Manuel Aguirre »

Manuel Aguirre is Senior Lecturer at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain. He holds a PhD from the University of Antwerp, Belgium. His publications include The Thresholds of the Tale: Liminality and the Structure of Fairytales (The Gateway Press, 2007), The Closed Space: Horror Literature and Western Symbolism (MUP, 1990) and (with Roberta Quance and Philip Sutton) Margins and Thresholds: An Enquiry into the Concept of Liminality in Text Studies (The Gateway Press, 2000); his ‘Gothic Fiction and Folk-Narrative Structure: The Case of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ appeared in Gothic Studies in November 2011. He coordinates the Madrid Gothic Seminar and heads the Northanger Library Project for the recovery of forgotten eighteenth-century gothic and related texts.

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Referring to this Article

M. AGUIRRE. ‘A Grammar of Gothic: Report on a Research Project on the Forms of the Gothic Genre’, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 21 (Winter 2013)

Online: Internet (date accessed):

A Grammar of Gothic

Report on a Research Project on the Forms of the Gothic Genre

The Northanger Library Project (HUM2006-03404) was a three-year state-sponsored project (2006–09) that sought to study the rise of gothic literature against the background of the ‘long’ eighteenth century in Britain. The central concern of the NLP was the edition and study of long-neglected gothic texts, beginning with the ‘canon’ of gothic novels immortalised in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Its primary tools were the theory of liminality, which has been an object of research in the Department of English Studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain) since 1995, and such studies of myth and fairytale as specialise in drawing out the significance of form. [1]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentRelevant to the NLP are a research group working on liminality and literature (The LIMEN Group, established at the UAM in 2007), a series of single essays (The TRELLIS Papers, since 2006), a permanent debate forum (The Madrid Gothic Seminar, with the participation of staff and both graduate and postgraduate students) and a website ( As research proceeds it is fair to say that the NLP remains an ongoing concern well beyond its official deadline.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentTwo major results may be mentioned here. The first was a detailed analysis of Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s tale ‘Sir Bertrand: A Fragment’ (1773), which showed that Vladimir Propp’s 1928 methodology for the study of fairytales is both applicable to and pertinent for an understanding of gothic fiction. [2] The second was an edition of one of the titles in the Austen ‘Northanger Novels’ canon, Eliza Parsons’s The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793), accompanied by a critical analysis which examined the repetitive and formulaic quality of Parsons’s language in the light of chaos theory and eighteenth-century moral philosophy. [3] This in turn highlighted the nature of Parsons’ writing in the service of conflicting perceptions of self and of the unresolved tensions between the discourses of determinism and free will. These results illustrate the fundamental bias of the NLP: its research is geared towards a ‘formal’ analysis on the commonsensical premise that form is a decisive source of meaning. Little work on this aspect of gothic is being carried out by a critical establishment bent on legitimising the genre through a consideration of themes and ideologies, rather than of language or structure. (Needless to say, however, pure formalism is a sterile game unless it leads to insight.)

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentAn offshoot of the NLP was an interest in the most basic conventions adhered to by practitioners of gothic; this led to the present Gothic Grammar project. What follows is a summary of work-in-progress presented and discussed at the Madrid Gothic Seminar in the Spring of 2011. The guiding hypothesis is that a set of structural and semantic ‘rules’ go into the composition of all gothic narrative, provide a thematic basis for the genre and constitute part of what may be called a ‘grammar’ of gothic. The rules are conventions, the grammar a study of the way they provide units and patterns to fashion gothic discourse. The set of conventions addressed here merit the label ‘rules’ insofar as they are constitutive: they do not enter into so much as shape the genre. They are not simply writing customs more or less widely observed by authors, but might be understood as constraints under which authors choose to labour whenever they work within the gothic genre.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe rules are claimed to apply to all gothic fiction. This means that, as envisaged here, they are not to be identified with writing techniques; rather they are the ground that generates possible techniques. In this sense, they may be said to constitute (part of) a ‘grammar’—a concept which allows us to move beyond approximations, as beyond thematic or ideological approaches. Sixteen rules of gothic have been identified so far, but the list welcomes expansion. Briefly, the following considerations guide the postulation of the rules:

a) ‘Gothic’ is here defined in historical (rather than ‘modal’) terms as a genre that began in 1764, reached an apex in the 1790s and evolved into other kinds of horror literature around the 1820s and 1830s (most critics nowadays ignore the fact that until the 1990s this was the standard critical position vis-à-vis the genre). Whereas work is being conducted on assessment of the rules in gothic, no effort is made at this stage to confirm or disprove their applicability to later horror fiction.

