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Free Content 'Invisible Agents': The American Gothic and the Miasmatic Imagination

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This article argues that American medicine's preoccupation with atmospheric etiology shaped the American Gothic as it was instantiated by Charles Brockden Brown and developed by Edgar Allan Poe. Antebellum medical discourse, I suggest, worked in service of a paranoiac hypervigilance, or what I call the 'miasmatic imagination'. Read in conversation with Gothic fiction, miasma theory offers a way of conceptualizing "atmosphere"as both etiological and rhetorical: a medium for the transmission of disease and a literary technique for the transmission of meaning.

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Keywords: American literature; Gothic; atmosphere; contagion; disease; eighteenth-century literature; epidemic

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Michigan

Publication date: 01 May 2015

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  • The official journal of the International Gothic Association considers the field of Gothic studies from the eighteenth century to the present day. The aim of Gothic Studies is not merely to open a forum for dialogue and cultural criticism, but to provide a specialist journal for scholars working in a field which is today taught or researched in almost all academic establishments. Gothic Studies invites contributions from scholars working within any period of the Gothic; interdisciplinary scholarship is especially welcome, as are readings in the media and beyond the written word.

    Gothic Studies is also available in an unrivalled electronic collection, Manchester Gothic that also includes 40 eBooks on gothic literature and culture written by leading names in the field and covers literature, film, television, theatre and visual arts, dating from the eighteenth century to the present day.

    Manchester Gothic aims to explain why gothic studies is so prevalent in the fields of art, film, literature and culture by providing easy access to digital texts, essays and studies in all things gothic. From the study of gothic and death to monsters, vampires, werewolves and ghosts as well as studies on visionaries such as Terry Gilliam, Alan Moore and Terence Fisher; Manchester Gothic brings them all together in one easy to use resource see Manchester Gothic.
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