Puritanism and American Gothic

Gothic Horrors

Multo (Ghost)

The New England Puritans were an intolerant people whose theology could not have failed to breed paranoia, if not madness, in the sensitive among them. Consider, for instance, the curious Covenant of Grace, which taught that only those men and women upon whom God sheds His grace are saved… those excluded from God’s grace…are not only not saved, but damned.

— Joyce Carol Oates, Introduction to American Gothic Tales

Viennastatue
Photo: John Mount

Following on our notion from the last post that gothic horror is the literature of “our awful helplessness” in the face of universal realities, it should come as no surprise that early American Gothic literature shows the strong influence of the Puritan mindset.

The first selection in Oates’ anthology is an excerpt from the 1798 novel Wieland, or The Transformation, by Charles Brockden Brown. Theodore Wieland is a man of obsessional piety: “God is the object of my…

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