When Edgar Allan Poe set down the tale of the accursed House of
Usher in 1839, he also laid the foundations for a literacy
tradition which Edgar has assumed a lasting role in American
culture. The House of Usher and its Iiterary progeny have not
lacked for tenants in the century and a half since; writers from
Nathaniel Hawthorne to Stephen King have taken some rooms in the
haunted houses of American Fiction.
Yet, while the haunted house motif looms archetypal in the
October country of the American mind, Iiterary critics have rarely
inquired what it means or why it has endured. These are the
questions at the head of Dale Bailey's American Nightmares: The
Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction.
Bailey believes that the popularity of the haunted house formula
depends upon its versatility in exploring American themes. In this
study he discribes the formula and explains its continued success
through an investigation of a representative sample of American
haunted house literature which is distinguished from the ghost
story as practiced by Henry James, Edith Wharton, and others.
Bailey traces the haunted house tale from its origins in English
gothic fiction to the paperback potboilers of the present,
highlighting the unique significance of the house in the domestic,
economic, and social ideologies of our nation. In the hands of the
best gothic writers, Bailey subversive symbol of everything that
has gone nightmarishly awry in the American dream.
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