b) The patterns of gothic narrative are a modification of those found in folk- and fairytales, and the tools of folk-narrative research are therefore relevant to the study of Gothic fiction. Justification of this claim is the subject of various lines of research both published and underway. [4]

c) Folklorist Vladimir Propp pointed out that action, not the characters’ intentions or motives, is the decisive criterion for assessing the structure of fairytales. [5] The same assumption is made here as regards gothic narrative structure, though with a heavy qualification: whereas structure does seem to be paramount in gothic, its characters exhibit an often rich psychology which has no counterpart in fairytales. (On the consequences of introducing psychology into fairytale narrative structure see rules 8, 10).

d) Propp’s model assumes that the fairytale is composed of a limited number of main actions he calls ‘functions’. These, always following a predetermined order (some codified exceptions are recognised), always appear grouped in ‘sequences’—batches of functions that shape an episode—and can reappear in other sequences. Each tale consists of one or more sequences of functions. Something is to be gained from applying this thinking to Gothic fiction, though again some caveats will be necessary (see rule 11).

e) Anthropologists categorise rites of passage into three distinct types: pre-liminal rites or rites of separation, which disengage initiands from their customary world; liminal rites or rites of the margin, which subject them to various deprivations and tests; and post-liminal rites or rites of incorporation, which return them, albeit changed, to the ordinary world. [6] In particular, the liminal stage has proven of paramount relevance to an understanding of gothic texts (see rules 4–7), and may well constitute a tool to approach the entire genre (see conclusion below). [7]

f) Taking rites of passage as a starting-point, mythographer Joseph Campbell outlines a pattern for the traditional heroic journey which includes the following steps: the Call to Adventure, the crossing of the threshold, encounter with a Threshold Guardian, entrance into ‘the kingdom of the dark’, various tests and ordeals, obtention of the boon sought, return (often under pursuit, often with help from without), arrival in the familiar world, use of the boon for the benefit of the community. [8] This model seems to be compatible with Propp’s and provides a further basis for the study of gothic fiction, while significant modifications are nevertheless required (see e.g. rules 5–7). [9]

g) Folklorist Max Lüthi points out that the fairytale explores not only the hero’s success but also failure; both possibilities are therefore actualised, albeit the second is congruently projected onto secondary characters. [10] The claim here is that gothic resorts to a modified version of this feature (e.g. rule 8).

h) Our initial corpus includes representative novels beginning with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and ending with James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), plus a number of short narratives culled from various magazines, anthologies, and one collection of short fiction from 1801. This corpus needs enlargement and should include not only a fair sampling of gothic poetry and drama but also of the many collections of bluebooks edited in the early nineteenth century and now all but forgotten. [11]

i) In the interest of brevity, no specific illustrations of the rules are offered here, as they would in most cases require extensive summary, quotation and commentary. Specific applications and detailed argumentation are the object of separate articles. What is proposed here is no more than a panorama of work in progress.

The Rules

1. Gothic constructs a world consisting of two ontological zones or dimensions. One is the human cosmos, a domain of rationality and relative order. The other is the realm of the Numinous (whether or not supernatural), characterised by its incognoscibility.

The basic premise, that gothic is fundamentally a ‘spatial’ genre, has been argued in detail in my 1990 study, The Closed Space. [12] Contributions by Frederick S. Frank (1981) and Varnado (1987) have offered further explorations of the role of the Numinous in horror fiction. [13] Part of the difficulty with this proposition lies in the elusive nature of the Numinous: it is not synonymous with the supernatural, and may be found in non-supernatural gothic. (See rules 2, 4). Nor is it quite synonymous with ‘the Other’, especially as this latter term has been used to designate things or persons often devoid of numinosity. In what follows the second will be used interchangeably with the first, in the understanding that the numinous Other is meant.

