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Carso, Kerry Dean. "Reading the Gothic: American Art and Architecture in the Age of Romantic Literature, 1800-1850," American Studies, Boston University, May 2001.
This dissertation analyzes the impact Gothic novels and historical romances had on American art and architecture between 1800 and 1850. The study of American Gothic Revival architecture has been limited generally to formal analyses and attempts to see the style as prefiguring later architectural movements. Rather than analyze Gothic Revival architecture in light of proto-modernist innovations, this dissertation aims to place the style within the intellectual climate of its time. Chapter one initiates this methodology in the field of painting by analyzing the work of American Romantic painter Washington Allston in light of his literary tastes. This analysis demonstrates that Allston was haunted by the Gothic throughout his life’s work, despite his dismissal of what he called his youthful “banditti mania.” Chapter two shows that many other prominent Americans, including artists, architects, and clients, were readers of Gothic novels and historical romances, and that their reading-often enhanced by European travel-influenced their artistic production. Key figures in the second chapter include Alexander Jackson Davis, Robert Gilmor III, James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Thomas Cole. Using American actor Edwin Forrest’s Fonthill Castle as a case study, the third chapter delineates the connections between Gothic Revival architecture and theatrical performance, arguing that the Gothic Revival style relies on spectacle and disguise to create semi-fictional spaces in which dramatic events are staged. Finally, the fourth chapter examines Nathaniel Hawthorne’s houses: both his fictional House of the Seven Gables, and the only home he ever owned, the Wayside Concord, Massachusetts. Hawthorne articulated the subject of this dissertation when he wrote that he could understand Sir Walter Scott’s romances better after viewing Scott’s Gothic Revival house Abbotsford, and he understood the house better for having read the romances. This study investigates the this symbiotic relationship between the arts and Gothic literature to reveal new interpretive possibilities.