This is still the genre that many people associate with horror writers like John Keats, because of its dark fantasy elements.
But while this particular genre has always been in use, it has only become popular in recent years. This is mostly due to the efforts of female writers. Women such as Anna Deavere Smith, who wrote several books of southern Gothic fiction, have helped to bring this style into the mainstream. In her “The Necromancer”, she took ancient myths and tales about vengeful ghosts, demons and the supernatural and presented them as true stories. Her work, along with the works of other women such as Julieinker, Ann Tranter, Beverly Barton and others, has helped to revitalize this once-feared and generally misunderstood genre.
The most notable female writer to come from the southern Gothic tradition is Angie Lord. An exceptional example of a sultry southern Gothic writer, Lord wrote under a pen name, writing some of her most controversial and downright bloody novels. But whether you agree with her ideas or not, it’s obvious that she made a lasting impression on the readers. Like many of the sultry writers of this time, she too had a Gothic twist to her style. She was a gore girl at heart, who enjoyed dressing in the latest fashions.
Other notable authors of the goth genre include Anne Rice, who wrote the vampire romance “HRATCH” (which later became “HRAS”). Rice is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Coraline’s maternal owner, the Countess Bleakness. Yet despite this notoriety, Rice still managed to create some truly bizarre characters. Such as the half human, half demon hulking menace in “HRATCH”. Rice also managed to make the absurd seem real, painting her characters with the same gruff, humorless expressions that would later be picked up and incorporated into the genre.
Then there’s the fictional Southern Gothic writer, William Faulkner, whose own literary output leaves many of us wondering if he was actually bitten by a rotted frog. For years “The Sound of Sighs” was the title of a short story, but it wasn’t until just before his death that a great deal of effort was devoted to researching the life of the author, to discover if he in fact swallowed a rotted frog. Faulkner managed to turn “The Sound of Sighs” into a masterpiece of southern Gothic literature, with its dark and twisted tale of the loneliness and corruption felt by the poor people of the hill country communities of the American south.
The most prolific of modern southern Gothic literature has been the work of one Charles Morritz. Few scholars are as well-known and respected as scholars such as Edward Said, John Milton, Robert Frost, Edith Head, or even those such as Edward Said (who was a practicing Muslim and took great pride in his heritage). But Morritz is perhaps most well-known for being the coiner of the word “goth”. Ironically, while the word had virtually no place in the academia of America, it was embraced and used by the very people who sought to erase it from the language – the Southerners who were trying to conserve the tradition of their ancestors.
In his masterpiece “A Deep Vultures Skin”, Morritz portrayed the depraved, disgusting, and often sadistic characters of his time in horrifying detail. His vivid portrayal not only of the ugliness of the south, but also of the carnality and avarice that permeated much of southern goth. Indeed, much of Said’s work would be considered racist in today’s eyes, given the subject matter. But in Morritz’s day, that was part of the point. He wanted his readers to feel the graphic realities of the south – and while he was repressed and discriminated against by those who didn’t agree with him, he was, like all of his predecessors, repressed and discriminated against by those who did.
Today, that is unlikely to happen, since nearly every major publishing house and many online bookstores now carry at least some southern Gothic and post-colonialist poetry. Some of the more notable poets include Robert Burns (famous for his Requiem for a Lost Lamb), Robert E. Howard, Emily Dickinson, and Jamaica Kincaid. Of course, as with any literature, there are both good and bad, and most will find themselves categorized in between or even in between genres. Certainly, there is an abundance of beautiful and unsettling prose to be found in the black diaries, and while horror and Gothic fiction are now more common than ever, southern Gothic literature continues to be a force to be reckoned with. And that will continue to be a good thing, because the genre is only just getting started.