Mapping the Uncanny: Gothic Literature and Place-Making in Geography


Gothic literature has long been known for its uncanny ability to transport readers into eerie and mysterious landscapes. From the moors in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights to the desolate mansion in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Gothic literature has a way of creating a sense of place that is both tangible and unsettling. But what if we were to take a closer look at how Gothic literature approaches place-making and its potential implications in geography?

The term Gothic literature, while often associated with horror and the supernatural, encompasses a broader range of themes and motifs. Typically, Gothic literature is characterized by its emphasis on setting and atmosphere, often featuring elements such as dark and decaying buildings, remote and isolated locations, and extreme weather conditions. These elements are not just decorative tools in the narrative, but also play a significant role in creating a sense of unease and foreboding, ultimately shaping the reader’s experience of place.

In terms of geography, Gothic literature can offer valuable insights into the ways in which our surroundings can influence our perceptions and behaviors. The Gothic notion of the uncanny, defined by Sigmund Freud as something that is familiar yet strange, can be seen as a geographical concept that highlights the tension between what is known and unknown in a particular place. The unsettling and disorienting landscapes found in many Gothic narratives serve to challenge the reader’s sense of familiarity and comfort, causing a feeling of unease that cannot be easily explained.

One example of this can be found in Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula. The story is set in Transylvania, a region in Eastern Europe known for its haunting and mysterious landscapes. Stoker purposefully chose this setting to evoke a sense of the unknown and to play on the readers’ fears and prejudices about the “otherness” of this region. The vast and isolated landscapes of Transylvania, infused with superstition and folklore, create a sense of unease and danger for the characters and the readers alike.

Similarly, the Bronte sisters, in their respective works, use the desolate and isolated landscapes of the moors in Yorkshire to create a sense of isolation and estrangement for their characters. In Wuthering Heights, the moors are a manifestation of the intense and tumultuous relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, while in Jane Eyre, they represent the stark contrast between the wildness of nature and the strictures of society.

But why is it important for geography to take note of this literary approach to place-making? The answer lies in the role of place in shaping our identities and experiences. Our surroundings and the places in which we live, work, and play have a profound impact on who we are and how we navigate the world. By understanding the interplay between place and literature, we can gain insight into the complexities and nuances of human geography.

Furthermore, Gothic literature can also shed light on how certain places have been portrayed and constructed in the popular imagination. For instance, the Gothic depiction of urban spaces as dark and menacing can reveal underlying fears and anxieties about modernization and industrialization. Examining the portrayal of place in literature from a geographical perspective can help us understand the social, cultural, and political implications of our built environments.

In conclusion, the Gothic literature genre provides a unique lens through which we can explore the relationship between place and human experiences. Its emphasis on atmosphere, isolation, and the uncanny allows for a deeper understanding of how our surroundings shape our perceptions and behaviors. By mapping the uncanny in Gothic literature, we can gain valuable insights into the complexities and nuances of place-making in geography. Thus, it is crucial for geographers to look to the realm of literature for a deeper understanding of the places we inhabit.