2. Gothic plots build on a deed (whether physical, intellectual or moral) that opens up the human to the Other: a ‘crossover’ takes place whereby either characters enter the Numinous domain or else their ordinary world acquires numinous traits (or both).

The (literal or figurative) crossing of the threshold is perhaps the prototypical deed in gothic fiction—a deed which, instructively, may be performed by a character or by the Other. Different versions of this deed are contained in the extended crossing of the threshold (the journey, rule 5) or in the transformation (rules 13, 15).

3. Gothic fiction applies a cause-effect pattern to the crossover and gives it a moral slant: regardless (just like fairytales) of characters’ intentions, gothic presents the cause as a transgressive move into or against the Other (which often enough will be deemed a move against the norms that uphold the human world), its effect as a corresponding move by the Other by way of retribution.

A ruthless application of this causality principle—itself an heirloom of the Scientific Revolution—is congruent with the deterministic quality of Gothic (see rules 10–11). [14]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIt may be that the innocent unwittingly cross the line. No matter, the rule predicts that such characters will begin to experience themselves as guilty of some crass impropriety or to discover in themselves the flaw or error that accounts for their misfortune. Awareness of the threshold problematises notions of innocence or naive assumptions about self (on the importance of this discovery of self, see rules 13, 15). (This rule is subject to reformulation.)

4. Our inability to grasp the Other makes it disorientating, hence terrifying; and not least among its terrors is the fact that we cannot quite tell it from our own world: the Numinous is part of and yet profoundly alien to the human realm. Inherently ambiguous, its position vis-à-vis us is best viewed as liminal; that we cannot determine its boundaries is congruent with the fact that the gothic Other partakes of the nature of boundaries: it is a threshold area or a threshold quality.

The Other thus exists sub limine—up against the limits of reality, i.e. as a superlative that inevitably (and paradoxically) spills over and beyond the knowable—in other words, in the threshold region Edmund Burke defined as the Sublime. [15] Its inherent ambiguity is perhaps the distinctive mark of the Numinous, and closely corresponds to ‘the uncanny’ (das Unheimliche) and le fantastique. [16]

5. In the course of the passage that all adventure consists in, gothic characters, unlike fairytale heroes, are detained in the liminal stage, the victims of an incomplete or perverted passage.

This is not to say fairytale heroes will not see their progress impeded or delayed (both Propp’s and Campbell’s models make ample provision for this). It would seem, however, that gothic fiction selects this stage as its central concern and evinces a special delight in lengthening it; see rule 7.

6. The gothic ghosts are direct heirs to the ghosts of folktales and represent variations on the folklore figure of the Threshold Guardian. As such they are liminal entities.

The function of this ambiguous figure is to test the hero’s readiness to proceed on his quest (and this, by way of either discouraging or enticing), but also, in a symmetrical position at the other end of the adventure, to hinder (or facilitate) his return to the ordinary world (see rule 15). [17]

7. (An expansion on 5.) As the liminal stage in the full round of the traditional hero’s tale is lengthened in gothic fiction, the passage risks never to be completed; and gothic plots revolve around just such a contradiction—a dangerously drawn-out sojourn in a supposedly transitional stage. Delay is hence an essential strategy in this genre.

Delay can be spatial, temporal, narrative. Entering Numinous space is much easier than leaving it. Narrative strategies (sheer textual length, amount of detail provided, phasal structures, labyrinthine paths, detours both physical and narrative, and so forth) procrastinate the characters’ exit or lengthen and problematize their return, transforming the most ordinary site into threshold-space (see rules 5, 7, 12). Anisotropy is a salient property of liminal space. [18]

8. It is the fashion of gothic fiction to centre upon the flawed type rather than upon the paradigmatic hero of traditional narrative. This creates equivocal, liminal figures—peripheral yet central, evil yet appealing, ineffectual yet burdened with the responsibility of heroes. One way to understand gothic fiction is to say that it tells the ‘other’ story of the fairytale, the narrative of the failed hero.

Flawed hero–villains are not simply legion: they are the rule. And it is a corollary of the rule that the narrative takes the trouble to delineate the characters’ original good nature before they ‘fell’: in the words of Frankenstein’s creature, dramatically proclaiming ‘Evil be thou my good’, we discern not simply echoes of Milton but an awareness of gothic conventions. On transformation see rules 13, 15.

