Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Gothic Philadelphia


In European Gothic literature, the horrors come from the past. But in Philadelphia Gothic literature, the horror is contemporary -- the serial killer, the vagabond lurking in the basement (something which come to think, some friends of mine discovered they had -- and in Philadelphia! -- so that part was prescient), the corrupt city fathers with a private club in which to practice their debaucheries.

Such, anyway was the essential thesis of a lecture given by Edward G. Pettit last night at the Glenside Free Library last night. Pettit is known locally as "the Philly Poe Guy," but admited he's an even bigger fan of George Lippard, author of The Quaker City or the Monks of Monk Hill, among many, many other works. (The guy produced over a million words a year before dying at the tragically young age of 29.)

Working in the tradition of Philadelphian Charles Brockden Brown, Lippard, along with Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Frank J. Webb, Lippard created a Gothic tradition that eschewed castles, monasteries, and other medieval sets and props for a literature of dark alleyways, locked doors, unlit basements... a strain that has never entirely left American literature and may currently be ascendant again.

I just now downloaded The Quaker City, easily the most scandalous book of its time, and read the introduction. In it, he wrote:

The motive which impelled me to write this Work may be stated in a few words.
I was the only Protector of an orphan Sister. I was fearful that I might be taken away by death, leaving her alone in the world. I knew too well that law of society which makes a vitue of the dishonor of a poor girl, while it justly holds the seduction of a rich man's child as an infamous crime. These thoughts impressed me deeply.  

Alas for George's sister, Lippard died young. But he left her provided for. You have to admire him for that.

Above: Edward G. Pettit. His presentation went over well. And he provided a reading list! So I was happy.


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