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Haunted Harvests: Agriculture and the American Gothic

PATCHETT, ALICE,HILARY (2023) Haunted Harvests: Agriculture and the American Gothic. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 20 November 2026.


From Washington Irving’s use of the pumpkin to evoke terror and spectrality in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ (1820), to Stephen King’s choice of the Nebraska cornfields as the setting for ritual slaughter in ‘Children of the Corn’ (1977), crops in various forms have arrested the American Gothic imagination in striking and enduring ways. This thesis explores Gothic depictions of crops in US fiction and film, and in doing so sheds light on how the American Gothic imagination has responded to a series of critical moments in colonial and national agricultural history. Using corn, pumpkins, and sugar as case studies which dramatize this, the project establishes that each crop is powerfully evocative of a specific area of American history. I investigate how the American Gothic imagination has connected these crops, in turn, with anxieties and ambivalences surrounding contemporary modes of agricultural production, in texts ranging from nineteenth-century novels long accepted as central to a national Gothic canon – and which, themselves, are informed by an earlier American Gothic imaginative landscape - to subsequent works of Gothic fiction and its generic offshoots. Moreover, this thesis posits that certain tensions which are central to the American Gothic – namely involving the interplay between past and present, surface and subterranean, and order and disorder – are inherently evocative of, and informed by, agricultural dynamics to an extent which has never been fully recognised. This experimental methodology, which sees texts placed into dialogue with one another based on their depictions of specific crops, plots a new course through American Gothic fiction and film, uncovering the contexts in which certain crops have become signifiers of the disquieting, the sinister and the violent, and reflecting on what this investigation tells us about the broader relationship between the American Gothic and agricultural history.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Agriculture, American Gothic
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:20 Nov 2023 14:47

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