9. The broken, the worthless, the deprived, the misshapen are to be counted among the natural adjuncts of threshold space. Gothic characters, objects, actions, environments are regularly flawed or diminished with respect to an often implicit yet always compelling standard, thereby denoting the liminality of the domain in which they exist.

That ‘ruling passion’ (curiosity, lust, ambition, jealousy) exhibited by so many gothic characters is usually the decisive flaw. But the ruined castle, the incomplete manuscript and the literary ‘fragment’ or ‘sketch’ betoken the same aesthetics of the standard manqué. Gothic is in this sense a literature of synecdoche—not in the sense of the parts that represent the whole (the dominant value of synecdoche in traditional narrative) but insofar as the parts constitute reminders of a lost wholeness. In turn, of course (and again paradoxically: see rule 4) this loss, inasmuch as it defeats rational expectations of symmetry and order, generates, as Burke pointed out, the experience of the terrifying Sublime.

10. Freedom of the will is another standard which, central to eighteenth-century thought, gothic both heeds and undermines. Whether associated with the will of divine or infernal agents, with the crushing weight of the social order, with the twisted motivations of the human mind, or simply with the past (see rule 11), gothic posits an overarching power—both constraining and inimical, often identified with Providence, more often with Fate—which its failed heroes strive against but cannot overcome.

Gothic’s tragic strain is a direct consequence of this rule, and manifests itself in a variety of fatalistic plots in which characters’ qualities, motives or expectations count for little, while deeds and events alone seem to determine outcomes—and this (and here lies the tragedy), regardless of the potentially complex psychology of its characters, of their often detailed, often noble aspirations (see rule 8).

11. By means of a hidden-sequence arrangement (i.e. an initial key segment of the story is only revealed late in the plot), gothic destabilises the characters’ present and reveals it to be a deceptive lull in a long-enduring turmoil. Fate is in gothic texts often an entailment of narrative structure. False beginnings are the rule, for behind the most Once-upon-a-time-ish start there lurks some secret event (murder, curse, birth, etc.) that turns out to have conditioned the narrative from the outset. Both mystery and tragedy ensue from this construction.

Plot in fairytale largely follows ordo naturalis, story. Epic, due to its greater complexity, resorts to in medias res beginnings so as to provide a focal point around which it deploys various techniques (stranding, flashback, tale-within-tale, digression and so forth) so as to accrue further important matter to its plot. The structure of gothic plots remains to be studied, but the hidden-sequence gambit is a classic. The manipulation of time-lines it entails assigns to the past an overwhelming (often bemoaned, equally often welcomed) weight in the understanding of the present (see rule 10). The past becomes in gothic another liminal ‘region’ bordering on, threatening, encroaching on the here-and-now—but just as likely redeeming or completing it.

12. A distinctive trait of the Sublime—its overpowering quality—characterises the gothic threshold: being sites of power (see rule 10), the liminal regions in gothic fiction draw in, imprison or, in a frequent metaphor of descent, engulf those who venture into or near them.

Thus physical or figurative dungeons, madhouses, caverns, labyrinths or wastelands are favourite liminal sites into which gothic characters are drawn; while ‘perplexed’, ‘bewildered’ or ‘inextricable’ are indispensable terms in the language of the genre. Delay strategies (see rule 7) have as their primary purpose to magnify the spatial–temporal dimensions of the liminal.

13. In that favourite gothic metaphor of descent (itself indicative of another standard cherished and breached), the journey of transformation (the anthropologist’s ‘passage’) acquires the lineaments of a moral, ontological, social (sometimes even physical) fall.

Descent is in fairytales mere displacement, no different from horizontal or, indeed, upward motion, and offers just another means of approach to the ‘foreign kingdom’. In gothic, descent is a privileged motion, associated as it is with social and moral degradation. (Research is nevertheless being conducted into a number of texts where the protagonist’s physical or emotional ascent is central to the plot).

14. Resorting to hyperbole, intensity and deprivation, gothic subverts another standard—this time of balance and moderation—prevalent in eighteenth-century diction, and dons a language of excess (and its opposite, lack; see rule 9) to depict a liminal domain and to foster the experience of the Sublime.

In this, gothic adheres to an aesthetic trend already manifest in the poetry of the Graveyard School, [19] in Thomas Grey’s translations from the Norse, in the antiquity—genuine or faked—which Chatterton, McPherson, Percy, Walpole and others dabbled in. All excess as well as all deficiency—the barbaric, the cruel, the melancholic, the sombre, the fragmentary—comes to be associated with either spatial or temporal remoteness. Like foreign nations, the past—that threshold thought to have been left behind (see rule 11)—is viewed as the ambiguous repository of all that bespeaks intensity and, by the same token, of all things to fear and re-live.

15. Gothic dwells on the liminality of the human condition, its potential for change—change not only on the moral plane but also (and increasingly so as the genre develops) psychological—change which, in the eighteenth-century debate on identity, is all too often seen as degrading or annihilating. Caught in the threshold region, gothic characters are, if not destroyed, transformed. They acquire numinous features and may come to resemble such denizens of the limen—ghosts, monsters, demons—as exhibit a non-rational (compulsive, excessive, repetitive, mindless, bestial) behaviour.

They become Threshold Guardians, the very forces they opposed, their own Others. In this transformation they herald the next great theme in horror fiction, the Doppelgänger theme of Jean Paul, Hoffmann, Chamisso, Hogg, Dostoevsky, Poe.

16. One major theme that arises from the very forms of the gothic genre is the exploration of the liminal experience, which often amounts to an exploration of the condition of the lost.

This is not just a Miltonian echo, though obviously the fall and damnation of Satan (but equally of Faustus) prefigure much in gothic fiction. The theme of loss in all its manifestations (see rules 5, 7, 9, 13) is perhaps the most salient one in a genre born in the crucible of the great Revolutions (scientific, industrial, financial) which so decisively changed Britain and the West. Indeed we might say that as British culture discovers itself poised on the brink of a new era it gains awareness of its profoundly liminal condition. The birth of gothic can then be seen as the paradigmatic expression of a culture on the threshold. [20]


Some of the rules can be accounted for in the light of Burke’s theory of the Sublime; some bear witness to a fairytale connection; some, again, make sense as variations on cultural conceptualisations defined by anthropologists as rites de passage. A number of these rules may be associated with the experience of terror, others with suspense and/or the inevitable, yet others with subversion or questioning of eighteenth-century standards. A rationale for these rules has been found in the concept of liminality, which allows us to unify an otherwise heterogeneous set of conventions. It would seem that gothic exhibits a liminal grammar and that its forms can be accounted for by postulating the threshold as its key concept.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe obvious issue that emerges from all this, and which will determine the drift of the project, is the question, what is the rationale of these rules? Individual writers may choose to follow them for no better reason than that they wish to adhere to this specific genre, but are there reasons for the gradual shaping of a genre around these rules? Research begins to suggest that, if subjected to ‘thick’ description, Gothic may turn out not to (or not just to) be the poorly written, highly conventional genre it is generally taken for—a very poor cousin to Romanticism—but a genre built on a deliberate effort to distance itself from the prevailing canon of its day through defamiliarisation—highlighting its own forms. And one way to do this may have been precisely through a self-conscious leaning on the forms of a narrative system of non-literary nature, folktales—hence one reason for the claim that Gothic is not so much a hybrid as a liminal genre. [21]


1. See Manuel Aguirre, Roberta Quance and Philip Sutton, Margins and Thresholds: An Enquiry into the Concept of Liminality in Text Studies, Studies in Liminality and Literature, 1 (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2000); Manuel Aguirre, ‘The Lure of the Limen: An Introduction to the Concept, Uses and Problems of Liminality’, in The TRELLIS Papers, 1 (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2006); Manuel Aguirre and Esteban Pujals, ‘Liminality and the 18th Century: Outline of a Research Project’, The Northanger Library Project (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2008) <> [accessed 20 May 2011].

2. See Vladimir Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (1928), trans by L. Scott, 2nd edn (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994); Manuel Aguirre and Eva Ardoy, ‘Narrative Morphology in Barbauld’s “Sir Bertrand: A Fragment” ’, The Northanger Library Project (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2009) <> [accessed 20 May 2011].

3. Beatriz Sánchez Santos (ed.), Eliza Parsons’ The Castle of Wolfenbach, The Northanger Library Project (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2009) <> [accessed 20 May 2011].

4. See Aguirre and Ardoy, ‘Narrative Morphology’; Raquel García Iglesias, ‘Counterfeit Hero: The Gothic Subversion of Fairytale Structure in Lewis’ The Monk’, in The TRELLIS Papers, 5 (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2009); Manuel Aguirre, ‘Gothic Fiction and Folk-Narrative Structure: The Case of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, Gothic Studies, 15.2 (Nov 2013), 1–18; Manuel Aguirre, ‘Mary Robinson’s “The Haunted Beach” and the Grammar of Gothic’, Neophilologus, 98.2 (2014), 1–16 <>.

5. See Propp, Morphology of the Folktale.

6. Arnold Van Gennep, Les rites de passage: Étude systématique des rites (1909; Paris: Picard, 1981); Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (1969; New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995); Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966; London: Routledge, 1994). On the spatial model suggested by this categorisation, see Manuel Aguirre, ‘Geometries of Terror: Numinous Spaces in Gothic, Horror and Science-Fiction’, in Gothic Studies, 10.2 (2008), 1–17.

7. On liminality in Gothic, see Manuel Aguirre ‘Narrative Structure, Liminality, Self-Similarity: The Case of Gothic Fiction’, in A Place That Is Not a Place: Essays in Liminality and Text, ed. by Isabel Soto (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2000), pp. 133–51; and Aguirre, ‘Liminal Terror: The Poetics of Gothic Space’, in The Dynamics of the Threshold, ed. by Jesús Benito and Ana Mª Manzanas (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2006), pp. 13–38.

8. See Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949; London: Fontana Press 1993).

9. See Aguirre, ‘Gothic Fiction and Folk-Narrative Structure’.

10. Max Lüthi, Es war einmal … Vom Wesen des Volksmärchens (1962), trans. by Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald, as Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairytales (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976).

11. For a list of gothic bluebooks, see Angela Koch, ‘ “The Absolute Horror of Horrors” Revised: A Bibliographical Checklist of Early-Nineteenth-Century Gothic Bluebooks’, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, 9 (Dec 2002) <> [accessed 22 Dec 2013]. Also, for a checklist of early short fiction, see Tim Killick, ‘The Rise of the Tale: A Preliminary Checklist of Short Fiction Published 1820–29 in the Corvey Collection’, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text, 7 (Dec 2001) <> [accessed 22 Dec 2013].

12. The Closed Space: Horror Literature and Western Symbolism (Manchester: MUP, 1990).

13. Frederick S. Frank, ‘The Gothic Romance, 1762–1820’, in Horror Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, ed. by Marshall B. Tymn (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1981), pp. 3–175; S. L. Varnado, Haunted Presence: The Numinous in Gothic Fiction (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1987).

14. On transgression, see Kenneth W. Graham (ed.), Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression (New York: AMS Press, 1989).

15. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), ed. by J. T. Boulton (London: Blackwell, 1987).

16. Sigmund Freud, ‘Das Unheimliche’, Imago: Zeitschrift für Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf die Geisteswissenschaften, 5 (1919), 297–324; Tzvetan Todorov, Introduction à la littérature fantastique (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1970); Neil Cornwell, The Literary Fantastic: From Gothic to Postmodernism (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990).

17. On the ‘guardian of the threshold’ in myth and folklore, see Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, pp. 71–79. On the relevance of this figure to the study of gothic, see Aguirre, ‘Gothic Fiction and Folk-Narrative Structure’.

18. See Aguirre and Esteban Pujals, ‘Liminality and the 18th Century: Outline of a Research Project’, The Northanger Library Project (Madrid: Gateway Press, 2008) <> [accessed 20 May 2011].

19. See David Punter, The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day (1980), rev. edn, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1996).

20. See Aguirre, ‘Geometries of Terror’.

21. I am grateful to Beatriz Sánchez and the members of the Madrid Gothic Seminar, all of whom have provided a stimulating work environment, and whose comments have so often been of help.